Parting Words from Adrienne Montani, Former Vancouver School Board Chair

For those of you who are Vancouverites, I thought I’d let you know that at the final meeting of the 2002-2005 school board, Adrienne Montani gave an amazing, detailed and eloquent report that summed up the goals, vision and accomplishments of the trustees. She thanked parents, teachers and others for their contributions and talked about how the trustees had advocated for public education funding and for the needs of different kinds of students. I found it an incredibly moving moment. I think many people did, for people rose to their feet to clap as she closed her comments.

Ken Denike was elected chair. Whatever his strengths, his speaking style is markedly different. He thanked the board, asked people’s patience for the sharp learning curve that the new trustees would have to undergo, and then announced that committee appointments would be next Monday, when we can “expect big changes,” he said as he ended his very brief talk. We have to wait until next week to find out whether the ‘big changes” refers to the elimination of some of the committees, to the vision of the board (he didn’t describe the trustees’ vision), or merely to the changeover of the trustees sitting on the committees.

From Maureen Bayless from sos-talk list serve December 5, 2005.

Adrienne Montani, VSB Chairperson, Year-End Report to the Board, Dec. 5, 2005

A quick review of the past year’s events highlights that the Vancouver School Board never rests! I want to acknowledge at the outset of this report that this Board of Trustees has been one of the hardest working, most engaged boards this district has ever had. It has been a true privilege to work with such a talented and dedicated team.One of the things a board is tasked with is leadership. The report out from the provincial District Review team this past June gave the District the highest marks for leadership and teamwork. They noted that leadership was notable at all levels of the organization, including among students, teachers, parents, principals and vice principals, and other staff. They also noted that school staff recognize the District leaders for their support, connection to schools and commitment to best practice and innovation. The leadership of our Superintendent of Schools, Chris Kelly, deserves particular mention, as recognized by the distinguished service award he received from the BC School Superintendents’ Association in May of this year.

This is the fruit of our efforts over the past three years to build and maintain respectful relationships within the district so that together we may all focus more effectively on the quality of the learning experience we offer to every student. It is reflected in the transformation of our Leadership Development Program from a more traditional principal preparation program to an inclusive opportunity for the district to value and strengthen the leadership potential of employees in a variety of roles. Thanks to our collective work on this key district emphasis, we were able to come through the recent teacher job action with relationships intact throughout the district.

This board has placed a high priority, as promised, on advocacy: advocacy drawing attention to the excellent educational opportunities present in Vancouver schools; advocacy to secure the necessary funding and resources to meet the needs of all of our diverse learners, and advocacy in defense of good educational practice and public education as an essential public good in a democratic society.

To the extent that we have been successful in mobilizing and supporting more voices to speak up for our children’s educational rights, to the extent we have helped strengthen all of these voices, — we are proud. Among the many messages we have received in recent days, one parent wrote: “To welcome parents to the budget process was an eye opening learning curve for all of us. The chance to actually see how much funding there was and how thinly it had to be spread helped to understand your position and to move parents on to becoming public school advocates.”

With the broad support of parents, teachers and many others, our advocacy for adequate funding contributed to the provincial government’s decision to increase education funding in this budget year. This was a tangible accomplishment, achieved through unity with partner groups, through courage, through lots of hard work and through never losing our outrage that our children’s schools have suffered so many cuts and losses.

The Minister of Education recently recognized the work of this board in the Legislature, referring to the extra funding we were given this year, saying, “Vancouver school board has really made some significant decisions around the money that they’ve been given…..we are seeing the resources that have been added to the system making a difference.” We appreciate the Minister’s recognition of the value to students that extra funding has brought. We are reminded that we should never lower our expectations around the priority our children’s education should have in provincial budgets. This is why for the third year in a row we submitted a 3R’s (Reinvest, Rebuild and Renew) budget to the Ministry along with our compliance budget, providing both the government and our community with a reference document that outlines the outstanding needs of our students.

We did put the additional funds to good use this year. We were able to lower class size in the intermediate grades, expand access to All Day Kindergarten, restore some teacher librarian, ESL and other non-enrolling positions, as well as restore some student support worker, clerical and other administrative positions. We invested in a team of people and teacher release time to support teaching, learning and development in key focus areas such as Aboriginal education. Our class size and composition committee will be able to address those classroom situations most in need of remediation.

