Candidates talk about supporting children entering the school system and other topics.

Campbell River School trustee candidates Q&A #3

Candidates’ views on supporting vulnerable children, improving grad rates and engaging with First Nations

The Campbell River Mirror has asked the candidates for school trustee questions around public questions, and we will be running the answers in the candidates’ own words in the days leading up to the Oct. 20 election. We did ask both Susan Wilson and Shannon Briggs to answer them too, though each has won by acclamation. Wilson chose to answer the questions, but Briggs declined, citing time constraints around a recent move. Manfred Hack submitted his answers late and have been added to the end.

3) How can school trustees help the children who enter the school system categorized as “vulnerable” according to Early Development Instrument (EDI) indicators? How could they help increase the completion rate for students as they go through the system? What ways could the district better engage with local First Nations?

Andrew Beaudin – According to the EDI which measures children’s ability to meet age-appropriate developmental expectations in five ways: Physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, communication skills and general knowledge. As trustees we can look at the categories, of physical, emotional, children living in poverty and find ways to support the kids who are labelled by the EDI vulnerable. EDI data are particularly valuable when used alongside other data and information including census, administrative health and education data, community knowledge and expertise, and information on local services and programs. Listening to the experiences of parents and caregivers can also provide important context to guide conversations and planning efforts. As a stronger and shared understanding of child vulnerability emerges through conversation and inquiry in a community or region, it is possible to move toward a collective plan of action. This process might include the creation of a shared vision across organizations and sectors, collective strategic planning, partnership development, and finally the selection of new actions and initiatives in which the trustees would be apart of to give these kids the best chance to succeed.

We can help increase the completion rate for students going through the system by ensuring that the students progress and growth is graded and tested. How do you know where a student is unless you do this? If you know they are struggling, then support them in the areas of struggle with both encouragement and practical means. Put processes in place that help teachers do this. If students are struggling silently with no feedback or help they will often drop out. This will also help the parents to know how they can assist their child.

Helping or better engaging with local First Nations is important and our school system should be treating them just like any other child enrolled in our Caring and Safe for all schools. It should not mater what background, culture or lifestyle we come from. Our schools should be of one culture that brings each student into the realm of acceptance and understanding in who they are, hope for the future and what they need to succeed in the world. That being said, if they are testing as “vulnerable” we would support them in those areas.

Kat Eddy – This is a multi-pronged question and requires a big answer. First, having been involved with the early year’s community and the EDI since its initial wave 1 release, I wish to celebrate to work that our community and school district has done to decrease our community’s vulnerability. Campbell River is one of a handful of communities province-wide to achieve this. Teams of professionals across numerous organizations, big and small, have worked together to address the needs of some of our most vulnerable children and families. This work is currently at a critical juncture as funding for the early years in its current form is ending in the spring and as a community we need to be looking forward to find a way to continue this valuable work.

I believe that strong family connections help to build learners who achieve. I am passionate about supporting schools in building stronger home/school/community connections with parents in support of their children’s education. I believe that an engaged, empowered parent can offer much to solidify the learning being shared by their educators. Further, I think that some parents struggle to celebrate their role as their child’s first teacher and key emotional support. Schools can further assist parents who require additional supports by having a deep awareness of community based resources for matters that fall outside the scope of capacity for our schools.

As a community member I am proud of the work that has happened through the engagement and direction of our Indigenous communities. I also feel that this work is just beginning. There has been much that has happened through truth and reconciliation and I feel that perhaps we are beginning to see the way forward for our entire community. I am deeply grateful to those who have shared their experiences and hope that truth will help heal the past in order to better benefit our future generations of children. I have a deep respect for the Indigenous communities here in Campbell River and encourage their elders and leaders to share their knowledge with us so that we can better provide educational opportunities to all of our communities children.

Ted Foster – A very good question. Vulnerable, in my dictionary means “open to attack or injury.” The Early Development Instrument goes on to say that vulnerable children are those who, without additional support and care, are more likely to experience challenges in their school years and beyond. Children whose scores fall below the vulnerability cut-off on a particular EDI scale are said to be vulnerable in that area of development. The five scales of EDI are

1. Physical Health and Well-being

2. Social Competence

3. Emotional Maturity

4. Language and Cognitive Development

5. Communication Skills and General Knowledge.

Trustees could help the “vulnerable” students by offering serious support. We know that children who have an empty stomach are not likely to perform well academically or socially. We could seek ways to provide greater classroom and community backed support and somehow try to find ways to improve the home environments that foster these vulnerabilities. We know that early childhood education initiatives, like pre-kindergarten and others that address pre-schooler opportunity are very effective in producing very positive long term educational results. This is a community concern and will require a team effort to make meaningful change. The various health and social agencies that have a mandate to assist vulnerable youth should have a more prominent engagement with the vulnerable in the school setting.

To better engage First Nations, 24 per cent of our enrolment self-identify as Indigenous. They live on or off reserve; their experiences vary widely. The Aboriginal Education Council seems to be doing an outstanding job. Graduation ceremonies, recognition dinners, school support, programs, social / cultural events and participation are great, as is Laichwiltach Family Life on 4th Avenue. I understand the First Nations have or shortly will be starting a preschool early learners group on reserve. The First Nations completion rates have dramatically improved over recent years. This is not to say there is no room for improvement, far from it. We should celebrate their success and continue our support. There are challenges – the various bands / tribes have adversarial histories.

