COLUMN: School trustees examine governance model

All School District 67 Skaha Okanagan trustees in attendance participated in sessions focused on leadership or governance.

In early December, board of education trustees, administrators and educators from across the province of British Columbia, Canada and many other countries gathered together to share best practices at a “Learning Forward” conference in Vancouver.

Each of the participants were able to choose from an amazing offering of presentations, keynote speakers and sessions in our professional area of interest.

All School District 67 Skaha Okanagan trustees in attendance participated in sessions focused on leadership or governance.

My personal favourite was a day spent with Bruce Wellman and Laura Lipton of MiraVia on “Developing Communities of Thought: Enhancing Social Capital.”

Throughout the day participants asked ourselves and shared our views on the structures, goals and assets that our organizations bring to the educational community table.

At the beginning of this session each of us had to examine the structure of our “community of learning” table. In School District 67, trustees are elected (four-year terms) with the straightforward mandate of providing the best public education opportunities for each and every student within a balanced budget.

Our Minister of Education publicly clarified that mandate in his Nov. 28 visit to our school district.

In School District 67 and throughout the province of British Columbia, boards of education continually strive to achieve this goal by implementing programs, services and resources that support the needs of the greatest number of students in their districts with the funding that is received from the provincial government.

It was an excellent exercise to spend time clarifying this as the overarching and primary goal of B.C. boards of education.

However, in speaking with my table mates over the day it was apparent that trustees and administrators in other jurisdictions around the world are not able to provide this type of equitable education.

Particularly in the United States; public education in their districts is dependent on the level of taxation and economy of each district.

Furthermore in British Columbia although trustees are required to establish “catchment areas” for each school we also have “Choice and Flexibility” legislation (Policy #305 in School District 67) which allows for parents or guardians to transfer their child or children to a school of their choice, if there is space. In the United States this is not the case and students are never allowed cross-boundary transfers in the public education system.

From that point, participants examined the assets in each of our educational communities.

The base premise was that each individual in the community knows precisely what their role and responsibility is.

The conversation grew to include the value of collaboration over common goals, objectives and the accountability that grows out of co-creating a strategic plan.

The strategic plan then supports the “community of learning” collective vision for the work that needs to be done in order to continue to move the entire community forward. The professional relationships built in this collaborative or co-creative way mark the “social contract” made by boards of education that our “community of learning” should be viewed as being a cohesive group of trusted and skilled leaders.

Linda Van Alphen is the chair of the Okanagan Skaha School Board.