VSB Chairperson

On Monday, October 30 I was honoured and proud to be elected as the Vancouver School Board Chairperson by my fellow trustees.  I had the opportunity to make remarks at our inaugural board meeting and am now sharing them in this post.

Thank you to Musqueam Councillor Morgan Guerin for welcoming us to your traditional, unceded territory and for reminding us of the very important work to be done by this board.

I would like to start by acknowledging former VSB trustees in the audience tonight – Christopher Richardson, Al Blakey, Ruth Herman and Andrea Reimer.  My thank yous also extend to everyone in this room as I know you’re here because you care about public education and in particular you care about Vancouver’s students.

We at this board table are the nine newly sworn in trustees chosen by Vancouver’s voters to serve our students. We bring who we are to this table – we all have different cultural histories, experiences at school, as well as differences in work backgrounds and in our families – but we all bring our commitment to perform the duties of our office and work together as a board with respect and consideration.

I look forward to working with the elected trustees as well as with Eugene Jeong our student trustee and I appreciate the trustees’ confidence in me as Chairperson and will always strive to carry out this role to the best of my ability. I also acknowledge and thank all the by-election trustee candidates as your voices enriched the campaign issues and discussions.

One aspect of the board’s responsibilities I’d like to highlight is that in 2015 the Vancouver School Board committed its full support to Reconciliation. I was honoured to be chosen to witness the 2016 signing of the Second Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement by eight representatives, including the VSB Superintendent & Chairperson, and Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow. Those signing acknowledged and honoured the collective responsibilities for the success of all Aboriginal learners attending school in the Vancouver School District and our new board must continue to embrace this responsibility.

Another aspect to highlight is the many relationships our new board will have to establish and nurture, not only with our stakeholders – students, parents, staff and all our employee representative groups – but also with other levels of government, such as the Minister and Ministry of Education and Vancouver’s Council & Parks Board, partner agencies and community partners.  One relationship that will be unique among school districts is with our Special Advisor Dianne Turner. I look forward to our board working productively with you during our term and thank you for your work as the Official Trustee in the past year.

As a new board we must also tackle the immediate concern of recruitment and retention. The teacher recruitment challenges being experienced by the Vancouver School Board this year are unprecedented and ongoing. Having heard the committee updates in September and October I know how much effort has and is being put in by our recruitment staff and the Vancouver Teachers Federation, as well as how teachers and school teams are working together on behalf of their students. However, I also know that with unfilled positions and difficulties in getting teachers on call our district is not yet fully supporting every student and in particular we must keep working to ensure that students who need additional supports do receive those services.

I think it’s safe to say that all the trustees had the support of friends and family as candidates and will now have to balance their trustee responsibilities with all the other aspects of their lives. We have and will miss family dinners, ask for flexibility at work, and not attend sports events or performances – we have asked a lot of friends and family and I’d like to thank all of you who have and will support us.

And now after our inaugural meeting trustees will begin their orientation sessions and dive right into committee and board meetings. I would like to thank the VSB staff who have helped us in our transition and look forward to working with all staff in a respectful and considerate manner.

swearing_in_2017_10_30

From L to R: Dianne Turner (special advisor), Carrie Bercic, Fraser Ballantyne, Ken Clement, Allan Wong, Janet Fraser, Joy Alexander, Judy Zaichkowsky, Estrellita Gonzalez, Lisa Dominato, Eugene Jeong (student trustee).

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New board, new opportunities, new relationships

Vancouver voters elected nine VSB trustees last Saturday and I thank everyone who participated as well as the new provincial government for calling the by-election.  I also thank all the candidates who took on this very public role as your voices enriched our forums and debates and I hope you stay involved with Vancouver’s public education.

I look forward to working with all the trustees elected to the new VSB Board.  We represent a range of voters’ views but are all committed to putting students first, working collaboratively, and creating a respectful workplace.

