Superintendent Report - April, 2010
Category : Superintendent Report
Published by Karen Delaney [Karen Delaney] on 04/27/2010

SUPERINTENDENT’S REPORT
APRIL, 2010




As we begin the 2010-2011 budget development process, there are several issues that need to be kept in mind. The budget will be developed pursuant to a set of assumptions with the most important assumption being the implementation of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board’s ‘Business Plan’. We are in the stages of reviewing the preliminary budget profile sent to us from the Department of Education.

The Board had a quick look at the numbers but has elected to progress slowly with a session with the Department of Education’s finance personnel to better enable us to interpret the actual meaning of the formula results and the mandates of specific revenues and expenditures. Again, one has to be clear in our responsibility as a regional board that a prepared balanced budget is a legislative mandate.

As we begin our deliberations in respect to our new budget, one will immediately be faced with issues such as: decreased transportation revenues, shortfalls in maintenance and operational revenues, mandatory teacher cuts, some reductions in targeted funding and grappling with union negotiations resulting from the Department of Education’s successful completion of these contracts.

Again, the Board will be forced to make decisions about items added to the proposed budget which must be offset by items that must be taken out to balance the additions. Such decisions will require more creative thinking as it relates to further downsizing and/or the restructuring of our regional board area. The bottom line will be applied to our decision making that will be underpinned with fairness, logic and equity within finite and limited resources.

There is an almost legendary quality around small school closures that those of us who have survived such events have a true appreciation. I would like to direct my remarks towards rural and small school communities and their reactions to the threat of school closures. I believe that such background is extremely useful and beneficial to elected board members who have the ultimate responsibility for identifying which schools should be reviewed for possible closure.

One must understand that regional school boards’ experiences with small and rural school closures have remained controversial and traumatic and continues to be one of the most difficult issues faced by school boards and administrators.

The Department of Education has expressed its commitment in respect to rural and remote community schools as being an important community asset that supports area vibrancy, economic vitality and social connections. The value to the community should and can reach beyond the educational services that are provided within the facility. The Department of Education will be exploring, with school boards and other department partners, possible approaches that could enhance the use of school facilities, particularly those that are underutilized due to declining enrolments.

Alternate uses to be explored include: the provision of interagency services that supports children, youth & families, daycare programs, community support centers that provide adult education and parenting workshops or programs and services that promote healthy living. Again, there may be opportunities to enhance the School Plus Pilots or colocate key community services within a school to support maximizing school capacity.

Over the past number of years, the Department of Education did a comprehensive review of the guidelines for reviewing small rural or remote schools. Most of the more urgent concerns were in respect to timelines and schedules, full and sincere participation by all stakeholders, availability of relevant data and lastly the provision for the community to create their own report. One has to understand that there are more crucial concerns for communities. They wanted to have significant attention given to the impact on the community, keep their children in the community and have a traditional pedagogical approach with their children.

Extolling the virtue of the revised guidelines for the identification of schools for review does not reduce community opposition to subsequent closures. It has a tendency to exacerbate the opposite. These guidelines in no way persuade communities to be more satisfied to accept the fact that their schools may close. There should be nothing less than a guarantee that the schools will remain in the communities, that the rural or small school education is valuable and acceptable and that the school itself is the heart and soul of the cultural, economic and educational aspects of the community. Lastly, to believe that the school community acceptance of a school closure will be enhanced by detailed regulated guidelines is a myth. The process has contradicting effects on bringing about a reduction of resistance against closures.

The greater consideration is having the Department of Education, the regional boards and the larger communities of Nova Scotia realize that there is a comprehensive concept of small and rural education that has value and should not be dismissed because of political, fiscal and ignorant considerations.

In the present state of the global downturn in economics, it is not the time to further attack small communities by closing their schools while in the midst of decreasing population, lack of labor opportunities and the vagaries of living in a depressed economic area.

The theme this month for parents, guardians and students is centered around student records.

The student record – how do educators handle it? During the last decade or so, our society has become very sensitive about personal records. Information that was once considered to be routine has sometimes been discovered to be not only in error, but harmful to people as well.

The school record is not exempt from these kinds of problems. Although there is limited evidence of misinformation in or abuse of school records, it has happened. The Educational Rights and Privacy Act were enacted a decade ago to avoid this potential for abuse and error.

School records are not always as objective as they seem. Grades and test scores are usually quite objective and show what the student and parents already know. Occasionally, however, observations made about a student’s behavior are also recorded in the school record. The information may be incomplete and, therefore, give an incorrect impression of the student. It is difficult for adults, including educators, to understand completely why a student’s behavior changes. For example, a teacher may be unaware of a family problem or illness which may affect a student’s behavior. At the same time, a teacher who is aware of any problems that exist in the student’s home may assume that they are causing the child’s unusual behavior when, in fact, the child may not be affected by them at all.

Most school records, I assure you, are based upon honest and objective data/information known about or provided by the student, parent and teacher. That includes personal family statistics, grades, honors, and health information. After all, few teachers or administrators have the interest, let alone the time, to record petty and incidental behaviors such as: telling stories, feigning illness, and disobeying rules, which are common to most children. Teachers also try not to be concerned with any gossip about the family that they might hear.

The law, as it is currently written, requires that the schools make the complete record available to parents or to students who are eighteen or older. This requirement affords protection not only against any possible ‘secret file’, but also against error. If parents believe that something in the record has been noted inaccurately, they must notify the school so that corrections can be made. Although the parent and student may not like the contents of the record, the law assures them that the information is correct.

There is another safeguard written into the law. It restricts schools from sharing information about students with other agencies except under special circumstances. That assures privacy. The price of the inconvenience to schools and law enforcement agencies is worth the protection the law affords the individual.

Historically, the schools have sought and used information to help students. The law does not change that fact. It does, however, help to create a level of trust between educators and parents, and that is always a plus for students.

Tonight I direct your attention to the Board Chair’s comments from principals who alert us to the varied successes and celebrations related to our students. Please take some time to read and provide feedback to the schools that have made the effort to contribute these articles. The articles can be viewed on our website: (www.cbv.ns.ca)