School District 51 - year in review
Teresa Reznasoff, chair of the board of education for School District #51, provided the board with a brief year in review at their Dec. 8 meeting. Below is a re-cap of her report.
Dec. 9, 2008 saw the first meeting of a newly elected board of education. Two new board members joined us, Kris Sabourin and Vicki Gee from the West Boundary area.
It was reported at that first meeting that our six-year completion rate for our Aboriginal students had taken an unexpected downturn, and was being investigated by both secondary schools. It was later determined that there were a number of students who were no longer with the school district (moved to another school or out of province) and because of our small numbers that it had made an impact on the completion rate.
We were expecting a new strong start program to be announced soon and in this year we have opened a mobile outreach strong start and just opened one at Dr. Perley School last week.
One-time grant money came our way at this time last year also providing a new school bus and some infrastructure money for ‘green’ technology through Fortis.
The appreciative inquiry process completed in the fall of 2008 was still fresh on the minds of everyone and a summary was due to go out soon along with a survey to help determine our priorities.
In the New Year, the foundation skills assessment (FSA) conversation started. Our Board sent a letter to the ministry calling for a policy change on the availability of FSA results to outside organizations such as the Fraser Institute. We also forwarded a motion that was passed at the B.C. School Trustees Association (BCSTA) provincial council asking for the results of the FSA’s to be masked so that the Fraser Institute could not use the results to rank schools.
In February, the district hosted a trades and apprenticeship consultation meeting. A representative from Gold Trail provided a look at what had worked in their district and had some suggestions for us, some new ones and some we already had acted upon. There were other conversations over the year with Selkirk College and the transitions coordinator.
Also in February, the Board initiated brown bag lunches as a way for the new board to get into schools and meet informally with staff. It was very successful and a model we will most likely use again but perhaps in smaller groups.
Over the next months there were several district development team meetings to continue the work on the results of the appreciative inquiry process.
March saw the board engage in a facilitation workshop provided to us by BCSTA. We talked about working in a respectful, frank manner with each other while we become familiar with each other’s learning and conversation styles.
April was the real beginning of our budget planning process. On March 31 the ministry provided us with our funding announcement, and two weeks later we were meeting to figure out how to deal with a 5.6 per cent or $ 900,000 funding shortfall. Earlier in the year, the secretary treasurer led the board and the public through an exercise aimed at focusing us on what was most important to us. We used the results of appreciative inquiry and polled everyone at a finance committee meeting to come up with a list of what was most important to us. That list was used as a backdrop to subsequent budget discussions. It was a very long and arduous road to finally arrive at our balanced budget with the board using over $400,000 of contingency funds to balance. We had a number of very helpful sessions with our principals and vice principals and great public and partner input. We worked into June before finally adopting our budget.
August came with a very rude surprise from the Ministry of Education and our annual facilities grant (AFG) money was withheld, and that gave us cause for great concern for future funding announcements.
We hit the ground running in September with a series of public consultation meetings, “Our Kids, Our Schools, Our Future” and were pleased with the strong public response and attendance. But, because of a significant economic downturn provincially and worldwide, the signal we were receiving like the cancellation of the AFG, the board decided to postpone the second wave of consultations until we had a clearer idea of what our future funding would look like. Behind the scenes the board continued to work on the mandated review of our administrative costs and structures. We had been instructed by the ministry to reduce administrative costs by three-per-cent and redirect those savings into the classroom in our 2009/10 budget.
This board sent letters to the ministry about the cancellation of the AFG; we submitted a letter to the select standing committee for budget consultations. After consultation with the district development team, we also wrote our MLA with our top education issues and concerns. It has been a year with significant advocacy both locally and provincially. It is a year of unprecedented threats to public education.
Achievement contract, aboriginal education report, literacy report, class size and composition reports, school growth plans and more and more all came our way for approval. Finance, operations, policy, district development team, board planning meetings and regular board meetings have seen the Board meeting pretty well weekly since the start of school.
Recently, we held a partner meeting with Superintendent of Achievement Rod Allen and another with MLA John Slater, both positive firsts for the district.
There are many, many more elements to this first year for the newly elected Board. But, the most important work being done, are in classrooms all across the district. While we grapple with the big picture items, our staff and students are engaging in the real work. Teaching and learning. There have been many, many significant milestones in every school, for every teacher and staff member and certainly for every one of our students. And that is why we are here together, doing the work that we do, and I thank each and every one of the board trustees for their contributions.