Learning Advisory Council Meeting - October 19, 2016

Location: Hunter River Community Centre, Hunter River, Prince Edward Island

Agenda

4:30 – 4:40 Welcome & Introductions

4:40 – 5:00 Review and Approval of Discussion Summary Materials from Meeting 3, June 30, 2016

5:00 – 6:15 Discussion on Draft Paper: Goals, Directions and Priorities for Learning in PEI

6:15 – 6:45 Light Meal

6:45 – 7:00 Presentation by Bob Andrews, Project Manager, School Re-organization

7:00 – 8:00 Discussion on School Re-organization and Learner Transitions

8:00 – 8:20 Give and Get

8:20 – 8:30 Closing Remarks / Next Meeting

Briefing Materials

Discussion Summary - Meeting 4

  1. Welcome and Introductions
  2. Approval of Draft Summary Notes of Meeting Three, June 30, 2016
  3. Discussion: Draft Paper on Goals, Directions and Priorities for Learning in PEI
  4. Presentation: Bob Andrews, Manager, School Re-organization Project
  5. Discussion: School Re-organization and Learner Transitions
  6. Give and Get
  7. Closing Remarks / Next Meeting

Attachments:

  1. Agenda and Briefing Note
  2. Finalized Summary Notes of Meeting 3
  3. Draft Paper on Goals, Directions and Priorities for Learning in PEI
  4. Maps - Families of Schools
  5. Zone Map, Commission scolaire de langue français
  6. Better Learning for All School Review Process 

In Attendance:

Co-Chairs H. Wade MacLauchlan and Bill Whelan

Members: Amber Jadis, Angela Arsenault, Anna MacKenzie, Bethany MacLeod, Bonnie Stewart, Jackie Charchuk, Donald DesRoches, Lori Johnston, Moira McGuire, Natalie Mitton, Peter Rukavina (left meeting at 6:00 pm and Lisa MacDougall joined the meeting), Rocio McCallum, Ron MacDonald, Shawn Loo

Ex officio members: Sharon Cameron, Teresa Hennebery, Susan Willis

Resource: Wendy MacDonald, Secretary

Regrets: Amanda Brazil, Anne Bernard-Bourgeois, Jeff Brant, Kathleen Flanagan, Michelle MacCallum, Tracy Michael

1. Welcome and Updates

Co-chair MacLauchlan called the meeting to order at 4:30 p.m., welcomed members and conveyed regrets from those unable to attend. He asked members to share recent or current experiences related to education and learning. Responses spanned a wide range, including:

  • Extensive work at both post-secondary institutions on Truth and Reconciliation events and initiatives
  • Discussions about social media in the workplace and its impact on coming generations, at a Community Partnership Day meeting of NGOs
  • Attending the Public Schools Branch meeting in Souris and hearing reports from the principal and student leaders
  • Several members’ experiences of transitions by their children with the new school year
  • Lots of exciting experiences for students during Public Libraries Week
  • An upcoming meeting at Colonel Gray of its first ever Home and School Association
  • New ideas on healthy school food at the Home and School Federation Semi-Annual at Gulf Shore earlier in October
  • Learning activities and support events for newcomers
  • Internal discussions about the school redistribution process and evacuation plans for schools
  • Post-graduate studies by several Council members
  • Work and outreach to engage Islanders in getting their GEDs
  • Preparations for the Y-Day summit later in the week, bringing together 120 Island youth
  • Efforts to bring aboriginal public administrators and students to PEI for the 2017 National Conference of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada
  • New exchange opportunities for UPEI physics students to study and work in Germany’s Black Forest area
  • A day of harvesting birch bark with indigenous artists on Lennox Island and learning about their approaches
  • The learning opportunities offered by the bomb threats and ensuing province-wide evacuation in September
  • Jean Ellsworth’s inspiring talk upon receiving the Council of the Federation 12th Annual Literacy Award in September (see Appendix One for a bio of Jean).

2. Approval of the Summary of Meeting Two, April 20, 2016

Co-chair MacLauchlan asked for any comments on the summary of the Council’s third meeting, on June 30, 2016, previously circulated by email (Attachment Two). It was agreed that the summary captured the presentations, discussion and input of the members and is ready to share with the public.

