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

 

Advertisements

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