Open letter to Patti Bachus, Chair VSB – transgender policy

Dear Patti,

I have been following the debate regarding the new policy revisions to support trans* students in the VSB schools.

The VSB policy revision is a considerate and well thought out document.  As a parent and former DPAC Exec I strongly support the revised policy document.  The School Board has a responsibility to care for the needs and well being of all children, not the fears of a socially conservative group of adults.

I have had the opportunity to speak with some of the parents here in the University Neighbourhoods Area and am saddened to learn how fearful some of my newcomer neighbours are.  (I hasten to add, not all, just some). Those who are opposed appear afraid of issues that they have not previously encountered in their countries of origin, or at least issues that were potentially brushed under the table. This leads me to suggest that there is important work to be done in our changing communities with these socially conservative neighbours.  We need to bring people forward with us simultaneously with the introduction of these arguably minor revisions.

That said, I strongly urge the VSB to take the principled and just stance of putting these policy revisions into force.  The revisions are fairly modest, to be quite honest.  The safety of young people who may experience bullying and harassment by others is paramount and clearly trumps the fears of parents regarding the use of bathrooms – the most minor aspect of the entire policy (yet the point I hear the most complaints about).

You are welcome to share my thoughts and opinions with your fellow trustees and members of the public.

With warm regards I wish you the courage to do what is right and to put these policies into play.



Facebook support page

Draft revised VSB Transgender policy


Indigenous School Names in the Lowermainland

There are a few schools in the lowermainland with Indigenous names.  In this blog entry I will be listing these schools over the next little while.  This is in part a response to the opportunity in Vancouver (SD39) to be able to suggest a name for a new school near UBC.

In Richmond a new school, opened in 2000, has a Musqueam name.

Spul’u’kwuk’s Elementary School opened in September 2000 and is located in the north-west corner of Richmond, in the area known as Terra Nova [new land -an unfortunate district name given the history of colonizations.  Somewhat ironic when paired with the indigenous school name. ED]. It is situated in an area of park land and new homes, close to the Middle Arm of the Fraser River and the western dyke bordering the Strait of Georgia. The name of the school is from the Musqueam First Nation and means “place of bubbling water”, in reference to the spring water which bubbled up in the area. Many years ago a Musqueam permanent seasonal fishing settlement was situated close to the site of the present school. Since it opened  our school has grown quite rapidly and is now a mid-size to large school that has approximately 425 students.
Students at Hamilton Elementary did a small history project in 2000 on the role and place of Musqueam people in Richmond.  You can find it here.

Time to say goodbye

I’ve authored this blog for about five years now.  When I started it it was to be part of a new electronic journal (that project is still ongoing and very successful).  But events intervened and the blog became a center of support for public education and the teachers who went out on strike in 2005.  After the end of the strike the die was cast and the blog became a key space for commentary in support of public education.  The site logged over 3,000 visits a year for most of that period of time.  But, things change and with my sons now finished with the K-12 education system (they’re in 2nd year university now) I have found my interests changing over the past year.  For those who were regular readers of the site you will have seen the evident drop off in posting and the shift of topics (more toward post-secondary).

I still maintain a suite of blogs (on ecological anthropology, our ethnographic film unit, and as part of my introductory anthropology course).  However, I think the time to say good bye on this blog has come.  There are still major problems and issues in public education.  The provincial liberal government in BC is no less antagonistic toward education and democratic involvement (consider their treatment of Vancouver’s school board of late).  We are still waiting here in the UBC area for proper schools -that was a 5+ year struggle that still seems to have no end in sight!  But, it’s time for other people to step forward.

So, as the new school year opens I say good bye to posting on this blog as I turn toward my research and other projects.  The start of a new school year is an exciting time.  Have fun, work hard, and keep our public education strong!

Homework -the perenial issue

Homework, and how much of it, is a perennial issue in education and parent circles.  There doesn’t seem to be a happy medium.  Many educators say there is too much homework, but it is being demanded from parents. But then one comes across stories like the one quoted below about the Calgary couple who found that there was too much homework being issued from the school.

