For the casual observer, it must seem like a stream of news about upset parents with a school board decission of movement, lack of school space and lobbying for new schools. As I write this, I am watching the Calgary Board of Education Public meeting online. I have just heard 3 citizens during the public portion of the meeting, from 2 different groups speaking to the lack of consultation by their own school board in relation to school program changes and movement.
One might wonder are these concerns linked in some way? Is there a way our school board could prevent upsetting so many of it’s public? I asked a few parents involved in various program or school changes over the last 3 years, why did you decide to appeal?
Lila Miller, was involved in 2012 School Closure process at Roland Michener School, which trustees voted against, saving the school. She said “it was their personal preference (individuals representing CBE) for Middle schools and as such they were not truthfully forthcoming with the actual facts pertaining to the decision.” She added ” after the decision was made to keep the school open, the Board heavy handedly pushed the next Grade six class over to Dr Egbert to make it a Middle School. There was no new hearing about that and it was strongly opposed by the attendees at the original hearing.” At the end of the decision to not close the school area trustee Pamela King said it was clear that our engagement process needs to be looked at and improved.
Susannah Thomsen was involved in appealing a decision by the CBE to move The Spanish Bilingual Program at Westgate school, to Eugene Coste school which is 15 Km’s away. This move was not included in the original discussion with parents as an option. She states “We fought the CBE decision because it went against the majority of the principles that the CBE claims are central to its accommodation processes, specifically allowing children to attend school as close to home as possible, minimizing disruption to students and keeping cohorts of children together.”
Trevor Dreher was parent council Chair in 2011 at Terrace Road school when a closure process was started. Parents were successful in stopping this closure taking place. Trevor says ” The decision to close the school ignored many of the facts of how our community is changing. Parents came together because it would have left us without a school for the kids in the neighborhood.”
Katherine Boggs was part of a group appealing the decission to move several programs around 4 schools in adjacent communities. She states”It makes no sense- does not agree with the community feedback or the CBE guiding principals for student accommodation, nor meet any of the quoted end goals” and “Did not involve a face-to-face parent meeting, which handicapped the ~20% ESL families”
Lesley Farrar from the same group added “once we were told of the decision, we were given no clear appeal process and the people we appealed to, were the people that made the decission in the first place.”
In my case, we were able to convince trustees not to close Mayland Heights Elementary English program. I would say the key to this decision was the numbers did not add up and feedback from parents was not taken into account moving forward with the same decission.
These are merely some of the many parents and groups that have been advocating for their school communities to our board of education. What they have in common is this thread. The Public Engagement process is flawed. It starts with a clear end game, does not value the input from stakeholders and offers an unfair appeal process when Trustees are not involved.
These voices and many more would support our publicly elected trustees review public engagement policies and procedures around program movement and closures to add value the voices of your constituents.