Richard Franklin – Two years ago the current board of education allocated funds to assist in the kindergarten transition period where our youngest students entered the school system. A special grant was developed to add temporary staff at the beginning of the school year to enable the kindergarten teachers to give one to one attention to the students. Trustees will need to protect this grant from competing demands for funding in order to continue what has been proven to be a very successful program. In schools where there is a high percentage of vulnerable students, as determined by the EDI, the trustees must continue to approve the provision of additional staff in order to give these students the attention they need.

Our district has a very good completion rate, one that is increasing as the years go by. It is my belief that by supporting the new curriculum for grades 10-12 the trustees will enhance completion rates. The new curriculum gives greater flexibility and does a better job of meeting the students’ needs to pursue career paths that interest them.

It was my great honour to meet with the Chiefs and Elders of the Kwakiutl District Council this year. At that meeting I introduced the Indigenous Education Policy that I had developed with our Indigenous Advisory Council and Principal of Indigenous Education Greg Johnson. This policy was developed, then presented for approval by the Indigenous Chiefs and Councils of all bands in the district, as well as with representatives of the local Metis, before it was finally presented to the board of education for adoption. This process of genuine consultation was a good start for better engagement with local First Nations. In future, our new board of education and our new superintendent must take the time to meet with the leaders of local First Nations and Metis to jointly plan for improvement.

Daryl Hagen – We have just begun to develop our district-wide plan for the upcoming four years. It is critical we focus all of our resources on issues which we have identified with all our partner groups. We need to ask ourselves what are the major priorities so we can all take ownership — money, resources, personnel — there are school growth plans, there are professional development opportunities, there are specialist teams curriculum changes. So for example we take a look at how we can integrate all of our skills and abilities to achieve positive measurable outcomes for our students First Nations have always been a high-priority in our organization. Together we helped save the local language. Together we signed the first First Nation agreement in the province. As a result graduation rates have increased dramatically in schools, racial tensions have been reduced. Our next initiatives will be to focus our energies integrating into our curriculum the true history culture and diversity of their culture.

Linda Jay – I’ll begin my answer with the last portion of this question: SD72 has a very good record for Aboriginal learners with growing numbers of high school graduates each year. Much can be attributed to the visible support from Aboriginal counsellors and First Nations Elders who work within the schools but also to a changing curricula that honours and teaches First Peoples literature, history, culture, and languages. Happily, this cultural learning is shared by all young people in the district and becomes a place-based heritage held in common.

With regard to supports for more youngsters to complete school, the key is in the relevance of what students are asked to learn. Already, K to 12 teachers have identified a growing discontent among students for routine lesson plans and subject matter. Youngsters want to experience meaningful learning. They are adept at finding ample information from internet sources because search engines are so sophisticated. The real educative piece is helping young people to gain critical thinking skills and to help them discern good truthful sources of information from falsehoods and sensationalism. We want thinking students who are empathetic yet capable of problem-solving. Finally trustees are obliged to find financial resources to be used in the identification and support for vulnerable learners.

John Kerr – Trustees can help these children through policy direction and supporting senior management’s measures to support teachers in their work with ‘vulnerable’ students. Where possible, considering the limited funding available, extra resources can be allocated in this area.

Again, trustees can have no direct impact on completion rates beyond supporting measures taken by senior management to address this issue and allocating resources in support of those measures. Trustees can help improve completion rates indirectly by supporting the implementation of the new curriculum in secondary schools. That being said, SD72’s completion rates compare favourably with the province but can always be improved.

Improved communications with local First Nations through regular meetings between the Indigenous Advisory Council, the superintendent and meetings of the IAC with the whole board on a semi-annual basis would be the best way to better engage local First Nations.

Vanessa MacLean – School trustees can help the children who enter the school system categorized as vulnerable according to Early Development Instrument indicators by having appropriate resources available for teachers, students and/or their families. One of the most important factors would be first recognizing the vulnerability within each school. Perhaps a questionnaire could be sent out at the beginning of the year to help identify where the need is. It is critical that resources available be tailored according to the unique needs of the children within each school. For example, if students come from low-income neighbourhoods, programs should be in place to meet these children’s basic needs. Perhaps a drop box program could be put in place; offering necessities like food, clothing, school supplies and other essentials. Another beneficial program trustees may want to consider implementing is offering more dental health education, particularly in the elementary schools. Tooth decay in children is a public health issue that can poorly affect a child’s education (pain, time away for dental work etc.) In fact, dental decay is the number one reason for day surgery on Canadian children ( Schools can help prevent this by bringing in more dental health professionals to educated children and their families and give valuable information around access to care. Many low-income families don’t realize that if they receive MSP Premium Assistance, children in their home under the age of 19 are automatically enroled into the BC Healthy Kids Program. Under this program, each child in the home would be entitled to $2,000 of basic dental services every two years. Additionally, this program offers coverage for some basic optical & hearing expenses ( Meeting a student’s basic physical needs will greatly help contribute to their overall mental/emotional health and ultimately will increase their odds of completing their education within the school system.