Our first decisions are to nominate trustees and then elect a Chair at our first board meeting on October 30.  The Chair is still a single vote among the nine trustees but they have additional leadership and representation responsibilities, including presiding over board meetings that must be orderly and fair, working closely with the Superintendent, and representing the board

I believe our most immediate concerns are the recruitment and retention of teachers and the appointment of a Superintendent.
An October 10 update showed 113 full and part time job postings (84 FTE), an increase from 72 (53 FTE) in the September 15 report.  The most difficult areas to fill are French immersion, special education, math, sciences, counselling, tech studies, and Mandarin.  Resource teachers have been placed as classroom teachers to give consistency and district teaching staff have been deployed to schools. There are 677 teachers on the Teachers on Call (TOC) list but administrators and support teachers also have to cover classes.  Our new board will have to review all the actions taken to date and ensure our district is doing all that it can to support both recruitment and retention of new teachers.
Superintendent interviews and selection (for all stakeholders) is scheduled for November 15 and the appointee’s start date is anticipated to be by the end of February.

During our one-year term our board will also have to work closely with the new Minister of Education, Rob Fleming.  As for all school districts we have to prepare a balanced budget for next year – a budget that will meet the needs of all our students.  We also have to address many school buildings and space issues such as seismic upgrades, poor maintenance, new schools where there are not enough classrooms for neighbourhood students, the reduction in French Immersion classrooms, sufficient space for adult education students, and appropriate learning spaces for music and art.  The province provides the funding and sets the rules for capital funding and we must work together to meet our common goals of safe schools with adequate space for all our students.

And finally our board must continue to work towards Reconciliation.  We must continue to work so that Aboriginal students have a sense of belonging in our schools, increased academic success, and that all students have knowledge and appreciation of Aboriginal cultures and contributions.  I was honoured to be a witness to the eight people signing the Second Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement and acknowledge our collective responsibilities for the success of all Aboriginal learners.

Our district cares for and educates more than 50,000 students every school day and I’m proud that Vancouver voters have allowed me the responsibility of being a trustee for the coming year.  I will serve our students and always put their needs first.

VSB Policy: The Role of the Board Chairperson and Vice Chairperson
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/district-policy/bl-role-board-chairperson-and-vice-chairperson  

October 10, 2017 Staffing and recruitment update:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/17Sept11_commIV_Ppt.pdf  

Superintendent Interviews:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/17_09Sept13_op_commi_agenda_optimized.pdf#page=78  

Second Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/publications/aeea-june8.pdf

PAN trustee candidate questions

The Parent Advocacy Network for Public Education (PAN) is a non-partisan grassroots collective of parents and community members who share a commitment to public education.
They are encouraging all Vancouver citizens to vote in the October 14th school board by-election and believe it’s important to learn about ALL the candidates to make an informed choice; not just about their platforms and experience, but who they are and how they plan to effect change.
To support voters they have asked all trustee candidates to answer 6 questions – my answers are posted here along with a link to all the candidates’ answers.

What skills would you bring to a trustee position and why should Vancouverites vote for you as an individual (leaving aside party affiliation)?

In my two years as a trustee I showed my commitment and integrity.  As well as attending VSB board and committee meetings I visited my 14 liaison schools, often several times, as well as many other schools, and was an active trustee liaison for DPAC and my three City advisory committees, Vancouver Food Policy Advisory Council, (VFPC), Active Transport Policy Council (ATPC), and the Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee (UAPAC).  I met with stakeholder groups and individuals, either reaching out or as requested.
I worked respectfully with everyone, students, parents, trustees and staff, and spoke clearly about my role and views on VSB issues through my blog, Twitter, in the media and personal communication.
I will continue to work hard and work respectfully on behalf of Vancouver’s students.

If elected, how will you promote an atmosphere of collaboration with advisor Dianne Turner, senior staff, and Board members from other political parties?

It is the individual responsibility of trustees to demonstrate their leadership for our district and, especially at this time, working respectfully and collaboratively is essential to bringing stability and confidence to our district systems that support the 50,000 students we care for every school day.
I will work with the expectation that everyone is focusing on student success, respect other’s opinions, even if I don’t agree with them, and do my best to find points of consensus, and not court adversity or seek to score partisan political points

As an elected trustee, how would you envision the role of parent input with respect to decision making?

