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Success for FNMI Students: Graduation Coach Initiative

A couple of weekends ago I gave my Report Back to the Community to Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples during which I spoke of the wonderful success we have been having at ECSD with improving our 3 year graduation rate for our First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) students using an innovative model called the “Graduation Coach Initiative”.  I shared with the congregation information from our district website:  “since its implementation in 2009, the FNMI Graduation Coach Initiative at St. Joseph High School has increased the three-year graduation rate of FNMI students from 14.9% to 60.4% by supporting the transition of students from junior high and retaining students as they progress through high school…the role of the graduation coach is to provide mentoring and guidance to FNMI students to ensure they are provided with a nurturing and safe environment that supports them as they find a sense of competence and achievement”.  I received great applause from the congregation showing a great desire for their children to succeed in our school system and graduate with a high school diploma.  After mass, a young man approached me to say that he was a teacher from Saskatchewan, visiting our district to learn more about how we implement the Graduation Coach Model so that he could bring this model back to his district.  We can be very proud of the work that our district has been doing with our FNMI students and even see ourselves as leaders in this area.  This truly is something to celebrate!

The ECSD website goes on to say that graduation coaches are available in many of our high schools including Archbishop Oscar Romero, Archbishop O’Leary, and St. Francis Xavier as well as St. Joe’s.

For more information about this program go to (https://www.ecsd.net/Programs/Overview/AboriginalLearning/Pages/Graduation-Coach-Initiative.aspx).  For a full list of supports that we offer our FNMI students go to https://www.ecsd.net/Programs/Overview/AboriginalLearning/Pages/Aboriginal-Learning.aspx

Why I Do Not Go to the Annual Jasper Park Lodge Retreat and Other Issues of Fiscal Responsibility

This week, our superintendent, senior administration, principals and trustees are attending an annual retreat at the Jasper Park Lodge. There are 3 trustees from our board who choose annually not to attend this retreat.  I cannot speak for my fellow trustees, but the reason I have chosen to skip this meeting is first of all because I believe that this retreat should be held in a Catholic retreat centre closer to home (Providence Renewal Centre comes to mind) which would cost our district much less money for both travel and accommodation and would provide the ambiance of a true retreat.  By holding our retreat at a Catholic retreat centre, we would also be supporting a valued Catholic institution rather than a commercial one such as the Jasper Park Lodge.

I am also concerned about the optics of holding retreats at Jasper Park Lodge (JPL).  I know from speaking with previous trustees on the board that this fall retreat at the JPL has always been controversial for the district. I have never stayed at the JPL due to my inability to afford it but I have wandered through it while on camping trips and I see why it has a reputation for being a posh hotel.  I had a conversation last year with a parent who happened to be at the JPL when our district was holding its annual retreat and she said she was quite surprised that our district was holding their event at such a posh location. So the optics just are not good.

To be fair, the district does get a “good deal” as I am told, because October is low season for the JPL.  The average cost for the 4 trustees to attend the retreat at JPL last October was $860 each.  There are 88 schools so 88 principals attending which comes to $75,680.  Add to that 1 superintendent, 4 trustees and a number of senior administrators (not sure exactly how many but I would guess 10) which adds up to $12,900.  All told, the cost of the retreat at JPL would be around $88,580.  I personally have a hard time spending this amount of money for a JPL retreat when we have other priorities in our district including giving more support to special needs students as well as their teachers.  The issue of adequate supports for inclusion was one of 4 issues flagged by the C2 Committee as being of very high concern for teachers.  Parents of special needs children have also flagged this as a concern.  In 2010/2011 81.7% were satisfied with inclusive programming and in 2011/2012 81.5% were satisfied.  But in 2013/2014 this number dropped to 77.9% (I was unable to find the % for 2012/2013). This is a 3.8% drop over 4 years showing that this is becoming a concern for parents.  I have also heard directly from parents and teachers that they are very frustrated with the lack of supports for special needs children.  In fact, I spoke to 3 families during the election last year who had moved their special needs children over to the public system because EPSB offers more supports.  But I digress…

I know from speaking to the chair of the EPSB that they do not hold large retreats such as we do with trustees, senior staff, superintendent and principals.   Instead, their principals meet together locally in their own facilities for their corporate meetings; the Board and administration and some senior staff will meet either locally or at Pigeon Lake in different groupings but none of them exceeding 22 people.  Paula Simons wrote an article about how the EPSB used to hold their board retreat in Jasper or Pigeon Lake but this year they chose to stay closer to home in an effort to be more fiscally responsible. (go to http://www.edmontonjournal.com/Simons+Dentyne+Cheezies+Edmonton+Public+Schools+boring+expense+reports+actually+pretty+exciting/10253668/story.html.)

