Monday, January 30, 2012

PACs and IT Survey

At the January NorthVanPAC general meeting we had a short discussion on PACs and Information Technology and a lot of questions were raised about what equipment schools had, how PACs were and were not contributing to that, what issues PACs had regarding IT in schools and how PACs make use of IT tools for their own purposes.

PACs and IT is the topic of our upcoming February general meeting (Feb 16, 7pm, LMCC)

It's a broad topic and we don't have all the answers or even all the questions. 

In preparation for our meeting we'd like to get a better collective understanding of IT systems in North Van Schools from a parent perspective to help us start the conversation. Of interest are both what we know and what some of the key questions are that PACs should be asking of the schools, the school district and even the ministry about IT systems in schools. We know its not just the equipment that is a concern, it is how the systems are being used so your help identifying those issues would be welcome.

PACs and IT Survey

1. IT Equipment in Schools (What do and don't schools typically have?)

What equipment does your school currently have available or have plans to make available in the near future?

Listed below are some of the common items under discussion but please describe the current state of IT systems available to students and teachers in your school. In particular note if any of the equipment was PAC provided. If you have knowledge of how or the extent to which the items are used that would also be helpful. We don't need an exhaustive list of IT components, the intent is to understand the general state of IT availability in North Van and where people are doing more or less than usual. You may also wish to indicate or describe how well used the items in questions are or how long it has been since systems were upgraded?

1a. WiFi - Teacher Accessible?
1b. WiFi - Student Accessible?
1c. Internet Access - all classrooms / most classrooms?
1d. Students can bring their own devices? (mobile phones / computers / tablets)?
1e. Tablet Computers?
1f. Laptop Cart?
1g. Smart Boards?
1h. Other?

2. PAC Issues and plans concerning information technology
People's experiences vary from school to school, from classroom to classroom. Some school PACs invest in IT systems (laptops etc) for their schools to use, while others do not. In some cases schools encourage PAC investment and in others PAC investment in IT is discourged. In some schools / classrooms IT adoption is encouraged and well incorporated while in others it may not be well used in classrooms. Teachers vary with regard to support and skill in using IT systems. We would like to know how these experiences vary and what peoples main questions or learning has been related to the use of IT in schools (rather than the availability of tech)

2a. What are your school and PACs plans regarding the acquisition of new IT systems for the school? 

2b. What are your PAC or Schools top 3~5 successes, concerns, issues or recommendations related to the use of IT systems in classrooms? (please list)

3. PAC use of IT Systems
PACs make heavy use of IT (especially email) to connect with parents and this has its positives and negatives. We would like to understand how PACs are using IT to help with communicating with parents and coordinating activities with the schools.

3a. What systems does your PAC use to communicate with parents, students and schools?

3b. How effective are your current IT systems in managing PAC communication and engaging the parent community? 

3c . What recommendations can you offer other PACs in terms of managing their communication effectively?
4. Email answers to
Please try to answer these questions as well as you can, these answers will help us formulate the discussion for our next general meeting. Email your answers to me at and I look forward to discussing these issues with you at our Feb 16th NorthVanPAC meeting.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Feb 2012 - Upcoming Events

Upcoming Events:
1. District Finance & Facilities Meeting, Jan 31. - 7pm, LMCC
The agenda is to discuss this years capital/AFG needs, covered play areas and start the budget process for next year.

2. NorthVanPac General Meeting, Feb 16, 7pm, LMCC
This will be a discussion on PACs and IT in schools. .

3. Toward the Future of Schools. Feb 28th, 4pm, LMCC
No agenda yet but the last meeting resulted in a soccer academy.

4. North Shore Area 10yr Transit Plan Workshop
TransLink is seeking public input to confirm the draft evaluation criteria, identify any additional projects, and to identify potential benefits and negative impacts of 10 projects under early evaluation. 
NSATP community workshops
registration for the workshop is recommended
Wednesday, February 15th
6:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Coffee Meet & Greet
6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Presentation & Workshop

Pinnacle Hotel
Pier Two Room
138 Victory Ship Way, North Vancouver

Volunteers Needed:
1. Integrated Transportation Committee - City of North Van. We've been invited to represent parents on this committee but need to respond ASAP. The representative needs to be familiar with student transport safety issues in the City of North Van. I would welcome volunteers.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Board Meeting Summary - Jan 24, 2012

The Jan 24th board Meeting was a long one covering student achievement, a new soccer academy, plans for public consultation on surplus land, consultation on the operating budget, an update on planning for the Community Learning Program at Balmoral and a variety of other concerns. 