A Calgary couple signed a unique contract with a school this week that prevents teachers from giving their children homework, the Calgary Herald reports. Tom and ShelliMilley negotiated the deal because their pre-teen kids were spending as many as three hours each evening on homework, the paper says. (Read the full story on Janet Steffenhagen’s blog: Calgary couple signs no-homework deal with school – Report Card)

In the Calgary story is seems that a policy designed in the school to limit homework -a quota of 10 minutes per night- became transformed into ten minutes per subject per night.  The net effect was an ordeal of several hours of home work for the Calgary family’s young children.

Of course, ‘ordeal’ might sound a bit much and when one reads of the couple’s jam-packed itinerary for their kids it might be that they had a bit much already on the go.  Nonetheless, the issue of how much, what kind, and how effective remains a continuing debate -especially in the elementary grades.

I certainly recall the issues around homework for my sons in the primary grades, especially the feared ‘dictee’ practice for my son who was in French Immersion.  I also recall being critical of the route learning approach and the clerical nature (i.e. recopy such and such) of a lot of that earlier homework.  There is a place for doing activities at home which support learning in the classroom.  However, I am of the opinion that what is most important are activities such as reading to one’s children, engaging in activities that combine literacy and/or numeracy activities in play,  guided support of in-class activities and all of this supplemented by activities outside of the home that involve more than organized sports or extracurricular lessons.

There is much to be said about unstructured play and exploration outside.  Yet, the culture of fear (see also) has corralled parenting activities into organized supervised scripted activities.  It’s time that we support our children in finding their own capacities and opportunities through less scripting and letting them have the gift of failure at a stage in life when it is a benefit and not a risk.  Releasing children from an over burden of homework, from overly scripted activities, and into unstructured activities outside of the garrison that has become the North American home is ultimately in our children’s best interests.

Why does a research group require a media specialist?

The interesting thing I learned today is that some research units at UBC have their own hired guns in the media wars.  Maria Loscerbo, the principal of the private communications firm Epic PR, is in charge of “mak[ing] sure that there is a coordinated message and to ensure that it’s done correctly so it isn’t fractured” (see her comment on the Report Card).

This became an issue on Steffenhagen’s blog after Ms. Loscerbo inadvertently sent a chatty message telling the academics to sit tight until she got the story straight (my gloss, not her words).  Steffenhagen posted the email.

What has me curious is the fact that the Hertzman project is so big that they have hired outside help in managing their message.  Research across universities is fast being driven in the same direction as business firms, larger, more complex, integrated and oriented at generating revenue.   UBC has recently hired a former Best Buy exec to run the university’s finances.  WHIle some suggest this is a good thing, the rest of us our left wondering about the real state of affairs when cost efficiencies and coordinated messages take the high seat over real research and teaching.

Ouch! UBC Media Specialist Blows It

Maria Loscerbo, a communications consultant (and amateur pilot, skier and media consultant to the premier on youth issues, and a range of other random google traces . . .) working for the  Human Early Learning Partnership, really blew it and has drawn the ire of the Vancouver Sun’s education reporter, Janet Steffenhagen.  Drawing the wagons close she ‘inadvertently’  sent an email to Steffenhagen that basically tells a UBC research group to keep their mouths shut until they craft a common story (see email below).    Ms Loscerbo apparently holds not special concern for UBC staff communications personal either as she unceremoniously implies that Senior Manager, Privacy, Strategic Operations (Mapping) & Knowledge Management, Michele Wiens jumped the gun.

Steffenhagen posted the errant email on her blog with her own commentary on the matter:

Here’s my suggestion: Nobody should return Janet’s phone call until we decide what to do – Janet will probably try to call Clyde first, then Paul and Joanne.
“Let it go to voicemail, or, if you accidentally answer the call (Janet works from home so her actual name should show on your call display) , simply say you’re ‘not available to talk right now and will get back to her’. Get her coordinates and call me. Then we plan next steps, ideally schedule an interview with Clyde for Monday.

“Michele didn’t release any new EDI data – only background info that has already been published so we’re okay.”

Loscerbo quickly phoned to apologize. She said she is a communications specialist organizing release of the information, and the organization is not ready to talk about the new EDI. Wiens had “jumped the gun,” she added.

Read the full storyy: Avoiding my calls at UBC – Report Card

By the way Janet, I’ll answer your phone calls without having to call upon a high-price consultant to tell me to be quiet.