Parents are co-educators with their students’ teachers and schools so it is essential that both individual parents and parents’ organizations, for example PACs and DPAC, are involved with decision making.  As I trustee I value our district’s commitment to engaging with parents, as with all stakeholders, through consultation and especially through our committee system.  I value parent input, recognizing that with a diverse parent body there can be diverse views and opinions, and it is always a factor in my decision making.  I appreciate that parents use their own time and resources to work on behalf of students but it is essential their voice is heard.

Explain your perspective on how the Board should work going forward with the provincial Ministry of Education.

There is much hope and optimism for public education with the election of a new provincial government.  In media reports and presentations I see that the Ministry of Education under the new government is reaching out to its stakeholders and I am pleased there is a more positive tone for consultation and discussion.   I am optimistic that our elected Board will establish a good working relationship with the Ministry so that we can effectively communicate our concerns and requests and work together to improve BC’s public education and also address Vancouver specific issues.

What is your view on how the Board should work going forward with the City of Vancouver (i.e. in addressing the intertwined issues of densification and available school space)?

School boards are stuck in the middle of the sandwich – here in Vancouver the City has dramatically increased density in some neighbourhoods yet the Province will not build new or expanded schools to match the increased student numbers.  I am concerned that City Council does not fully understand the impact of their decisions on the many families in walkable neighbourhoods but who not only have to travel to a distant school and but often have the additional challenge of finding quality, affordable childcare.

I believe the City and the School Board should work together to amplify the request to the Province to build adequate school spaces in every Vancouver neighbourhood.  As a first step I would propose a joint briefing for the Mayor, Councillors and Trustees so there is a common understanding of how many neighbourhoods and families are impacted by inadequate school spaces, and of how deeply families are impacted.

What do you see as the top three most urgent and important issues facing the Vancouver School Board, and how do you plan to address these?

I see three broad areas that each have key elements but are also intertwined.

  1. Bringing stability and confidence to our district. There are six hundred new employees, most senior management positions are in flux, there are challenges with implementing the hard won restoration of the teachers’ collective agreements, and trustees need to ensure a safe and respectful workplace.
    It will be the elected trustees’ responsibility to provide effective leadership to ensure our district can work together to address these challenges, as well as embrace the opportunities they present, and to ensure a culture of respect.  And finally, our board must live up to our commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
  2. Effective use of school space. Our district has had to rapidly adapt to the space requirements for the restoration of the teachers’ collective agreement, we still have more than fifty seismically unsafe schools, there are schools that cannot accept all in catchment students and many families struggle to find childcare.  As the province controls capital funds and decisions we need to work with the Ministry of Education to implement a long term plan, not just school by school approval, so that every student can attend a safe school in their neighbourhood and that the schools themselves can become community hubs.
  3. Stable, adequate and predictable funding. Trustees make many decisions about governance and policy in their districts but in many, many instances what can be offered to students is limited by the provincial funding.  The resources in a school cannot be dependent on parents’ ability to fundraise for essentials.  As a trustee I want to know that teachers have resources to teach the new curriculum, that special needs students have appropriate support, that music and art programs thrive, that adult learners can access the courses they need, the immigrant families have support, that our schools keep pace with using technology to enhance student learning – the list goes on but the level of provincial funding is essential to providing equitable access to education for all students.

All candidates’ answers to the 6 PAN questions:
http://www.panvancouver.ca/uploads/6/7/1/4/67145647/171004_trustee_candidate_responses_all2.pdf  

PAN website:  http://www.panvancouver.ca/

To Serve Vancouver’s students

Why am I running to be a VSB trustee in this October 14th by-election?
For the same reason I ran in 2014: To serve Vancouver’s students.

I live in Marpole and have three children, the oldest graduated from high school this summer and the younger two are now in Grades 8 and 11.  I understand that parents and guardians entrust the VSB with their children’s care and education and that trustees must ensure the district provides every opportunity for their success.

