Thursday, February 16, 2012

PACs and IT Survey - Feb 2012

I'd like to thank the representatives of the 7 PACs that completed our PACs and IT survey for taking the time to do so. The survey reveals a number of interesting IT related issues for PACs and schools to consider.

PACs and IT Survey Results .pdf

What is clear from the survey is that North Van Schools are well served in terms of internet access and schools generally have access to laptops and/or computer labs, but beyond that despite ample enthusiam to make use of technology there is significant variation based on the PACs, the teachers and the school leadership in both the technology available in schools and how it is used.
Schools have had successes with laptops, with tablets, with wifi, with smartboards and without all of these. It seems to come down to building school buy-in into whatever choices are made.

Issues such as ownership, teacher training, student responsibility, costs, fairness etc were raised by multiple schools and all are important concerns.

There isn't a simple way to summarize all of the feedback collected and I think it is more valuable to see the breadth of feedback collected rather than try to distill out all the interesting bits. The results provided and an anonymized version of all the gathered feedback. Hopefully this report will help PAC's consider the many parts of any IT decisions made to help our children get the most from IT resources in their schools.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Jan 31 Finance and Facilities Meeting

Report on Jan 31 Finance and Facilities meeting

Warning the opinions expressed in this blog are those of the Author ( Mike Sexsmith) and do not represent the views of the NVPAC. I wanted to write just the facts but it is boring to read blogs that do not contain opinion.

The meeting opened with a session on the capital plan and the planned expenses for facilities maintenance. Mr Abercrombie outline the 4 top priority capital projects that the district is asking the provincial government to fund. These are a mechanical/seismic upgrade to Brooksbank for $800K, The replacement of Argyle with a new school for $35M, the replacement of Seymour Heights for 14M and the replacement of Handsworth for $35M. These have been the priority for several years.

We then went into the details of the maintenance plan. I did not collect all the detail but the majority of the maintenance money is allocated to roof repair, facility mechanical system upgrades, painting and functional upgrades. The total needed maintenance is about $5M and the typical provincial grant is about $3M. This means that may of the project will not occur as planned and a prioritization will be done. Given the number age and size of the school in north Vancouver I find it amazing that the province thinks that the facilities can be maintained for $3M per year. This is about 2% of district revenue. This “infrastructure deficit” is just another way that the present government is borrowing money from future taxes.

One point of particular concern to me (as a profession scientist) was the minuscule budget to upgrade and recertify the fume hoods in the chemistry classes in the schools The goal was to certify at least 1 fume hood per high school. I guess this means that only I classroom will be suitable for experiments and that these will need to be conducted by the teacher only since there are not enough for the student to use. Given the fraction of our provincial economy based on resource extraction is seems rather strange that we don’t want to give our student hands on experience in the skills needed in these industries. Perhaps a small issue but one that is symptomatic of the overall shortsightedness of the ministry.

The next section on the agenda was a discussion of covered play areas. A strong contingent of parents from Highlands were on hand to discuss this issue. A representative form the building maintenance department showed several example of the issue that school face with respect to vandalism. It seems that in secluded school covered play areas attract higher levels teenage drinking and vandalism. The district has fenced and decommissioned some covered areas as a result due to the costs of repairs. Several principle expressed mixed views on the educational value of these play areas. In general they were seen as being less important than other priorities for the limited cash. They are too small to impact most kids and usually it is the older kids using these areas. The general expectation was that most kids want to play in the rain and should be encouraged to do so. Overall the tone was that cover play areas are hassle and that the district is not to keen on building or maintaining them.

The parent then gave a case that some kids need the choice of sheltered play and that they felt that it was a basic need for their kid for safety, comfort, dignity and hygiene reasons. They expressed frustration that new schools were being built without these areas They understood the challenges that the district faces with the older secluded structures but suggested that when building newer school the area could be designed with sufficient exposure to prevent the vandalism issues. They also pointed out that we shouldn’t let fear of vandalism stop us for providing facilities that our younger kids need. As a parent with kids in one of these new schools is sympathize with the issue of not covered areas. My kids get soaked every rainy day and I see them all huddling under the roof overhangs at lunch time. But there many more deficiencies in these new structures such as a lack of cloakrooms for wet clothes, overly landscaped school yards, no stage in the gym for shows, limited private LAC space and many more. It seems that the province is not willing to fund these “extras” when schools are built. I guess I sympathize with the school district staff who have to make tough priority calls on educational priorities. No actions were taken as a result of the discussion.

The final section of the agenda was a brief description of the budget forecast for next year. These was no time for discussion but the plan was given to the audience.