So I don’t think I am far off the mark to suggest that if we feel it is necessary to get everyone together for one large retreat, that we do it locally, at a less expensive location and even at a Catholic facility which would be more in keeping with our mission as Catholic schools.

In regards to my own expenses go to https://www.ecsd.net/BoardofTrustees/Reports-and-Resources/remuneration%20_expenses/Pages/Trustee-Remuneration-and-Expenses-Info.aspx for what I have charged to taxpayers since becoming a trustee in October 2013.  Please note that the items listed in my expenses include the expenses made by the previous Ward 71 trustee.  The public needs to know that I attended a number of conferences in the 2013 – 2014 school year which I will not be attending this year due to the fact that 2013 was the first year I was elected as a trustee.  Because I was a new trustee, I attended the Alberta School Board Association (ASBA) New Trustee conference and the the ASBA Spring Legal conference.  As well, though I attended the ASBA Spring General Meeting last year, I did not find it very informative so this year I will only be attending the Fall ASBA conference in November. You will also note that I did not attend the Jasper Park Lodge retreat last year as well as this year.  So you will see a significance difference in my expenses in the 2014-2015 school year as compared to the 2013-2014 year.

Though I will be attending fewer conferences this year, I still believe that it is important to go to conferences/retreats — especially conferences organized by ASBA and ACSTA (Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association) of which we as a board of trustees are card carrying members.  As a trustee I find the ASBA and ACSTA provide wonderful opportunities for professional development and for the sharing of ideas between trustees from both public and Catholic districts across Alberta.

In short, I have no issue with having retreats, meetings, and conferences.  I just believe that there are ways to do this in fiscally responsible ways and ways which put our students first–especially our most vulnerable.  I believe that this approach is in keeping with our mission as Catholic schools.

Parish and School Visits 2014

I have been working hard to get in touch with my Ward 71 constituents by visiting parishes and schools. So far I have managed to visit St. Edmund Parish, St. Philip Orthodox Church, St. Andrew Centre and Parish, St. Vladimir, and Shepherd’s Care Kensington.  I will be visiting Holy Rosary parish Sept. 27 and 28, Sacred Heart Parish October 5, St. Charles Parish November 8 and 9 and Our Lady of Guadalupe (no firm date set as yet).  I have been fortunate to speak at some of these parishes and at least hand out my Report Back to the Community which gives an outline of some of the things I have done since being elected.

I have also managed to visit St. Basil, St. Pius X, St. Angela, Katherine Therrien, and St. Mark schools where I handed out over 300 Report Back flyers to parents attending the Meet the Teacher/Welcome Back BBQ.  One parent thought I was at the school because I was seeking election!  I thought that this was very telling:  that the only time parents see their trustee is when there is an election!  I hope to change that by being more available to parents so I can hear their concerns.

The public needs to know that trustees are not permitted to drop in on schools at any time.  The district has a policy that trustees are only allowed on school property if invited by the principal.  Because of this policy I suggest that if parents wish me to attend school events, that they request the principal to extend an invitation to me.   In the mean time, I will make every effort to be available on the sidewalk at the front of the school when school events are on in order to meet with my constituents. Another way to get in touch with me is by phoning my cell at 587-879-5612 or by email at patricia.grell@ecsd.net.

An Important Note about Notices of Motion and Requests for Information

It is important for the public to know that when a trustee makes a Notice of Motion at the end of a public meeting or requests information from the administration, these go to an “Agenda Setting Committee”.  This committee is comprised of the Chair, Vice Chair, Superintendent and Board Secretary.  This committee decides whether the item is of value or not to the rest of the Board and if it is, then it gets on the public board agenda.  If they deem it is not of value, it will not be placed on the agenda.  I have a concern with regards to this committee because 50% of the membership is held by people who are not elected — namely the superintendent and the board secretary.  I believe that all of the trustees should have a vote on what makes it on to their agenda for their meeting.  Certainly, we should consult with the administration whether they believe the item could be addressed in another manner but the final say of what goes on to the agenda should be made by the trustees who are elected by the public to represent their views.  Please be assured that I will be raising this issue as we revise our Board policies in the upcoming months.

Update as of October 21, 2014:  Our new Chair Debbie Engel has suggested that if a notice of motion does not make it through the agenda setting committee, we can bring the motion to the next public board meeting and add it to the agenda.  At this time, the whole board and public can hear the rationale of why the trustee wishes to bring this motion forward.  All trustees can then vote on whether they wish to discuss the matter further at the current or future public board meeting.   I welcome this suggestion by Chair Engel!