3. Discussion: Draft Paper on Goals, Directions and Priorities for Learning in PEI

Co-chair Whelan opened by noting that the paper, circulated to members (Attachment Three), seeks to draw together the outcomes of the first three meetings into a useful basis for the way forward. He posed three questions:

  • Does this capture our collective thinking?
  • Can we release this paper to the public?
  • What additional input do we need to finalize it?

In short, is this the right document, the right time, the right format to say something to the public?

Points raised in the discussion included the following:

With regard to whether the paper captured the Council’s collective thinking, there was general agreement that the paper effectively captured, at a high level, the discussion and themes of the Council’s first three meetings. Support was expressed for the “lifespan perspective” stated in the title as inclusive, inviting the reader in.

However, there was also a widespread view that the paper needed to do more then synthesize the Council’s work to date. While the document was felt to be well written, it was suggested that the main message doesn’t jump out. It is important for this to be clear before Council members collectively endorse the paper. How can we make the paper come alive for Islanders, have the words come off the page, with messages of reinvigoration, raising our level of ambition? It was also suggested the paper could be shorter and in more accessible language

The question was quickly posed, Who is the audience for the document? Who do we hope will read it, and to what purpose?   Is this intended to be a strategic plan? In answer, it was noted that it does not seek to go so far, but rather to be a starting point. The document is in part an answer to the question, “Why are we here?” The Council’s role was seen as inspirational and aspirational. It was suggested that rather than “steering the ship”, the Council was “nudging a flotilla of ships.”

As the discussion unfolded, three purposes of the paper, and thus the Council, emerged:

  • An aspirational dimension – keeping the ultimate focus on excellence
  • An integrative, inclusive view of learning – bringing the concept of an ecosystem comprised of both formal and informal learning systems and processes lifelong, all focused on the learner
  • A framing role – building on what we have, and recognizing the good things that are happening, rather than declaring wholesale change, but stretching the frame to encourage people to think beyond the here and now and the usual. The document needs to convey ambition and openness to big changes.

Input to one member is that the Council shouldn’t spend its time doing the same things as other bodies. We should step back and ask larger questions. Examples included:

  • Could learners, or some learners, have the same teacher throughout their school experience, rather than the annual transition that now occurs?
  • The current redistribution process is also an opportunity to reconfigure our system. there is a need to look at what is working well and to get evidence regarding the outcomes of transitions through the system and into the workplace.
  • What can we learn from looking at the health system? They are some years ahead in terms of moving to integrated approaches and innovations – e.g. the current pilot to have paramedics provide palliative care in-home.

Support was expressed for the three priorities set out in the paper – learner wellbeing, transitions, and partnerships – and for them to be portrayed as interwoven, rather than separate or sequential. The Smart Start programs by Chances at several city schools were cited as an example of these priorities in practice – not costly, but different, requiring everything to be rethought.

However, members also emphasized that it must be clear these are our initial priorities, not our only priorities. Some felt that more work was needed on these before releasing the paper.

The graphic was discussed with mixed views on whether an image was needed, and if so, what image to use – stool or bridge. The tree image, circulated after Meeting One, was noted as a holistic alternative.

Regarding the process for release of the paper, discussion included the following points:

  • How would the other bodies, the Principals Council and DACs, respond to this paper? Are they similar in their thinking? It was suggested that their work to date has also highlighted themes of learner wellbeing and transitions; partnership, not so much. Re process, it was felt that the paper should be shared with them before being released to a broader stakeholder group or the public.
  • Re the public, it was noted that the diversity of situations and perspectives is so broad that people will read the paper through many different lenses, and respond to it in different ways. It was also reiterated that the paper is written in complex language and needs to be put into everyday language to be accessible by a diverse audience.
  • It was noted that the framework and philosophy set out in the paper can serve to guide practice by educators, affirming that it is appropriate to move in these directions. To fulfill this aim, it was suggested that the paper include a section on What could this mean for learners / educator / schools / families / communities, etc.?

