Tuesday January 5, 2021 | LANGFORD, BC [Updated 9:20 pm January 5; 5:45 am January 6, 2021, and new content on COVID update at 10:35 am and 1:55 pm on January 6, 2021]
by Mary P Brooke, editor | Island Social Trends
A two-hour Sooke School District (SD62) Education Policy Committee meeting covered a range of deep-impact topics this evening, January 5. The meeting ran from 6 to 8 pm online (livestreamed during the ongoing COVID pandemic).
Presentations and discussions included details of how career-development goals are impressed upon different age/grade levels (elementary school through secondary) and how the next strategic plan for the school district will be developed.
Gearing schools as a job-creation machine:
Career-development goals (called ‘Transitions to Post-Secondary Training’ in the meeting agenda) included items like dual-credit courses, and visits from professionals in the community to make career-information presentations. SD62 done a lot of dual-credit work with Camosun College, and initial discussions are underway with Vancouver Island University (VIU).
Associate Superintendent Paul Block lauded the work of now-retired EMCS Principal Pat Swinburnson who had a flair for making dual credit courses happen in abundance.
Guiding the educational ship:
Strategic plan development discussion centered mostly around whether the plan and recommendations should be developed by staff or elected trustees (or some combination of both). SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson said he felt it was an ‘opportunity missed’ if trustees weren’t involved at the ground level for developing the next strategic plan.
Three of the four trustees at tonight’s committee meeting were against trustee-involvement at the development stage — Bob Phillips (committee chair), Ravi Parmar (board chair, ex-officio member on the committee), and Dianna Seaton in fact seemed quite tense during Trustee Allison Watson’s outline of reasons why she thinks trustees should have input to the building of the strategic plan.
As this was a committee meeting (not a full board meeting), not all trustees were required to be in attendance. Not at this meeting were the other three trustees of the seven-trustee board: Bob Beckett (board vice-chair), Wendy Hobbs, and Margot Swinburnson.
There did seem to be concensus among all trustees this evening that the three key areas of the plan be maintained as the overall framework: Learning, Growth and Engagement.
The SD62 strategic plan is presently proposed as being for four years (2021-2015) instead of the current three years (2018-2021). That was presented by staffer Sue Grundy (and later explained by Stinson) as having to do with allowing trustees old and new having governance by and input to current and successive strategic plans. It seemed rather odd to have staff determining the role around input of politicians and the four-year provincially-mandated election cycle.
Parmar in particular seemed to feel that staff should gather all the details to go into a proposed strategic plan that could then be explored by the board. Phillips had a similar view, emphasizing that a budget of $152 million and a student population of 11,000 was a task ‘too large’ for trustees to gather their heads around — that it would take the work of staff to assemble all that. Who, if not the elected trustees with their combined many decades of wisdom, to wrap their heads around the school district (and its families, parents, teachers and support staff) that it serves.
However, usually a strategic plan is more of a vision statement crafted around a philosophy of achievements and purpose than it is a digest of the details of all things. So it’s possible the idea and/or goals of the next strategic plan are different under this board than when the concept first developed for SD62 under former SD62 Superintendent Jim Cambridge and the 2014-2018 board.
The board’s current direction of how the strategic plan should be developed appears to miss the point that (as Superintendent Stinson put it during tonight’s meeting), that trustees are the ones who guide the ship while staff do the rowing.
Info vs vision:
It could be that the intensive labour of assembling information is strategically left to staff and the board feels it will have enough attentive sway to change things once the massive document reaches their board table for discussion, consideration and approval by May (approval required by June if to be implemented starting September 2021). Though it can be difficult to massage or even pick apart a massive hard-wrought document once it’s close to deadline.
It’s good that trustees have confidence in staff to guide the development of a key policy document, but it could be naive to think that all it will need is some tweaking by the time it reaches them for discussion. Trustees are elected by the public to know the community they are elected to serve; that’s very different from thinking of a school district as a large operational machine. One is elected to lead, the other is hired to respond.
Board Chair Ravi Parmar did say that if any new incoming board was not comfortable with an existing strategic plan that it could be turfed through a board motion. Politically-speaking, that’s the equivalent of a coup; a strategic plan would have to be quite far-off the radar for a new board to muster enough to steam to pull that off (something that any new board is unlikely to do as it finds its footing for a stable four-year term).
Parents and the public (who pay taxes into the school system) might take note of this odd governance development in terms of public education management (leaning hard to the corporate right) at the district and board level.
Superintendent Scott Stinson gave a COVID-19 update. “Nothing has really changed from where we were before the winter break,” says Stinson.
“There were no new orders issued for schools from the Provincial Health Officer and new new direction from the Ministry of Education.”
“We continue to have students return to in-class instruction from our gradual transition/remote learning option,” the superintendent reported, adding that there are now under 500 students taking advantage of the gradual transition program. That’s down from the original expectation of 1,200 students being interested in remote learning (based on a survey by SD62 ahead of September 2020) until they felt ready to return to in-class learning during the pandemic; when September arrived that actual number was 900. So about half have now returned to in-classroom.
The long meeting ended up with no public input (question period is left to the end, and it was a long meeting). Media is not allowed to ask questions during the online meetings of SD62 (as outlined in all formal agendas), but does take questions outside of meetings.
Minutes and recommendations from the Education Policy Committee (and similarly the Resource Committee) go to the full board for review or consideration. The next SD62 board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday January 26 at 7 pm.
Sooke School District 62 (SD62) presently has 27 schools in Langford, Colwood and Sooke which serve students as well from Highlands, East Sooke, areas west of Sooke (out to Port Renfrew) and parts of View Royal. Two new schools (one elementary and one middle) are under construction to come on stream in September 2022 in the burgeoning Westhills area of Langford; a second highschool is in the planning stages for Langford as well.
The growth of the SD62 student population has been a key focus of board meetings since 2014. In the past seven years the number of associate superintendents has increased to three (as well as creating positions principals for development in various areas like new schools and international student programs) as the number of students has increased by about 400+ per year.
As is often stated by SD62 Chair Ravi Parmar, SD62 is the fastest growing school district per capita in BC. The largest school district in BC is in Surrey on the Vancouver lower mainland.
Due to the relatively affordable housing in the Langford and Sooke areas, student population is expected to continue increasing at a fairly steady pace as more families move to the west shore.
SD62 is the largest employer in the west shore area.
===== About the writer:
Island Social Trends editor Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., Cert PR, has been covering the news of SD62 at the board and committee level since 2014. Her now-grown children attended schools in SD61, SD62 and SD72.