Community League Day, September 20, 2014

We had a perfect day for Community League Day, 2014 — plenty of sunshine, blue skies and warmth!  There are 21 community leagues in Ward 71, 14 of which had an event on September 20th.  I managed to make it to 7 of the 14 community leagues this year:  Westwood, Prince Rupert, Sherbrooke, Carnaervon, Calder, Athlone and Mayfield. I was so impressed with the number of volunteers who came out to celebrate and support our community leagues!  Where would our communities be without you?

It is very important for me to get out into the public to connect with my constituents because it gives me a chance to hear what is on your mind. I was elected to represent the concerns of the public and so I really want to hear from you — how can I serve you?  Going out into your communities gives me a chance to see where you live and what challenges and opportunities you have where you live.  I knew for example that Athlone had a new development called the Bellweather but received more detailed information by visiting the community.  This development will have 4 storey apartments and 3 story walk ups in the core of the development, with duplexes around the outer perimeter. Apparently this development will eventually house 1,000 people — a great boon to nearby St. Angela school.

I learned as well of the fabulous collaborative efforts between the Prince Rupert Community League, Terra Association and the Thai Community to build a new hall in Prince Rupert.   It is wonderful to hear how the City of Edmonton is bringing groups together to share facilities to the benefit of all involved.

Thanks to everyone who fed me and made me feel so welcome in your communities! I had a very productive and pleasant day and enjoyed meeting all of you!

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Notice of Motion: School Fees for Sports Academies

I placed this Notice of Motion at the September 9, 2014 Public Board Meeting:

Our district is a publicly funded, Catholic Christian district which provides sports academies for elite athletes.  Some of these sports academies charge parents $2,300 per student per year.  Yet many of our academies are located in areas of the city with a higher than average number of low income families.  According to the City of Edmonton website, the community of Glengarry for example where O’Leary is situated has an average household income of $58,552– $14,398 lower than the city average.  And St. Edmund school is located in Calder which has an average household income of $54,047 which is $18,903 lower than the city average.  St. Mark which is located in the community of Woodcroft has an average income of $48,969 which is $23,981 lower than the city average.

Motion:

I move that our district provide both full and partial subsidies or scholarships to ensure that our district encourages students of all socio-economic backgrounds to participate in our sports academies and that these subsidies be well advertised so that parents are made aware that subsidies exist.

This motion was debated at the October 14, 2014 public board meeting and was voted down.  The reason?  Because apparently we already offer subsidies.  Here’s how it was explained at the public board meeting by our superintendent:  first of all it is up to a teacher or principal to identify students who have a physical aptitude for the sports academy and if they think that they do, and they could greatly benefit from participating in it, the principal will approach the parent council to ask for the subsidy.  If the parent council which has money from fundraisers such as casinos, decides that they will support the student, then the student gets the money.  If the parent council has other priorities, then the student would not get it. It is important to note that these “subsidies” are not advertised so a parent would never know that this possibility exists for their child. The district does not advertise these “subsidies” because they are concerned there would be too many requests.

So do we have subsidies for our sports academies?  I leave it up to the reader to decide this.

Why is this issue so important to this trustee? Because I believe that our school district should be consistent in providing equal opportunities for students across our district:  we offer French, Spanish, Polish, Ukrainian Immersion, IB and free busing to all these alternative programs.  This is commendable!  But to attend a Sports Academy, students have to pay.  I’m concerned that we are creating a two tiered system by not offering true subsidies/scholarships for those students who may have an aptitude for sports but cannot pay.  I am also very mindful of our Church’s mission which has a preferential option for the poor.  As Catholic schools which share in the Church’s mission to the poor, we need to be cognizant of how we as a district ensure that all our students are welcomed into our alternative programs.  As I said above — we can commend ourselves for providing IB and languages at no extra cost.  My hope through this motion was that all our programs would be accessible to students of all socio- economic backgrounds allowing all our students an equal opportunity to develop their talents and gifts, regardless of their ability to pay.

Notice of Motion Re: Teacher Workload Update

After the last round of contract talks with the teachers the Ministry of Education initiated a committee that would study teacher work load. The committee produced a report titled “Towards a More Effective Classroom:  Enabling Teachers to Focus on Student Learning” and the ECSD received it at the end of October 2013 from the ATA Local 54 C2 Committee.  The 4 priority issues identified by teachers were:  inclusion, teacher time, supervision (e.g. lunch time supervision), and report cards.

My Motion:

The Administration provided a report to the Board in regards to the C2 Committee’s recommendations in April 2014.  I recommend that the Administration provide a progress report to the trustees on the implementations of the C2 committee’s recommendations at our October 2014 public board meeting.

Once we receive the update, I will post it here on my website.

Update:  I learned at the October 14, 2014 public board meeting that the administration will bring a report back to our board at the end of the year so keep posted!

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