Aww, do we have to vote for school board trustees, too?

So very much to talk about today.  The day has taken some lovely twists and turns. 

First off, I don’t want to talk about what I most want to talk about.  It’s stupid, it doesn’t matter, I dearly want to chip in my $0.02, but my two cents on a two bit question isn’t worth diddly squat.  And if you don’t immediately know what I’m talking about, great, you didn’t miss a damned thing!

Second, I’m very, very proud to say I can be found here.  Does it matter that I’m listed as $5 - $100 or do you specifically need to know that I threw in $20?  Personally, I’m fine with all candidates lumping donors into those ranges, but if you need to know the exact number, I’ll say it outright.  Yeah, I’ll feel even $20 right now, but I feel that my guy is the right guy for right now.  I’m convinced, I’ve bought in, I’m dedicated.  We’ve got to pitch in and work to make this happen.

The big news for me is that I went to the Ward 5 & 10 Public School Trustee Forum tonight held at a school I didn’t know existed (Clarence Samson School) in a neighbourhood of Calgary I’ve never visited before.

So let’s start with the basics.  Who the hell is the trustee now and why should I even care?  My kids don’t go to a school out there, does it even matter?  Besides, only parents and employees go to those things anyways…

Let me take a deep breath right now. 

First let me talk about why I care.  I have two kids, I’m essentially uninvolved with their school life until there’s a problem.  I’m not happy about it at all.  I am their father, I care deeply about their well-being and their future and their ability to learn and live and grow and be good citizens in Calgary.  It’s a start.  I know that I need to push at the school constantly in order to get any little trickle of information out of them.  I know that if I push too hard, I get branded “over-aggressive”, an “arsehole” or “impossible to get along with.“  It’s very frustrating.

My ex-wife is a teacher and is a lot more in-tune with the ins and outs of education in Calgary.  I’m not worried about my kids academically, they’re more than fine.  But I worry about them learning to do the things I don’t do well; the more social aspects, working with people you don’t like, compromising on your world-view in order to listen to other people’s opinions.  (My ghod…  I’m Ric McIver!  ;-) ) 

Let me plant that seed now and I’ll get back to the point later.

The other tie I have with the education system in Calgary is with my curling team.  If I don’t sing their praises enough, I should.  Two of them are now principals, one of them works in CBE’s IT.  Everything about those guys says class.  They took a guy who hadn’t curled for ten years, made me feel at home, and brought me along.  I’m not sure I’m a great curler, but I must be getting better because our entire team has improved.

Those guys are the window I have to the system since I don’t have a regular parental window to the school system.  They’re the ones that are affected directly.  I want the best for my kids, but I want the best for those guys too.

So now let’s talk about just how ignorant I really am.

1.  Years ago, the provincial government decided that there was a rural / urban imbalance and the rural schools suffered a lack of revenues.  So they consolidated all the education taxes and then have doled it out.  Rural schools don’t seem to complain - not that I hear, anyways.  City schools are nothing but problems of underfunding and overspending.

2.  The current chair of the board is Pat Cochrane.  She’s obviously a really nice, intelligent person because she followed me first on Twitter.  Yes, that’s exactly how to get my vote, be an aggressive follower on twitter.  Just don’t wear a bikini and tell me how to increase my followers - I might not think you’re real.

3.  One of Ms. Cochrane’s opponents did a press release on the new administration building and it was all the rage of discussion today.

4.  One last tidbit, in the past the board has been a storm of disunity and almost non-functional in ideological splits.

There.  That’s it.  The sum of my knowledge.  And if my point about Ms. Cochrane didn’t come out trite, I didn’t state my case well enough.

I grew up in those rural schools.  Some I fit into, others not so much.  I moved to Calgary in Grade 10 and finished high school at Henry Wise Wood.  It was really different from J. C. Charyk Hanna High.  Totally better, for me.  I go into my kid’s schools and I see a completely different experience than I ever had growing up.  Still I see some of the cracks: Schools in disrepair, really old computers, text books that have seen better days, hell, text books in the first place.    We can’t do better?  In Alberta?  We weren’t fixing stuff in the boom, we’re not fixing it in the bust, are we just riding on our oil laurels here?

