Jack of all trades and labour disputes

I got a couple of calls from CBC Radio (Ottawa) today regarding the on-going labour teacher dispute. The reporters were asking how the work-to-rule was affecting Proms and Fund-raising.

I could go on about the problems with Proms, oneupmanship and living on the border with a less uptight drinking-age routine, but I’ll save most of that for another day. What I was most interested in was the apparent superficial understanding of issues by reporters. I suppose it is only to be expected that when you have to cover a wide range of issue you become a bit of a “jack-of-all trades and master of none”.

The Prom question I could understand. Toronto’s public board recently decided to go ahead with Proms this year. In Toronto the staff supervise the formals. Not so in Ottawa. Proms in Ottawa are expensive affairs booked privately by students (or their parents) through a near-monopoly company that locks up all the best venues a year in advance. This is a consequence of the board’s overly risk-adverse lawyers coming into contact with a situation where 50% of the graduating class if of Quebec drinking age when the prom takes place, with the after-party not surprisingly held over the border.

So the board has wiped its hands of the whole thing and even discourages staff from showing up to see their students off. As an upside, this means that Proms (despite their over-the-top costs in Ottawa) will still go ahead this year, regardless of what happens with the labour dispute or any board motions.

I guess it’s not surprising that I got a call about that issue. The second one surprised me more though. I was called and asked if fund-raising was affected and what this meant for yearbooks. You don’t have to be very involved in the school system to know that fund-raising is generally a school council activity with little staff participation. More confusing though, was the presumed connection between fund-raising and the yearbook. Yes, generally the yearbook has a staff advisor, but this is a role that the administration could easily take on. The tie in ti fund-raising, though, I still haven’t figured out.

Please don’t get the impression that I don’t think the labour dispute is having serious impacts. Sports and Arts have pretty much ground to a halt and the field-trip based experiential learning and anecdotal reporting that are so much a part of the board’s excellent Alternative Program have been dealt a near death-blow. Things are bad and I feel like we have two petulant kids who are too immature to get together and just settle this thing.

But yearbooks as fund-raising?

School Councils: Parents, Policy and Fundraising

I was part of a panel today on CBC Ottawa’s afternoon drive-slot show “All in a Day“. The show started with an interview with an Education consultant who thinks that school councils are not doing enough to direct policy at their schools.

Shelley Rivier and I were asked for out opinion on parental involvement in policy at school councils. You can hear the interview here, but here are some of my thoughts condensed.

To be involved parents have to pass through several gates:

  • Availability. People lead busy lives
  • Awareness. New Canadians in particular may not be used to being allowed to question educators
  • Incentive. If parents are relatively happy (or don’t think they can make a change) then they are less likely to get involved
  • Authority. Principals are faced with a revolving set of parents who aren’t sure what their role is or what they are allowed to do. If a principal doesn’t encourage parents to challenge, parents may not even know it is an option. For instance, the board asks school councils for a Year End report every year and the principal passes this message on. Many councils therefore assume they have to do it and don’t question why.

Given all those hurdles, a parent then has two options:

  • Get engaged in “policy”. Here they are going up against seasoned paid professionals who jobs are not made easier by inviting dissent and by constantly educating parents. Furthermore, the field is already a 3-way tug-of-war between the province, trustees and senior staff. Fighting for policy change is a tough and seldom rewarding task. Needless to say, parents generally only follow this route when there is a crisis, such as a school closure or a program change.
  • Get engaged in social/fundraising efforts. Here the obstacles are less, the rewards are tangible and the work directly and immediately benefits the school and the students.

While I am torn over fundraising, since it deepens the inequity in education between have and have-not schools, I totally understand why parents are more interested in doing it. It is a logical choice. And it is hard to fault those parents who do this when the vast majority don’t get involved at all.