Below is my summary of what I heard

District Soccer Academy @ Windsor
The big news for the evening was the boards approval of a new District Soccer Academy at Windsor High School starting in Sept 2012 and operating in a similar fashion to the successful Hockey Academy program at the school. This is definitely good news for the soccer mad amongst us. North Van has various mechanisms to enable students to integrate their athletic and academic pursuits and this new program demonstrates once again North Van's interest in enabling enthusiastic students to pursue their interests.

In a similar vein of enabling enthusiastic students, Trustee McGraw reported on the Digital Media Academy's visit to the EA Sports Motion Capture Studio this past month. The students were able to use the facility to incorporate motion capture animation into their projects but more importantly, were able to strengthen their connection to an industry of interest to them.

Community Learning Program @ Balmoral
The most contentious topic of the evening concerned the evolving plans for the Balmoral site. A number of community members spoke on the issue and the need for better consultation with the public over the planned and proposed uses of the school. With the new community learning program moving into Balmoral in September along with multiple potential other educational uses (distributed learning, adult learning, recreational usage etc) there will be a lot of changes in how that facility will be used, changes to traffic etc. and the district needs to work through with the public and the community what the impact of those changes will be. The uncertainty around the full scope of these changes and how they will go into effect needs to be dealt with and the districts move to further consultation with the community on the changes should help to ensure a better migration to the new mandate for the school.

Mary Tasi
A short presentation was made to outgoing Trustee, Mary Tasi with her family present. Superintendent Lewis highlighted the caring, compassion, concern for others and creativity Mary demonstrated during her term as Trustee and it was nice to see Mary honoured for this. 

There was a report given on student achievement, which essentially shows slight improvement and an above average rating overall for North Van. I had to leave during this discussion so I missed much more than that. 

Surplus Land
Returned to the discussion on surplus land consultation. The district wants to improve its consultation process around surplus land and will be running a committee to recommend a repeatable process that can be used whenever surplus land is available. This seems a worthy effort as it would help people to understand the process around how the land decisions will be made. 

Budget Consultation
Due to the significant cuts made 2 years ago NVSD is in a strong financial position and estimates having $1million more that expected to include in next years budget, the planning for which has started. The next finance and facilities meeting will kick off consultation on what to do with the extra money as well as maintain the balance budget. 

Enhanced Learning Opportunities
It changes with the addition of the soccer academy but there was a lot of discussion about enhanced learning opportunities in North Van at this meeting. One of the challenges many students face is simply finding out about what is on offer within a complex calendar. As John Lewis expressed in the meeting success is more related to personalized learning every day within the classroom than personalizing the learning through specialized academies, it is important to offer students of all types appropriate options for their interests. To help with this the district has produced a new brochure summarizing the secondary enhanced learning opportunities in North Vancouver. Any student heading into secondary school should read this to understand the options available to them.

Superintendant's Report
Superintendant Lewis took the opportunity of his report to, amongst other things, bring attention to and thank the school-based administrators for the load they are carrying during what is now the longest job action in BC schools history, over 100 days with little to show for it. 

My goodness the teacher's job action is playing havoc with the school administrators! On top of everything else, with the teacher's not supporting provincial exams the principals and other school based admin will now be supervising and marking all of the FSA exams and if it continues pretty much all of the provincial exams. They have already had to produce all the non-report cards. And while some people are happy as they are talking to the teachers more (good) many parents and students at the secondary level are getting concerned about how the lack of marks and other feedback impacts their ability to make choices for summer school and course selection for coming school year and helping in this area may also fall to the admin. So please, thank your school admin for their efforts this year.


Monday, January 23, 2012

NVPAC Meeting Summary - Jan 19 - Art, Fundraising, Technology

Meeting Summary: North Van PAC meeting - Jan 19, 2012.

