Over the past five months the executive of the Trafalgar Middle School Parent Advisory Council (PAC) felt that School District 8 has been on a destructive path, both in terms of how it was working with parents and its use of flawed criteria for selecting which students would be denied an educational opportunity offered through a public education system.
The PAC’s repeated efforts to work with the senior leadership team of SD8 were largely rebuffed and we watched in frustration as an issue grew into a conflict. Hence, we asked the board to hire an external consultant in the hopes of creating a safe environment for everyone to explore what went wrong and rebuild the relationships that are critical for a strong public education system. Instead they have chosen to go it on their own.
So what has happened?
At the June meeting of the board, a Trafalgar parent tried to read out a letter but was interrupted by the chair and not allowed to continue. The chair stated that the parent was making negative comments about staff and so felt compelled to “protect the integrity of our staff and board.”
Subsequent to the meeting, we reviewed the letter. Although we do not endorse the parent’s letter, we strongly disagree with the views expressed by the board chair. The letter called into question some actions of staff, but did not make personal attacks. The letter spoke to a SD8 decision-making process that we believe was seriously flawed and is an ongoing issue between SD8 and parents. Hence, it was appropriate for the parent to raise her concerns within that context. The board owes the parent an apology.
What else has happened?
The board approved terms of reference for new community engagement committees to be established by SD8, which the chair has said will address some of our PAC’s concerns.
The Trafalgar PAC had appointed two parent representatives to another SD8 committee that could have been used to help address the previous conflict. SD8 ignored our parent representative’s repeated requests for that committee to meet during the conflict. Yet we are now to volunteer even more of our time to participate in more committees of their making?
If SD8 is to engage with parents and work in partnership with us, then this needs to be reflected from the outset and at every step of a process. SD8 needed to meet with each school PAC to present their idea (as one of a number of options) and a draft terms of reference for the proposed engagement committees. Only after seeking parent support for the concept and demonstrating how parent input had been incorporated should a proposed engagement process and final draft terms of reference been presented to the board.
As to the cost of hiring a consultant, research clearly shows that a key factor for determining how well a student does in school is the degree to which parents are actively engaged in their education. Therefore, doing what is required to meaningfully engage parents is one of the most cost effective actions that SD8 can take.
Some have suggested the answer lies in how parents vote in the upcoming fall school board elections, but that is only part of the solution. SD8 is a large, complex organization; changing a few players will not solve all the problems. The board and staff need support to grow into the enormous responsibilities that they have accepted, while providing the necessary accountability.
Instead of seeking such help, the board has left parents no alternative than to consider going to the Minister of Education as well as to publicly state what is obvious to many: serious errors in judgment have been made that have severely damaged the school community, there has been no public acknowledgement by SD8 of the damage done, nobody has accepted responsibility for creating the unnecessary level of entrenched conflict, there have been no policies or procedures put into place that will reassure parents that such flawed decision making cannot happen again, and their credibility has been so damaged that many parents no longer trust them to lead our public education system.
Having chosen to go it on their own, the board and staff must now demonstrate a vastly improved ability to listen, to respond to ideas that challenge their views, and to truly work in partnership with parents rather than to try to dictate the terms of engagement.
The PAC Executive
Trafalgar Middle School