Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dec 11th School Board meeting summary

Improved Aboriginal and Special Needs achievement rates, 5 new board approved Secondary elective courses, stakeholder priorities for educational investment and a need to find $600,000 in budget cuts to fund a 3% CUPE support staff salary increase were the main topics of discussion at the December 11th board meeting.

More Tough Choices
The School District is once again facing tough choices related to budgets outside the normal budget cycle. The Ministry of Education, following its Cooperative Gains Mandate, is anticipating a 3% increase in annual wages for CUPE staff and is asking all school districts across the Province to tell them how they would, without raising fees or cutting core services, achieve budget cuts equivalent to the salary increases by mid-January. For North Vancouver School District this would amount to about a $600,000 budget cut. More discussion on this can be expected early in January but for a District already running a lean operation this will result in some very tough choices.

The Superintendent's Report on Achievement for 2012/13
This annual report looks at a number of comparative indicators such as graduation rates to measure the overall academic success of the School District in a number of areas. It appears from the result that the overall graduation rate for all student's appears to have plateaued at about 84~86% (slightly above the BC average of 82%).

However the District is concerned that while they have had some success with an increase in the Aboriginal completion rates from 49% to 61% this rate and that of special needs students (62%) remains stubbornly below the overall graduation rate for all students.

The full report provides a lot more information on the programs the District is working on to improve the success of our children starting with early literacy support such as the StrongStart centers and continuing with a variety of supports.

The District thinks changes to the community learning program and other recently introduced initiatives will help increase the success of our students and plans to continue monitoring the effectiveness of their efforts through these academic achievement reports.

Board Approved Courses
At the secondary level, the board is able to approve elective courses developed by teachers with particular interests or to support students with specific needs. These courses are for credit courses outside the standard curriculum. For the coming year the board has approved 5 new courses.
  • Improvisation 10 @ Carson Graham Secondary
  • Self-Efficacy 11 @ Mountainside Secondary
  • Sustainable Environmental Education 11 @ Carson Graham
  • Principles of Relational Skills 11 @ All Secondary Schools
  • Peer Coaching and Mentoring 11 @ All Secondary Schools
The board package contains a full description of these courses, the delivery models and curriculum. Seeing theses course laid out the way they are with all the units involved and the expected outcomes defined is very helpful in understanding how education is designed and how courses are assessed before being implemented in the district

Most of the debate around these courses centered on the need to teach students skills such as self efficacy and relational skills at an earlier age than Grade 11. The challenge is where to fit these into the curriculum and there seemed to be a strong case for introducing versions of these courses for earlier grades if they are successful at the grade 11 level.

Priority Educational Needs
The Superintendent presented a summary of the priority educational needs submissions from each of the partner groups (CUPE, NOVA, NVTA and NorthVanPAC). More than anything the summary in the board package shows that there are many areas in need of attention across the District caused largely by many years of very tight budgets. Infrastructure spending, special needs support, the introduction of new technology and providing more time and capacity for teachers, administration and staff to do the work they need to do to maintain quality education are all identified and desired by the groups. How this can be achieved is unclear but people clearly recognize a large set of needs.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Student Computers and Gaming Grants

I have had the pleasure of attending PAC meetings in different schools recently and a common thread of discussions has been PAC support for tablets, computers and related equipment. As a topic of common concern, I asked the Ministry about the use of PAC Gaming Funds to purchase iPads and similar computing devices for use by students in the school.  

According to the Ministry website, Gaming Grants can be used by PACs for “Student computers: software, hardware, accessories;” so I asked the Ministry what the term "student computers" means. Can it be used to purchase iPads etc.

The Ministry response was that... "The key is that use of Gaming Grant PAC funding is for extra-curricular purposes. In general iPads and related equipment have been considered enhanced educational items and have not been generally approved.

Gaming Grant PAC funding is intended to benefit students by enhancing their extra-curricular opportunities. Gaming funds may be used to pay for goods and services used by students for, or primarily for, extra‑curricular activities. Gaming funds may not be used to pay for goods or services used primarily by teachers to deliver curriculum or by students to complete curriculum requirements.

 Materials that are not required in the teaching or completion of curriculum, but which assist in doing so, such as smart boards and other ‘enhanced educational’ items, are not eligible for PAC funding. A list of eligible uses of PAC grant funds can be found in section 3.3 of the Guidelines: Applying for a Community Gaming Grant,, and a list of ineligible uses can be found in the Conditions for a PAC/DPAC Grant, Both these documents may be downloaded from our website as shown."

I asked if computing devices can be funded if PACs can show their use outside school curriculum for instance how the tablets or other computing devices are being used for extra-curricular activities such as supporting drama clubs, digital media clubs, computer-programming clubs or science clubs or sports training.

The ministry responded that... "The key is extracurricular and the theme related to extracurricular activities such as the drama clubs, is one example and it must not be for curricular based or related to support work related for curricular. That is important for PAC’s to ensure as Government funding is provided through the Ministry of Education related to curricular based. Gaming funds cannot be used for those purposes."

From this discussion I conclude that PACs need to be very specific and provide strong evidence that any technology purchase using Gaming funds will be used to support extracurricular activities and should not assume general purchases or usage outside school or direct purchases for students will be supported.

PACs considering the purchase of tablets etc for extracurricular purposes should contact the gaming branch well ahead of time to find out if your particular application would be supported by gaming funds.