Next meeting:  Feb 16, 2012 - "IT Resources in Schools Discussion" 

January's NVPAC Meeting was an interesting mix of discussions. 

Artists for Kids
The meeting started with an introduction to North Vancouver's "Artists for Kids" Art Enrichment program. During a tour of the current gallery we learned about the visits to the gallery students make in Grade 5, and the use of the art to encourage discussion, understanding and then practice of art principals. 
We then discussed the new gallery space opening on Lonsdale this year and other Artist for Kids enrichment opportunities such as the after school programs and summer camps. It's a great program for connecting kids to art and unique as the program is primarily funded through print sales, 75% of which are apparently to teachers. 

The Artist for Kids trust also offers a number of joint sales programs for PACs to assist with joint fundraising. PACs interested in fundraising through print sales or auctions should contact the Artist for Kids trust. Similarly, if PACs are interested in after-school art programs they should contact the Yolande Martinello, Principal Fine Arts District 44 and Director Artists for Kids.

Fundraising and Planning for Big Projects
Our next discussion was on the challenge of fundraising and planning for big projects. A common situation for PACs is a challenge with knowledge transfer through the regular cycle of parent experience. When parents get involved with a big project they are often new to the challenge and must learn the ins and outs of fundraising and project management within the school system. And then once the project is complete they often move on to other schools in short order, there comes a recovery phase and the cycle begins anew with the next set of parents. 

Addressing this challenge had been a potential workshop topic for the February meeting and our discussion revolved around what sort of a workshop if any we could do to help PACs with this issue. Feedback in the room was that each of the projects and school situation is so unique that it would be very difficult and perhaps of limited value to do such a workshop. 

But discussion did reveal two areas in which schools share a common challenge. Emergency Preparedness, which we discussed at our October meeting, and IT policy and resources in schools. 

Emergency Planning
From our discussion its clear that schools continue to experience a wide range of levels of emergency preparedness, from well established manuals to barely existent emergency kits. North Van Pac strongly encourages schools to develop and dry run their emergency preparedness plans and resources. North Van PAC offers grants toward emergency preparedness efforts, currently these are not well defined but if your school has a need please contact us about it as that would help us understand how best to help PACs with this important issue. We also strongly encourage schools to contact the North Shore Emergency Management Office as they offer a wealth of resources and planning assistance to help you prepare your school for emergencies.

IT Resources in Schools
While each school has a different situation, IT resources in schools appears to be a common topic of interest to all PACs. Different schools have different current tools, different acquisition plans, in some schools PACs have big plans to help purchase various things (tablets, laptops, smartboards) while in others PACs are told not to provide anything. Some want the latest, some find the rate of change too fast for it to be worth buying anything. 

Once past the acquisition of tools, schools have concerns about the usage of the tools. Are tablets in Kindergarten helpful? Are teachers ready to use the tools? Are students learning or distracted? Do they have the skills to evaluate online materials and resources? How do PACs successful adopt and use these new tools for their own needs.

It was clear from the meeting that there are a lot of questions around this topic. So many that we aren't even sure what questions we should be asking as PACs and parents as schools and society as a whole incorporates and adapts to these tools. As we heard at the November meeting, the ministry have vague plans to increase the use of IT in schools (although not necessarily budgets), so as PACs we can only expect this issue to get more complicated. 

Its an important discussion and one in which all PACs can help each other. Coming out of this we'll be asking our members in the coming weeks to help us with survey on the current state of IT resources in their schools and what, if anything, PACs are planning in this area. We will follow this up with a longer discussion of PAC/IT related issues at our February meeting with the overall objective being to gain a better understanding of the key issues and questions all PACs should be considering with respect to IT resources in schools.

NVPAC response to the Job Action
We finished the meeting with a question on a potential response by NVPAC to the current job action. But other than wishing the sides would find a way to resolve the issue and get everyone back to work normally there wasn't a consensus on what that response should be. The only significant consensus was that principals and other senior admin in the schools are bearing much of the brunt of this job action and deserve a lot of credit for how the schools continue to function.