The discussion was summed up as follows:

  • It remains valuable for the paper to set out what the Council has been doing, as it approaches its first anniversary.
  • The paper should say something about, “Who do we think we are? What is our role? Where do we fit?”
  • This is ongoing work and we don’t need to have it final — the Council will mostly work at a general or system level, but may also see things that require more action or interaction. E.g., it is of value to say, formally, that transitions matter — this does not appear to have previously been recognized as important, given the diversity of grade configurations across PEI.
  • It is important to position education and learning as a means to make PEI great, rather than a means to successfully leave the province.
  • As well, the paper must continue to stress the lifespan perspective, encouraging all readers to think about all the stages and modes of learning that will help PEI do well.

With regard to the question about the input we are seeking, it was suggested that in addition to direct comment on the content of the paper, this could include questions about:

  • What is PEI doing well, what are some innovations and promising practices?
  • What is the paper missing or overlooking?

In closing, Co-Chair Whelan committed to revise the paper in keeping with the discussion, and to circulate it for review in advance of the Council’s next meeting, tentatively to be held in early December.

4. Presentation: Bob Andrews, Manager, Better Learning for All School Redistribution Process

Following a light supper, the Council reconvened for a presentation by Bob Andrews of the Public Schools Branch, Department of Education, Early Learning and Culture on the process currently underway across PEI to examine the distribution of learners in schools.

Mr. Andrews opened with an overview of the School Change Policy that had been developed by the then English Language School Board. Background documents were circulated, including the policy and the consultation plan for each family of schools. Under this policy’s multi-step process, the public has more opportunities to have input at all stages of the process:

  • Data were analyzed to provide a detailed evidence base on school populations over time and projections for the future, as well as facility utilization, condition, and costs. This work indicated a need to consider changes in six of the ten school families with utilization above a defined ceiling or below a defined floor. Four potential types of change are possible: program changes, grade reconfiguration, rezoning, and school closures. The findings of this work were presented to the public within those six school families in a first series of meetings in early October.
  • Going forward, the week of October 24 has been set aside for individuals, small groups, and organizations to make presentations to Mr. Andrews. Email outreach has occurred to various groups advising them of this opportunity. Input and data are also being gathered from other government departments.
  • In November, a second series of public meetings will be held across PEI at which the public and stakeholders will be invited to provide input on the factors considered, the options for change, and the implications of those options. From the onset, as well, the public is invited to submit written comment through various channels.
  • Following this second round, Mr. Andrews will compile findings into a report to the Board of the Public Schools Branch. This report will be made public for a further 60 days of public comment.
  • Following this, it is hoped that decisions will be made by March 31, 2017 with a view to implementation in September 2017.

Questions and discussion raised the following points:

  • The policy lists 27 factors to be considered. What are the priorities? In response, it was noted that the task is to come up with “reasonable, viable options”. Educational factors should be top of mind, but having said that, overcrowding has to be dealt with, and resources should be used as efficiently as possible.
  • Do the timelines allow for innovative ideas to be weighed? Some examples were cited — making a school a community hub; trying the Finnish model in a school and allowing parents to opt in or out; making an intermediate school a “high tech high” or a performing arts school. In response, it was noted that programming changes are one of the four options, and that it is expected that there will be suggestions for French immersion, International Baccalaureate, technology, or other programs that might make a school viable.
  • What about transitions? With the current diversity of grade configuration models across the province, this would seem to be an opportunity to move to a more consistent approach. It was noted that Halifax Regional Board has publicly stated that the Junior High / Mid model is “not good for kids” and the research is increasingly pointing this way; however it is not feasible for Halifax to move to a K-8/9-12 model right away. Time is needed to make this shift. Similar input is expected to come forward in the upcoming meetings.
  • Can multiple options be used for a school? E.g. change both the programming and the attendance zone? Have two schools share the same zone and each take a different approach, let parents pick? It was noted that decisions will only be made when the information is gathered and consultations are complete, so options are open at this time.

It was noted that all information and input is being posted on the School Review website as it is received.

In closing Mr. Andrews invited input from the Council particularly on the educational factors on the list in the policy, the priority that should be given to them, and the opportunities both short-term and longer-term. He noted that this would not only be of benefit to him, but would also contribute to the public discourse on the issues around school change.