Beyond budget advocacy, our forum on public education last March, sponsored jointly with the deans of education from UBC and SFU, brought people (including students) together to listen and discuss key questions about the value of public education as an investment in the economy, in democracy and in the self. We supported parent advocacy opposing Grade 10 exams as poor educational practice. We provided briefings to candidates in the provincial election to make sure they were well informed about our district and we wrote regularly to all levels of government on behalf of our students and our community concerning a wide range of public policy issues.

To quote again from the District Review report, “The Vancouver School District programs and services address extraordinary combinations of challenge, need, opportunity and potential in an environment rich in diversity.” Being very aware of the challenges and opportunities afforded by our diverse communities and learners, and our responsibility to help them achieve equity of outcome, the Board has continued to make strong representation to provincial and federal governments about the needs of our ESL and immigrant and refugee student populations and their families. We worked hard to engage with volunteers and organizations in the Sikh community to better support youth at risk.

Over the past year, again breathing life into our goals around equity, we have seen the work of the Pride Committee blossom, making our schools safer places for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, and more welcoming places for all types of families. Our community school teams have done amazing work, bringing new academic and social supports to vulnerable children and youth across the district.

On the learning front, our focused literacy programming can be found in more and more schools. Our recent special education forum was well attended and well received. Our district abounds in fine arts programming, science fairs, programs for students who are over- and under-achieving, programs for adult learners, athletic activities and language immersion choices.
Education for social responsibility is broadly embedded in curriculum at all grade levels. We can be justifiably proud of the teaching and learning that goes on every day in all of our schools.

From the leadership shown by the members of the Vancouver District Student Council to the Live on the Drive student-led project involving students from several secondary schools; from the students responding to the Massive Change exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery to the Sister Schools initiative, we continue to be impressed by the contributions our students are making in their schools and in the broader community to dialogue on important issues affecting them and all of us. Their insight and engagement give us hope for the future.

Reflecting on the past year, there are so many other areas of progress and achievement deserving of mention. With the provincial commitment won to speed up the seismic upgrading of our schools, our Facilities department has been incredibly busy. In spite of that extra workload, our staff managed to complete an extraordinary number of renovations, space reviews, maintenance projects, and energy saving initiatives.

Our continuing education programming continues to respond to the needs and interests of our diverse population of life-long learners with skill and creativity, while earning much-need revenue for the district.

The richness of our connections and partnerships with the City, Parks Board, the two universities, local businesses, the Health Authority, the Public Library, arts groups, non-profit services, and many other partners, serves our students well. We are grateful to all these partners for their support of our children’s learning and development.

It goes without saying that the District is still challenged by a lack of staff and resources in many areas resulting from over a decade of cuts to services. As highlighted in our recent submission to the provincial Finance Committee, we are severely under-funded in the area of services for students with special needs, as well as for ESL students and Aboriginal students.
Class size and composition issues are real and need urgent attention. Many of our schools are old and costly to operate. Schools need funding restored to their learning resources budgets. Parents need relief from ever-increasing fees and fundraising demands.

We also know that our community will continue to raise these issues on behalf of our students and families, and that this is welcome advocacy.

On behalf of myself and my fellow trustees, I want to express our deep appreciation to our community of parents have been so engaged with this board in decision-making and standing up for our schools over the past three years. Similarly, we are grateful for the support, expert advice and commitment of teachers, principals and vice principals and other staff throughout the district. The level of cooperation and good will brought to our working committees and our public deliberations has been remarkable, making change and progress possible. A special thank you is due to our district management team for their unflagging commitment, hard work and leadership. It has been a pleasure to work with all of you.

Those of us who are leaving the board, as well as those who remain, would also like to acknowledge the many expressions of appreciation and kind words received over the past two weeks, as we have not been able to respond to everyone individually.

It has truly been our privilege to serve this incredibly vibrant educational community. On behalf of the outgoing board, our best wishes to the new and returning trustees for the important work ahead.