My two years as a trustee on a challenging 1 Green, 4 NPA, 4 Vision, board showed my commitment and integrity.  In this by-election we have three excellent Green candidates, myself, Estrellita Gonzalez and Judy Zaichkowsky, and as trustees we will work respectfully and collaboratively be both advocates and stewards for our district.  Students must be the centre of our schools, and our schools should be the hearts of our communities.

To see our full platform and candidate information please see:

Green School Board Platform
http://www.green17.ca/schools-platform  

Green School Board Team
http://www.green17.ca/schools

New Education Minister – Rob Fleming

From what I’ve heard and read in the media Rob Fleming’s plans for public education are very promising and now his mandate letter from Premier John Horgan clearly sets priorities:

  • Fast-track enhancement to K-12 education funding.
  • Review the funding formula to develop a stable and sustainable model for the K-12 education system.
  • Provide additional annual funding to ensure students have the school supplies they need to succeed.
  • Create an ongoing capital fund for school playgrounds.
  • Make schools safer by accelerating the seismic upgrade program.
  • Work in partnership to build and upgrade schools in every region of the province.
  • Implement the new First Nations history curriculum, develop full-course offerings in Aboriginal languages and implement the educational Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
  • Implement BC’s new school curriculum and provide new technology, lab equipment, learning material and professional development support for teachers.

I also appreciate that the mandate letter for Melanie Mark, the new Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, addresses these K-12 issues:

  • Provide greater access to adult basic education and English-language learning programs by eliminating fees.
  • Work with the Minister of Education to support co-op, apprenticeship and work-experience programs for high school and undergraduate students.

In the very short term all school districts must be able to fully implement the restored language on class size, class composition and specialist teacher ratios following the Supreme Court of Canada ruling, so that all BC students can have a good start to the new school year this September.

I am pleased to read that Rob Fleming would like to see the return of an elected board and will meet with the VSB Official Trustee and officials from the City of Vancouver to discuss a possible by election.  However, an elected board must ensure a safe, respectful workplace in our district while working on behalf of our students.

With this change in government there is a great opportunity to change BC’s public education for the better and I wish Rob Fleming well as he takes on this exciting but also challenging portfolio.

 

Rob Fleming mandate letter:
http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/government/ministries-organizations/premier-cabinet-mlas/minister-letter/fleming-mandate.pdf

Melanie Mark mandate letter:
http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/government/ministries-organizations/premier-cabinet-mlas/minister-letter/mark-mandate.pdf

New education minister wants a re-elected Vancouver School Board. Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Courier July 24, 2017:
http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/new-education-minister-wants-a-re-elected-vancouver-school-board-1.21337611

New Minister Vows ‘Fresh Attitude Towards Public Education’. Katie Hyslop, Tyee July 25, 2017:
https://thetyee.ca/News/2017/07/25/New-Education-Minister-Vows-Fresh-Attitude/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_content=072517-1&utm_campaign=editorial-0717 

CBC Early Edition (1:41 – 1:52), July 21, 2017:
http://www.cbc.ca/radio/popup/audio/listen.html?autoPlay=true&clipIds=&mediaIds=1005613635515&U=%5Bobject%20Object%5D&contentarea=news&subsection1=regions&subsection2=britishcolumbia&subsection3=earlyedition&subsection4=&contenttype=audio

 

Vancouver Sun – VSB trustees accountable for toxic work environment

This post is my Vancouver Sun op ed published on June 15, 2017.

With the recent resignation of the Vancouver School Board (VSB) superintendent I’ve been asked, “What was really going on at the VSB? I don’t know what to believe.”

Looking back at the trustees’ behaviour I witnessed and reading the two investigation reports I believe VSB staff were bullied and harassed. As a newly elected trustee, I stepped into a pre-existing board dynamic that I found overly partisan and very challenging to work in, and did not fully realize the impact of trustees’ behaviour on staff.