What in the hell was I thinking in the past?  Why wasn’t I more involved and informed about this?  What in words significantly stronger than “hell” was I thinking when I said, “I don’t care about the school board?“  This is a major hit in my pocketbook, it has a major effect upon my children, it is supremely important.  Why don’t we pay attention to this each and every day instead of when things get screwed up?

We seriously need to scream at the provincial government until they reverse this stupid idea of consolidating tax collection through their mitts.  At least loosen it up a little to give more control locally.  I’m okay with making sure the rural areas are funded adequately, but how many times did Pamela King talk about having different budgets that funds were coming from?  How many strings do those people have?  Government + strings = __________.  And your homework is to fill in the blank.

What I saw tonight was five impassioned people talking about making education better.  Five different approaches with common threads running between them.  Financial issues got a whole lot of play.  Talk about not having enough resources, talk about squandering resources on wrong areas, talk about “opulent buildings” while kids in schools suffer.  Talk about the provincial government holding back funding because they see so much waste locally.

Talk about how teachers have been treated, talk about losing teachers, talk about overworking teachers, talk of burning out teachers in classes of 40.  One teacher who was laid off in the last round asked a question - well, more that she made a comment and then solicited comments.  She said teachers were taught to put student learning first ahead of everything else.  She had a class of 38 kids, 23 of them were ESL and 5 of them were special needs, and she taught them in a windowless closet.

C’mon, tell me this is a joke, right?

ESL really struck me.  I should have taken a picture of the gym and the flags up there.  There is no other way to put this: I’m damned proud of this city when we can walk into a school and see that kind of diversity.  Did I mention my kid is learning Mandarin?  That’s awesome cool.  Especially when he’s going to be able to use it when he’s playing with friends, or dating a girl he likes, or flying to Beijing for business.  This is real, it’s happening right here, I never got any kind of opportunity like that in Hickville, Albertee.

Now, let me ask the question:  Is the province truly holding back funding because they see waste from the CBE, or is the province completely out of touch with the reality of education in Calgary, or a little of both?  What right does the province have in underfunding us in the first place?  How can I possibly get a clear picture without a whole lot of transparency from the province and the CBE?  Who’s helping out for us here?

Ms. King mentioned several times feeling huge frustration with not hearing from the public.  I’m feeling huge frustration not hearing from the school.  I didn’t know where to start.  It took almost the entire last year to learn of a web page called “Desire2Learn” so I could get access to some of the day to day things happening in my kid’s classes.  I have to visit more often, but at least it’s something I can do.

And there, dear reader, is the crux of the argument and the point that I had buried with a promise to return.

Be it resolved that the first order of business of the Calgary Board of Education is to find a way to communicate openly with all Calgarians.  The CBE is big business, as stakeholders we need a way to be better informed.  I don’t even know where to start, I certainly don’t know the questions to ask, I’m not sure I understand what Trustees actually do.

Be it also resolved that all Calgarians will engage with the CBE and start giving a damn.  Ms. King’s complaint of not hearing feedback is our responsibility, not hers.  Once every three years is not okay.  Why wasn’t that room packed to the rafters?  Literally, to the rafters?  This should be much more important to each and every Calgarian, not just a few dozen people with dull axes.  If we don’t, we’re going to get a board full of wingnuts pushing their own agendas - and we’ll deserve it, but our kids won’t.

So after all that, I went to a Trustee forum hoping to decide who to vote for and I came away feeling a great liking and affinity to five very impassioned people.  Every single one said something I liked and something I thought was kinda dumb.  I know it’s hard to like the incumbent from the school board, but I know it’s a damned tough spot to be shoved.  Every last person up there cared and was trying from their own perspective.  I’m more confused than ever, and this is going to take much more research.

But I damned well better think about this, because it’s an urgently important position.  This “being involved” thing is a lot of work.  But after listening to what I heard tonight - how can you possibly consider this minor and not get involved?

The other thing I know is that I have to check D2L tonight.  And call my kid’s school tomorrow and set up an appointment with their new principal.