Universal Preschool, not cash payments to parents

Federal Conservative Leader S. Harper recently announced that he would pay out 1200 per child under 6 for Canadian families to make their own investments in education instead of investing in universal daycare and preschool options that the Federal government has already committed to. Interestingly, the LA Times reports that every $1 invested in preschool by society pays society back $17. Sounds like a great investment to me; an investment based upon rigorous research not ideological proclivities.

Download Canadian Press article on Harper statement (pdf file)

Download copy of L.A. Times article (pdf file)
The L.A. Times Article
Universal preschool’s big payoff

By David L. Kirp
DAVID L. KIRP, a public policy professor at UC Berkeley, is writing a book, “Before School,” about the universal preschool movement.

December 7, 2005

IT HAS LONG been an American article of faith that early schooling for poor children can work wonders. A word-rich classroom gives poor 3 and 4-year-old kids the basic tools for learning and for sharpening their talents for solving problems. A nurturing environment teaches children, many of them from worlds in disarray, how to work and play well with others. Such an experience can create something close to a level playing field, not only in kindergarten but for an entire lifetime.

That idea is the underpinning of Head Start, the 40-year-old federal program for children whose parents have below-poverty incomes. It’s also the consistent finding of research that followed the lives of poor children who attended model preschools.

The landmark study of Perry Preschool tracked a group of poor African American youngsters from when they attended pre-kindergarten in Ypsilanti, Mich., in the early 1960s until they were well into middle age.

The findings are astonishing: a $17 return to the individual and society for every dollar spent on their early education. Those who went to Perry were considerably more likely than children who didn’t attend preschool to have graduated from high school and married, significantly less likely to have gone to prison multiple times and to have been on welfare. They’re earning an average of $20,800 a year. That’s 25% more than similar children who lacked the preschool experience — enough of a difference to lift them above the poverty line.

These days the rallying cry is preschool for everyone, not just poor children. This idea — on the California ballot next spring — is attracting a broad constituency. Polls show that parents overwhelmingly embrace it because they know firsthand what the neuroscientists have learned: that all children are ready and eager to learn. Teachers see preschoolers arriving in kindergarten better prepared, both academically and socially.

The movement transcends the red state-blue state divide. The leading states are Oklahoma and Georgia, not generally known for their progressive social policies. Forty-one states provide some support for preschool, and even as state governments were forced to trim their budgets this year, spending on pre-kindergarten grew by more than $600 million.

The California preschool initiative has attracted such ardent supporters as big-city chambers of commerce and police chiefs. The most convincing fact for politicians and business leaders has been the argument that pre-kindergarten for everyone is a shrewd outlay — that spending tax dollars to educate 3 and 4-year-olds will yield big benefits.

Yet the model programs served only poor youngsters, and so relying on their results to support pre-kindergarten for all children is something of a stretch.

There is, of course, a strong moral case for treating every child alike, and it’s also smart politics to give middle-class families a stake. But there has been no proof coming straight from the classroom that universal preschool is a smart investment — until now, that is.

A study released this week by the National Institute for Early Education Research, the leading think tank in the field, makes the case. The research examined the effect of a good preschool experience on the academic skills of children entering kindergarten in five states representing a cross section of the country. Its findings are eye-opening.

On vocabulary tests, children who attended state-supported preschools scored 31% higher than a similar group of youngsters who didn’t participate — the equivalent of three months of learning. On tests of early math skills, the state preschoolers outscored their peers by 41%. A recent study of state pre-kindergarten classes in Tulsa, Okla., showed essentially the same result.

By contrast, a recent evaluation of Head Start reports much more modest gains. Head Start typically differs from state preschools in two critical ways. The state initiatives place greater emphasis on preparing children for a kindergarten experience that, in this “No Child Left Behind” era, increasingly stresses reading and arithmetic. And though most state preschool teachers have bachelor’s degrees, many with majors in early childhood education, fewer than a third of Head Start teachers have graduated from college.

The message of the five-state study is that these differences matter. Whether preschool has a significant effect depends crucially on its quality.

Moreover, all children, not just poor youngsters, benefit from the preschool experience. What’s more, in states where every child can participate, poor youngsters (those eligible for free and reduced-price lunches) do essentially as well as those kids from better-off families.

These state preschools aren’t extra special, but they are good enough for children from varied backgrounds to learn a lot. That’s excellent news to those who favor universal preschool.