The Balance In Governance

As parents and educators, we know there’s a balance when working with those who may depend upon us.  We want to be their friends, but that’s not our only role.  There is a boundary — the hardest one to find — between being a friend and being an effective role model and guide.

The same is true with Boards and governance.  It’s not necessarily about being liked, it’s about being effective.

While my most recent experience is as a Trustee with the West Vancouver Board of Education, my comments are applicable to Boards in general. I also don’t claim to have answers nor have I conducted exhaustive research; these are personal reflections.

It may be important for Boards and the senior teams they work with to have their goals and objectives align, but this doesn’t always mean their interests are the same. So while mutual support and consideration are essential ingredients for long-term success, there has to be an acknowledgement that consensus is not the same as agreement. Opposition and conflict are not always signs of dysfunction and elements of both can lead to better decision-making because conformity and complacency, in my opinion, are greater dangers.  

West Vancouver - Photo by: Reema Faris - West Vancouver School Board Trustee

A quick Google search turned up this provocative article from the Harvard Business Review which points to weaknesses in our notions about teams and stresses the importance of asking questions. I always find it perplexing that we stress the importance of critical thinking skills in twenty-first century learning and yet have trouble with the actual application of such skills in the workplace.  To me, a successful Board is one which makes its safe for questions to be asked (easy questions, tough questions, ridiculous questions, any kind of question) because that is a Board which values knowing over guessing, inquiry over a lack of curiousity, and due diligence over acceptance.

Perhaps the most challenging part of being on any Board today is the way in which information circulates.  Correspondence is rarely two ways — it’s multi-directional —  and the speed at which we communicate has accelerated.  It’s so important to get a good grasp on how communications and correspondence will be managed, but it’s also critical, in my opinion, to recognize that managing the process of being responsive is not about shutting down voices. It then becomes an issue of how to set up an effective system which is timely, efficient, and allows for diversity in who speaks on what and when. The tendency, as we can see in federal and provincial politics, is to centralize the message and if you’re like me, you can see that it works, but at a cost to democratic representation. 

Boards also need to know more than what they are told they need to know. As is true in education, it’s not about spoon feeding content, but about engagement and broadening horizons.  It’s also important to remember who makes up a Board’s constituency.  In a complex field such as education for example, it’s not just about the Trustees around the table nor the team in the School Board office nor the administration group in a school, it’s about all of these and it’s also about parents, students, employees, teachers, the community, and more. 

It’s not easy being on a Board just as it’s not easy being a parent or an educator. And it’s never about finding the easy way of doing things. 

It’s about recognizing boundaries and making sure they never turn into untraversable moats.

 

With Labour Peace And A Four-Year Horizon

The results may be unofficial, but they are in.

My congratulations to Carolyn Broady, Dave Stevenson, Nicole Brown, Sheelah Donahue, and Pieter Dorsman: the newly elected West Vancouver Board of Education.

With a new mandate of four years and with the campaign behind them, this group of Trustees can now focus on the key priority which is to ensure that our public education system in West Vancouver continues to be one of the best, not only in British Columbia but across Canada.

We are so fortunate in West Vancouver. Not to deny that we too have vulnerable populations and significant needs here, but we are an economically affluent community and one which benefits from the support offered by parents, residents, and businesses.  As I’ve often said, it’s not a surprise that we have a graduation rate of 99% in West Vancouver; anything less would be a scandal.

As a school district, we also have an accomplished team of leaders and educators working on behalf of our students and our community — a team recognized for their innovative practices as well as their commitment to excellence.  Their efforts are matched by the hard work and diligence of all the district’s employees.

And yet I’m apprehensive.

Lions Gate BridgeWhy?

Because there are pressures on the public education system from which even West Vancouver will not be immune.

The most significant pressure which this Board will face, as with all Boards across the province, is the issue of funding. While West Vancouver has been able to develop other sources of revenue, whether via academies, specialized programs, or international student enrolment, the amount raised may keep annual deficits at bay, but it does not fix the structural deficit upon which our system is based.  There are cracks in the foundation.

There’s also a question in my mind as to what the provincial government’s intent may be with regard to both the governance structure and the bargaining structure.  I’m worried about consultations which may appear to be based on consensus and which in fact are not.

With the election of a new Board and with one more public Board meeting to attend, I will be entering a new phase.  I will now be a former Trustee, but that won’t make me any less committed to the cause of public education, whether in West Vancouver or throughout British Columbia. I will continue to play a part as an interested observer and passionate parent-advocate. To find out more about my plans, please check out EducationForBC.com and the information posted there.

With regard to School District 45, my top three issues for the new Board, in addition to continued advocacy at the provincial level, are: (1) to build and enhance relationships within the district; (2) to ensure the continued prominence of the arts and humanities in all our schools while exploring and expanding new opportunities for students; and, (3) to work towards smaller class sizes as well as enhanced support for students including advanced learners, children with special needs, and English Language Learners.

With a longer mandate and labour contracts in effect until 2019, there’s time and stability within the public education system for this Board to do its very best.

I’m counting on them as are all the members of our community, all our education partner groups, and, most importantly, all our students.

My appreciation to all the candidates who so generously and graciously put their names forward for consideration and my congratulations again to each of the newly elected and re-elected Trustees. Thank you in advance for your diligence, your hard work, and your passionate commitment to public education in West Vancouver.

An Announcement in Two Parts – Part 2: Let The Talks Begin

I want to talk to everyone. I want to talk to parents, students, teachers, administrators, Trustees, business leaders, politicians, school district employees, community residents, the media, and more. I want to talk to people in the Lower Mainland, throughout British Columbia, across Canada, and internationally.  And I want to share the content of these discussions…Continue Reading