Trustees have the right to ask hard questions, and should do so to better serve the district’s students, but along with that right is the responsibility to ensure that all employees have a safe and respectful work environment. The WorkSafeBC report gives four specific examples of inappropriate conduct or comments that a trustee reasonably ought to have known would cause staff to be humiliated or intimidated and were seen as bullying and harassment. The Goldner report accepts that relentless and aggressive questioning created a culture of fear in which staff dreaded their attendance at meetings where they would be expected to report to the Board, particularly if they knew that their recommendations would not be well received.

Some former trustees have minimized the reports’ findings. However, I see that the actions of the board and trustees that I observed were accurately reported (with one exception, the WorkSafeBC report says a motion requesting revisions to the school closure reports was passed when it was referred), I have no reason to doubt that investigators accurately reported witness statements, and the conclusions that VSB staff were bullied and harassed are clearly laid out.

Trustees are elected by the public and should be held publicly accountable for their actions. For both investigation reports I asked that any reference to me be made public and I am mentioned once in each report as part of the sequence of events. I am never named as a trustee with inappropriate behavior. However as one of the board’s nine trustees I do accept a degree of responsibility for the overall VSB work environment and with hindsight I regret that I did not attempt to curb other trustees’ disrespectful behaviour, especially in public meetings. I continue to suggest that all former trustees agree to have their information made public in both investigation reports so we can all be held accountable for our actions.

The investigations found that the school closure process was a key issue. In May 2016 trustees voted unanimously to direct staff to prepare a list of schools for possible closure. I voted to consider school closures not because I wanted to close schools but because our district was facing a financial crisis; $22 million in cuts to balance the next year’s budget and an anticipated $15 million cuts the year after. In September trustees voted unanimously for 11 of the 12 listed schools to move forward to the closure consultation process before the process was suspended in October.

The school closure process was carried out at the direction of the board. There is no justification for a trustee to say to staff at the well-attended September board meeting “See what you guys have created here. Look at this, you guys created all of this”.

Since the school closure process was suspended implementation of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling has required additional funding as well as more classrooms in many schools, but the financial crisis remains – this year’s balanced budget has $2 million in cuts, and over the next four years a deficit of $27.5 million is anticipated.

It is clear that a respectful relationship between an elected board and VSB staff must be established and this should be top of mind for anyone thinking of becoming a candidate in the next election. There are many difficult decisions ahead for our district, including balancing budgets, use of space in schools and achieving seismic upgrades, and Vancouver’s students need to have effective trustee leadership to best support their learning.

Janet Fraser was elected a Green trustee in the 2014 Vancouver School Board election and ran for MLA as the BC Green candidate in Vancouver-Langara.

http://vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/opinion-vsb-trustees-accountable-for-toxic-work-environment

Provincial election – BC Greens candidate for Vancouver-Langara

I am very proud to be the BC Greens MLA candidate in my home riding of Vancouver-Langara and will focus on my campaign from now until the provincial election on May 9.
I will keep up-to-date with what’s happening at the VSB, for example by reading agendas, reports and minutes, but until after the election I will less frequently attend meetings and blog about what’s happening less frequently.
I am committed to public education, care deeply about our students, and seek to serve them to the best of my ability.

VSB investigation into harassment in the workplace

This is the media release with my response to this investigation.

The Vancouver School Board (VSB) released the full investigator’s report that found bullying and harassment existed at the VSB.

Former Trustee Janet Fraser, elected as a Green Trustee in November 2014, believes that Trustees should be subject to full public scrutiny as to how they undertook their governance role. As such she contacted the VSB to inform them that she consents to the disclosure of her personal information in this report. She has received confirmation that any personal information relating to her has been disclosed.

“This report concludes that the partisan behaviour of some trustees prevailed over trustees working collaboratively as a board and with VSB staff, which created a toxic and unsustainable environment for staff,” she noted.

“The report noted specific incidents where certain trustees seemed inclined to follow a political agenda rather than seek information on which to base their decisions and engage in thoughtful discussion to assist their decision making. With hindsight I realise I could have spoken up, especially in public meetings, to attempt to curb trustees’ disrespectful behaviour and to try to ensure a safe and respectful workplace for all VSB staff,” said Fraser.

