When I chose to run as a candidate in the 2011 municipal elections, the K-12 public education system in British Columbia was embroiled in job action.
Almost three years later, the public education system in British Columbia is once again contending with a job action which many are calling the worst ever for the sheer rancour of the debate, the barbed rhetoric which abounds, and the crumbling relationships.
In other words, my entire term as a Trustee on the West Vancouver Board of Education has been characterized by the lurch from one job action to another.
While bargaining has chewed away at my time as a Trustee, it’s insatiable appetite has also served as an obstacle to discussions and innovations on a number of educational topics.
Because if you’re consistently caught up in trying to clean up the mess your guests have made with the appetizers, you’ll never have the chance to sit down with your company to enjoy the main course.
If our focus is concentrated on bargaining issues, what are we not talking about? Here’s a short-list of “big picture” items which I feel are overshadowed by the labour situation whether at a local level or provincially (in alphabetical order):
- which Ministry reports are essential and which ones aren’t?
- is there a way to simplify school district financial reporting to ensure better utilization of staff time and resources without sacrificing the integrity and thoroughness of the information required?
- aside from the issue of underfunding, is it time to review the current funding formula?
Assessment (I know much has been done in this area and some school districts have already begun experimenting with different approaches, but I’m afraid that work has been disrupted and the information won’t be available for sharing as best practices with others.)
- what should report cards look like at each level in the K-12 system?
- how do we continue to move forward on implementing models of formative assessment?
- is there a different way to organize credits at the high school level to enable a more flexible route to graduation rather than one based strictly on work in school or on a progression through grade levels?
- is grouping students according to their age still the desired approach to education?
- how do we balance the advantages of early learning with the fact that for some students a later start into a formal school environment may be more desirable?
- do all students require a full five years of secondary education or should there be a fast-track option for some learners?
Calendar (some districts are already working with different calendars)
- do we have to start school in September and stop in June with the traditional breaks at the end of each calendar year, for spring break, and so on?
- are balanced calendar models more successful for students and their families?
- what are the logistical barriers to changing the calendar within a district? That is, does it work well to have one or more schools on a different calendar or does it work better to change all at once?
- how do we break through the walls between our communities and our schools to improve and increase relevancy and connections?
- what sort of partnerships can we build with our community without compromising the integrity of our public education system?
- how do we draw on the expertise and skills of our community members to further enhance and support school learning and the work of our educators?
These are some topics I yearn to delve into along with other issues such as the new curriculum, pre-service requirements for future educators, and the structure of practicums for student teachers.
Oh, and what exactly is a teacher’s role and what do we even mean by education in today’s world?
And while I believe that a negotiated settlement is the best foundation from which we may be able to enter into a progressive and enlightening discussion on many of these issues, it makes me very sad to acknowledge that the time needed to repair relationships once a deal is signed means we may not have the time we need to talk about such things substantively let alone implement them before we’re at the bargaining table again!
In the meantime, school districts continue to strive to do the very best for the families of this province but if each electoral mandate continues to be a Ben Hur-like chariot race from one set of failed negotiations to another, we will — all of us — have failed in our duty to build a better world for our children.
It will be a collective failure of imagination.