Declining Enrolment in the News -Again

West-side Vancouver parents in the news again on enrolment issues.  Over the last two years west-side parents, , Eric Mazi, Julee Kaye, Greg Lawrence (veterans of the Save QEA campaign), have argued hard to keep their small neighbourhood schools.  Part of their campaign has been to argue that the enrolment drop faced by VSB is not ‘real.’  Part of the attack of the enrolment drop has targeted private schools.  That is, Mazi and others have suggested that VSB is being out competed by the private sector and thus losing enrolment.  I have reviewed census data and school enrolment data for the past several years at several points over the past years and the thing is that private school drain thesis doesn’t hold water (for a previous comment click here).

In my February 2007 comment I concluded:

Based upon the BC Ministry of Education data we can infer that private schools in Vancouver have been able to pick up some students from the public system but the growth in the private sector can not be seen to have occurred totally at the expense of the public system.

Furthermore, declining enrolment is not just a local issue, it’s a national one.  Ultimately, the enrolment issue is a political question being fueled, in this instance, by parents who are working hard to ensure that their access to a privileged resource is maintained.

From the Vancouver Courier: ‘Activists’ question school enrolment information

Parents of Vancouver school students say the school district has misrepresented the reason for continuing drops in enrolment.

Enrolment fell by 250 students this year. Conventional wisdom suggests families are fleeing over-priced Vancouver properties for cheaper digs outside the city, but that argument isn’t borne out in statistics, according to Eric Mazzi, who calls that explanation a myth perpetuated by school boards.


Update: Vancouver Sun Reporter, J. Steffenhagen picked up the courier story today. She adds the following comment:

This year’s enrolment has fallen by 250 students. The suggestion that families are leaving Vancouver because of high housing prices isn’t supported by statistics, according to parent Eric Mazzi. He says the school-aged population in the city is climbing while the Vancouver school district enrolments are plummeting.

Without the full data it is hard to comment effectively.  However, one thing that I wold be interested in learning is the reduction in international fee paying students and whether that is any part of the enrolment decline.

BCCPAC Stupid Me Email and Survey Monkey Poll

Someone is trying to organize a survey monkey poll on Ron Broda and the BCCPAC. The following email is circulating:

Is your PAC a member of BCCPAC?
What is your opinion of the current difficulties facing the Board?
Let’s tell them what you think
Survey closes February 18th

No information was provided as to who is actually behind this. Nor is there any information provided as to what use will be made of the information provided. Though it doesn’t take much to figure out that is is not being done by BCCPAC nor is it supportive of said organization

Trustee Vdovine on Fraser Institute Rankings

Education community responds to this year’s school rankings Stepan Vdovine

Here is an example of a principled leadership position from the West Vancouver Board of Education. Board chair Mary-Ann Booth has written a very well articulated letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun – read it below.

In Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows, I was particularly pleased to read Meadowridge’s Hugh Burke comments in the Maple Ridge Times this afternoon, expressing a consistent position he has held for a number of years (Meadowridge is a private school, consistently ranked among the top 10 schools):

“[FSA] don’t measure the development of curiosity, of determination, of reflection, of honesty, of kindness, or of morality […] The problem is, this measure does not tell us much that is worth knowing about either the students or the school, and it does not allow for intellectually honest comparisons between institutions.”

Burke might be in business of serving education on a silver spoon, but he is, none the less a widely respected educator.

There appears to be a fairly united front against ranking schools. There are specific things that can be done and have been done in other jurisdictions (Ontario) to prevent the Fraser Institute’s degrading exercise. In BC, the Minister of Education has not acted on her position, neither did her predecessors. There is little reason to think she will. So can the public pressure make a difference, or does this very wide and public outcry gives the Institute a greater profile and even further unwarranted attention?

Thoughts, anyone?

Teachers will do the FSA’s

From: reportcard

Teachers have voted to comply with a Labour Relations Board ruling and administer the reading, writing and math tests known as the Foundation Skills Assessment when directed by their employer to do so.

BCTF president Irene Lanzinger said the union executive recommended a yes vote and she was pleased members agreed. Less than one-third of teachers voted, but those who did supported the executive recommendation by 83 per cent.

Earlier, 85 per cent had voted in favour of the boycott. “We were very united in our opposition (to the FSA) and we will continue our campaign,” Lanzinger told me.