“As a newly elected trustee, I stepped into a pre-existing board dynamic that I found overly partisan and very challenging to work in. I did not fully appreciate the impact that inappropriate behaviour by other trustees was having on VSB staff and, looking to the future, it will be the responsibility of all future trustees to create and maintain a safe and respectful workplace.”

Janet Fraser’s focus as a trustee was always serving Vancouver’s students; working to give them the best opportunities for educational success and making decisions in their best interests.

Report:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/publications/Rosyln%20Goldner%20Report%20redacted%20Mar%207%2017.pdf

Board meeting – Feb 27

Notes from the February 27 board meeting.

The VSB public meetings to consider the BC Hydro downtown substation proposal, which will impact Lord Roberts Annex, have been moved back to ensure all reports are complete.  The Planning & Facilities Committee (II) meeting will now be on March 27, with the decision to be made at a March 28 board meeting.

The student trustee Isabella Priete reported on Vancouver District Student Council (VDSC) activities.  A new website is being launched and it’s all the work of Vancouver students.  This will give easy access to current information and give opportunities for student feedback.
The VDSC survey results have two main themes – students want more diverse opportunities to show their learning as there are many types of learners, and the timing of the school day, in particular a later start time.
As Isabella is a Kitsilano student she took part, along with 1400 Kits students, in the whole school assembly and pink day parade on Broadway.  Pink day gave a great sense of community as everyone at the school came together for this great cause.

All recommendations in committee reports were approved, and all were routine school board business.  For the amended budget it was clarified that the $50/student provincial funding is not included yet.  Legal fees have more than doubled compared to last year, primarily due to more freedom of information requests.  The fee recovery is set in legislation – the first two hours work are free and subsequent hours are charged at $30/hour, but these amounts do not cover the VSB actual costs.  The budget is moving from a one-year to a five-year plan, to tie in with the five-year strategic plan.

Questions:
Any targeted provincial funds received now that the amended budget has been approved will be recorded as such.  Any amounts not spent by the end of the financial year (June 30, 2017) will be recorded as a committed surplus.
Will there be more time for budget consultation if needed?  The schedule is as posted.
The VSB has received and is reviewing the independent investigator’s report required by WorkSafeBC.
The VSB will not prepare a restoration budget as they have moved to a new budget process with the intent to depoliticize the process.

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/board-committees

 

Gordon Yellow Schoolhouse

Highlights from the February 22 Planning & Facilities Committee (II) meeting.

I would like to think that an appropriate, fully funded use for the Gordon Yellow Schoolhouse is possible.  However, given the current poor state of public education funding, I could not support spending any VSB funds on this, or any building, not required for student education.

In March 2016 the elected board passed a motion that directed that the VSB seek proposals for retaining and restoring the Gordon Yellow Schoolhouse that included (1) the VSB be reimbursed for any incremental costs incurred, and (2) that the proponent assumes responsibility for all costs of planning, restoring, and future maintenance of the building in accordance with uses approved by the VSB and the City of Vancouver.
A second motion was that the board authorized the demolition of the Schoolhouse if no acceptable proposals are received by May 20.

At this meeting there were seven delegations.  Six delegations, local residents, a residents’ association and heritage groups, supported saving the building. The Gordon PAC said that the space should be used to the benefit of the Gordon community – the building should either be demolished to increase playground space or be used to benefit the school community, for example as daycare, pre-school or after-school community space.

The Official Trustee said that because the VSB heritage liaison committee has not discussed this issue any decision will come after the committee has met.

VSB staff, in answer to a question, said this space is not suitable for teaching students.  A teacher representative said any board money must go to students and is concerned about the amount of resources the VSB is committing to this building.

Finally, a stakeholder requested updates on the Kingsford-Smith, Jamieson and Carleton seismic and repair projects.

Report:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/17_02Feb22_op_commII_item%208.pdf