Ever wonder what your local elected school board commissioner does? Well, the Ministry has posted a document attempting to provide a model job description for the position. For me, far and away the most important aspect of the commissioner’s role is encapsulated in the following extract from that document: “Since the elected officials represent their community, they must take the time to become familiar with the issues that concern them and to inform parents, electors, the governing boards and the community as a whole of the decisions taken”. In a word –transparency!
Some personal history- when we enrolled our daughter for kindergarten at the old Lakeshore School Board a generation ago, we were informed she was zoned for Briarwood School (now École Primaire Beaconsfield). Of course, like all good parents, we visited the school, met with the principal - and most importantly the kindergarten teacher - and were extremely pleased by the environment our daughter would be entering. But at the end of the first week or so of school, she got off the school bus and told her mother that she and the other Briarwood K students from our area would henceforth be attending another school, Beacon Hill, due to overcrowding at Briarwood. Now Beacon Hill was then and remains a great school so that’s not the issue. But can you imagine the shock and dismay we felt at the absolute lack of communication between the school board and ourselves concerning this vital decision – no letter, no phone call, no discussion, no anything. We couldn’t believe that a school board would operate in such a cavalier manner!
So when the opportunity to join the School Committee (predecessor of the Governing Board) at Beacon Hill arose, I jumped at it, mostly in the hope of reinforcing the need for increased transparency between the school board and its stakeholders. Later, I was fortunate enough to represent the school on the Parents’ Committee, eventually serving as chair of the PC. Then when I was asked to consider running for the position of school board commissioner, I agreed - always with the thought in mind that if I could do anything positive at that level, it would be to improve communications between the board and the people it serves.
Fast forward to today: I am pleased to report that by-and-large most commissioners and other members of the LBPSB family are strong advocates for transparency. Unlike certain other school boards, we don’t have political factions calling the shots. Our decisions are taken in public, often after extensive consultation, and hopefully then are explained carefully to our various publics. Most commissioners provide a report of the activities of the board to their constituents regularly at Governing Board meetings, focusing in particular on decisions taken which affect the individual schools and centres they serve but hopefully never losing sight of the bigger picture. In addition, all board meetings are now webcast (and archived) so that the detailed discussions on all issues and the votes of your local commissioner become a matter of permanent public record.
Commissioners are not employees of the school board and as such are not there to undertake an administrative or pedagogical role or to second-guess those that do have such responsibilities. That being said, commissioners need to be well-informed on the issues of the day so that they can provide answers to questions that may arise from their constituents concerning such subjects as diverse as curriculum changes, administrative appointments and school tax rates, just to mention a few.
Of course, we are very fortunate with 21st-century technology on hand such that we need not wait for monthly meetings or newsletters to learn about what’s happening around the LBPSB. Under the leadership of the board’s new Communications Consultant Stewart Lazarus, the Pearson News has been revived as a frequently-updated blog. The LBPSB Facebook page is another great source of information about what’s happening around the board - And parents are kept up-to-date with texts and emails from their school administration employing Advantage and similar apps. while increasingly new services are being made available via the Fusion Parent Portal.
Even so, there are still times when parents and other constituents simply pick up the phone or send their local commissioner an email when puzzled about board initiatives or policies or how they may be affected by new legislation in the works. While it is clearly not within our mandate to interfere in the daily life of a school or centre, explanations regarding the larger picture or pertaining to a procedure to follow can and should be provided by the commissioner familiar with such matters.
My hope is that all parents and other constituents feel comfortable today in that they are fully-informed through a variety of means on a timely basis about what’s happening at their children’s school and also about events across the board. I trust that no parent today will ever be made to feel the alienation my wife and I did years ago when the school board of the day abdicated its responsibility to keep its stakeholders in the loop. Transparency should not simply be a buzz-word or an objective but rather must be an everyday reality lived by all of us in the LBPSB community.
Commissioner, Ward 9 (those sections of Pointe-Claire, Beaconsfield, Baie D’Urfé and Ste. Anne de Bellevue between Highway 20 and Lake. St. Louis)