The Co-Chairs thanked Mr. Andrews for his presentation and information.

5. Discussion: School Re-organization and Learner Transitions

Co-Chair MacLauchlan invited comment on the readings on school transitions by Dr. Kate Tilleczek, Canada Research Chair in Children and Youth at UPEI, which had been circulated in advance of the meeting.

In response:

  • It was advised that there should be no more schools in a K-3 and 4-6 configuration. This model adds another transition and while there is good communication between Grade 3 and 4 teachers in the current model, this cannot be taken for granted.
  • The transition from early learning to kindergarten is another major transition, and communication between early childhood educators and kindergarten teachers was thought to be limited. This should not be the case especially for licensed care.
  • Tilleczek’s three-point model of Being, Belonging, and Becoming was seen as very insightful, and the element of belonging, especially for youth entering adolescence, was seen as especially important. Does our system create gap points? Later in the discussion it was suggested that the Council could focus its messages about transitions on the issue of belonging, based on the values that are most important to us.
  • On the other hand, several members noted, transitions are a part of life, and an opportunity for learning. All transitions have positive and negative aspects. The focus should be on the learner rather than the system — on giving learners tools, and preparing them to benefit from transitions.
    • For example, it was noted, the Morell family has orientation days where preschoolers visit the kindergarten and Grade 8 students visit the high school.
    • For some students who don’t feel they belong, such measures are not enough. Thought must be given to going deeper, perhaps to strength-based approaches, project-based learning, etc.
  • It was noted that the history of education in PEI is a history of change, and that dramatic changes have occurred over a few decades. However these have often been facility-centric. We need to learn and make coherent decisions about what transition model is best, and then have the buildings support that, and develop ways to have the transitions add value. Then we raise the bar, and pursue excellence.
  • In the public discussions, many continue to put importance on class sizes, and express opposition to split grades. Research suggests that other factors are more important than these to student outcomes. The Council could help to create awareness of what works and matters most. It was noted that in the public meetings, many parents are expressing openness to change, so long as it leads to better education for their children. This climate is significantly different from the last round of school change in 2008. That process was all about closures; this one offers options for change.
  • There was discussion of how an increased Council voice could occur … online inputs, public statements, participation in the public meetings process. However, it was noted that these should only be presented as Council positions if we have agreed on our messages; otherwise such participation should be as a member of the public.
  • The paper discussed earlier was seen as the appropriate vehicle to express the Council’s collective views as input and a guide to the school change process. It should:
    • Explain what the Council has been doing to date;
    • Express who we think we are and how we relate to the other advisory bodies;
    • Outline what we think are the primary themes and priorities;
    • State that transitions matter, that our current system does not address this, and that it could benefit from a clearer, evidence-based model.
  • The paper should be strategic and directional rather than prescriptive.
  • In closing, it was noted that PEI needs a system and a transition model better suited to who we know we are, and to our changing future, which among other things will include a steady inflow of newcomers well above historical norms. The Better Learning for All process is an opportunity to move in that direction.

6. Give and Get

Several members described work underway that might be of interest to the Council or will be shared:

  • UPEI, and possibly Holland College, has been asked to provide information on the performance of PEI high school graduates. That data could be shared with the Council.
  • Researchers at UPEI including Council members have received a grant to develop a paper about the impacts of advances in digital technology and the implications for learning systems. The paper is expected to be ready to share at the next meeting.
  • An event is taking place Friday October 21 at 10:30 at the Faculty Lounge, Main Building, UPEI, at which 5-minute “lightning talks” will be given on what technology can do for education.
  • The book Innovator’s Mindset, by George Couros, was recommended.

The Slack app tried out in the summer for online sharing by the Council members was discussed. There has been little uptake, but this may be due to a need for some training, and also a specific topic or task to pursue online.

7. Closing Remarks/Next Meeting

In closing, Co-Chair Whelan thanked members for their contributions, and indicated that a revised paper would be sent out by the end of the month for Council review and comment.

The meeting adjourned at 9:00 p.m.

 

Published date: 
December 30, 2016
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