An opportunity to improve

It's very encouraging to read in The Morning Star the increased local coverage and commentary on education.

Greater public awareness can lead to increased public engagement. So it’s very encouraging to read in The Morning Star the increased local coverage and commentary on education.

The typically unoccupied gallery chairs at the public school board meetings are being filled (even if mostly by teachers). And recently School District 22 held public engagement sessions on Secondary Schools Restructuring for Personalized Learning. All of this is positive.

Now’s the time to seize the opportunity and begin the consultative work that’s necessary to improve the completion rate (graduation rate), which for decades has remained stagnant in the range of 78 to 79 per cent in this district (slightly lower than the provincial average), despite the very well-intentioned past efforts of district managers and administrators.

From my point of view, as an elementary school literacy tutor and parent volunteer for 15 years, it’s a privilege and a delight to watch all the eager young students as they enter the education system filled with absolute joy for learning. Sadly, delight turns to disheartenment observing many of these students beginning to lose their enthusiasm, becoming disengaged and unmotivated learners as they move through the system.

Eventually some (20%) of them leave the system prior to completion. But this doesn’t have to be the case. The reasons why students drop out are numerous. For decades parents/guardians have actively engaged in parent information/education workshops to: inform themselves about education issues, connect with the system; and share their oral and written feedback on their perspectives on the education system.

They are concerned about graduation rates, student motivation, parent involvement, mental and physical health, dress codes, various forms of bullying, advocating for students, new technologies in the classroom, etc. Meanwhile, their support of education is continually demonstrated by generous donations of time, energy, skills and financial resources to schools. Community support is phenomenal as well; as undoubtedly both fundraising and “school community building” are vital for the success of schools and students. And although extra-curricular fundraising can detract valuable human resources away from the necessary analysis of education issues, education unifies communities around the central focus of helping kids learn and succeed. Clearly, what the completion rate data shows is that, even with school board elections every three years, and the very well-intentioned actions of many – the feedback loop to the decision-makers is ineffective.

Recently the school district announced its three-year goal of achieving a 100% completion rate. In my humble opinion, we, the education community, need to work together to re-create and implement a permanent feedback mechanism that works; one that would help the district achieve that excellent goal. It needs to engage stakeholders (all education partner groups, parents/guardians, students, past students and the general public) in meaningful and effective information sharing. It must routinely and systematically conduct open public meetings, focus groups, and on-line communications to effect change in the system of education.

Why? Because education touches all of us, we all care, and all kids matter. An effective feedback loop will enable all students and teachers to improve and achieve learning outcomes. And because ultimately it’s us who pays the public education bills – and eventually its us who will reap the benefits or live with the consequences. Education is an integral part of a community; and communities benefit from its citizens caring, supporting, and learning from one another.

Pam Hargreaves