Joyce McMann – Collaborating on ways to support children and families before children get to school is the best way to ensure children succeed at school. Both a School District 72 trustee and member of the senior management team sit at the Community Early Years Council of Partners table. The School District takes an active role in supporting the strategic plan of the Early Years Council and the last wave of EDI scores showed a positive trend in reducing vulnerability in our district.

Further to that, to maximize accessibility for families to Strong Start programs offered to families and young children, the district has been creative in spreading the programs around the district (Sayward, Quadra, Willow Point, Sandown, Cedar, Georgia Park).

A new wave of how we approach learning and teaching is influencing the traditional approach of our schools. Recognition that people have multiple facets to being intelligent, and that learning must be holistic, reflective, experiential, and relational is bringing optimism to the goal of engaging learners. These beliefs about learning align with the First Peoples Principles of Learning and offer powerful insight for all levels of the K-12 system.

The district has worked with the Indigenous Educational Advisory Committee to create a fourth Aboriginal Educational Enhancement Agreement. It outlines the goals that the district is committed to for improving success for Indigenous students. We must continue to pursue greater understanding of the needs of Indigenous learners and find new ways to ensure they find what they need to succeed.

The Advisory Committee and the Recommendations for Truth and Reconciliation have brought awareness to the way we create our learning environments and approach curriculum. I believe these insights have, and will continue to shape the experience of both Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students with positive educational results.

Christian Stapff – While trustee cannot help directly, they can shape the school system with the professionals in charge – those who manage the system. W. Edwards Deming and his protégé David Langford have always said management must work to improve the system. In fact, they were firm on the idea that it is the responsibility of all in the system to do so – including teachers and students

EDIs are useful only if concrete steps are taken to reduce “vulnerabilities.” This process in my view needs to begin before students enter kindergarten. School trustees and management need to create the processes that remedy the situation by using interdisciplinary teams. Many EDIs will point to non-school factors, but not addressing them requires school districts to reach for other, outside professional input.

The completion rate is another indicator that schooling, if it fits one size only, will not meet the needs of those students. There are a multitude of ways to help students stay in school and move towards graduation.

In my district, our superintendent worked with other stakeholders–at their request–to get students back into school, to attend regularly to eventually study well enough to succeed and graduate. These students did not go to school; many lived in precarious situations. These students belonged to another school district, which had not created the systems to reintegrate these “dropouts” into their schools.

Once enrolment began to pull students back into schooling in significant numbers the district who had lost these students wanted them back. Our superintendent was understandably reluctant to hand back a successful system to a district, which had failed these students. So, successful systems can be created, which do not look like traditional schools, yet they work because they build trust, where there was none before.

The above example–it succeeds primarily with students who are First Nations–is one way to build trust with local First Nations. It seems to me that First Nations can help us understand their cultural cornerstones by having cultural practices explained and shown.

Peter Sutherland – I have found that the best way to assist our vulnerable population is by listening and identifying the need first hand. As mentioned the EDI indicators are a good first step, but further consultation can often prove invaluable. The First Nations people are exemplars of identifiable change. The treaty for our Maa-nulth Nations of 2011 are now being implemented and it can have a very positive impact on the education of First Nations students. The board should be arranging meetings with their leaders and teachers to see how we can best effect change for the future of all.

Susan Wilson – Trustees can support initiatives that support these students. Examples: for the last two years, our district has provided extra staffing during the first weeks of kindergarten to help children adjust to the new routine. Many schools provide breakfasts for children in need. Flex blocks provide time for extra academic support. The district has committed to provide training to all staff regarding First Nations considerations.

Manfred Hack – The EDI, for short, is a questionnaire developed by Dr. Dan Offord and Dr. Magdalena Janus at the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University. (The EDI is a reliable and valid measurement tool of developmental status completed on individual children between 3.5 and 6.5 years of age. After teachers complete the EDI on each individual child in their class, the results are grouped together to give a snap shot of how children are doing across schools, neighbourhoods, cities, or even provinces and countries.) To my understanding this is a group analysis for children 3.5 to 6.5 years of age, that is children under the age of puberty.

My answer as a school trustee would be to equip the teachers with the resources to provide a safe learning environment, having said that I would not want the teachers to think that they are carrying the full responsibility, but that they have full support available at all times by providing a line of communication whereby the teachers can request support.

To help students to complete I have to go back to my own experience and that of others that I personally know. The most important “always speak affirming words over children” even if its just “your work station looks great.” Here is a statement that I have taken to heart: “Don’t ever let someone’s negative opinion of you become your reality.”

Having worked on the Campbell River to Quadra Island Ferry for 37 years I have had the opportunity to work with many First Nation people. From parking lot to night watchman to deckhand and mate. Again, I have seen, given the right support and encouragement they have excelled. Having seen the results at work I believe that we can do the same in the school system. A big plus would be to promote the “apprenticeship program” and its benefits to First Nation people.

Responses to Question 1

Responses to Question 2