Tuesday, November 5, 2013

10 Days Is Too Much

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of returning to work as a Supply Secretary at an Edmonton Public High School.  It was so good to be back!

My role as supply was to serve the students and the Administration team in the Front Office. This is a busy High School with a phone that never stops ringing and a line up out the door for a better part of the day. (so much so that people walk on eggshells for fear of a “jinx” on the “quiet” phones when they are not ringing!)

The requests I fielded were varied in both complexity and demand:
·         A student who had a serious reaction to the sight of blood in a Macbeth video
·         Introducing a Constable to an irate parent
·         Printing replacement identification for students who have ‘lost’ their permanent    ID cards
·         Helping a student find patience to wait for an Administrator

Over the course of this phenomenal day, I had a bit of a light-bulb moment that I am compelled to share: SERVICE!  I realized that public education is about customer service to a very large degree. Everyone in the building has a role to perform and that every role is in ultimate service to society’s most precious customer: our students.  No one in that building is paid nearly enough to compensate for what issues must be addressed!  So, for me, with the students as a central focus, we become like the “back-of-house” associates in the hotel industry.  It is the students who are in the forefront, and everyone is focused on them, even if their role is indirect (like custodial or supply staff).  

Perhaps where we go wrong is when Public Education teams lose their line of sight to the customer and what they expect and deserve.

I was recently advised on what I thought was a relatively simple question about alternative programming availability.  I was told that it would take 5-10 business days to answer.  I was stunned!  Even after all of my work leading up to the trustee elections, I had no idea that this was the turn-around time on something as integral to the well-being of a student as a simple question about programming availability!  I think that we may have completely lost sight of the customer – the student; when it takes that kind of time frame to answer a question.

Good service has expectations associated with it. I expect that I am part of the solution.  That with my voice, I can inform you, and you can inform others about the ways in which education is failing our students.  I think it is reasonable to expect simple information to be delivered efficiently.  I expect students to be the central focus of public education, and tax-payer dollars. 

I also think it is reasonable to expect that with my voice, I can inform you, and you can inform others the ways in which education is exceeding expectations.  I expect that tomorrow I will say thank you to the teacher, custodian, volunteer, or peer who goes above and beyond the call of duty in service to education and students they serve.

Transparent communication and gratitude are what I expect, and I hope you expect that too.

Tomorrow I will serve  students I may never meet.  And I will not be alone in that service.  There are countless people working countless hours, who deserve recognition they neither seek nor will receive.  But perhaps, with my voice, and the network of all of your voices, we can begin to shine the light upon those who offer service that exceeds expectations.  I cannot tell you how rewarding it is to be able to use my voice, even if it is not quite in the way I had anticipated, with such conviction.  And tomorrow, I will type.  I will format, and I will save changes made to documents that I trust will serve those students, their families, and their teachers well.  Like so many people do their whole careers, I will focus on great customer service and go home satisfied in knowing that I was part of that service team---even on supply.

So for those who choose to serve the students in Edmonton Public on a day-in, day-out basis – you matter. The work you do matters. The end result matters – in a big way. Serve from your heart and keep your eye on the end result. Very little matters more. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013


As my campaign draws to a close, and election day draws near, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the people whom I have met in the past few weeks.  There are hundreds of you who have inspired me with your willingness to talk about education---even when I have knocked on your door and interrupted your day.  To you, engaged citizens of Edmonton, I say thank you!  

Thank you to the communities who have invited me to participate in their events, and allowed me support their efforts with service.  I have loved every moment cooking hot dogs, selling wares, cleaning kitchens, raking leaves, picking up garbage and building playgrounds.  It has truly been an honour. Thank you for sharing with me what matters to you, and to the future you want to create for our children.  I have been heartened more than you know by your willingness to engage in this process of elected school board trustees, and I thank you!  

Thank you to my friends and neighbours who gave hours of their time waving at you as you drove past an intersection, put up my signs, and helped me communicate with individuals about education and its future in Edmonton Public.  Most of all, I would like to thank my family (by blood and by choice) who has supported my candidacy wholeheartedly.  

I am truly grateful.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


I have been asked to respond to questions about faith-based public schools.  I must confess that these questions have given me some serious pause, not for what they ask, but for what they imply.  So I’ll take this opportunity to be clear.   I am absolutely supportive of diversity:  in the ways in which we teach our students, in the ways in which people express themselves, and in the ways in which people live out their faith and beliefs.  I think that faith-based schools are a fantastic alternative for families who seek to provide a deep religious education of their children as part of their everyday learning environment.  I am absolutely opposed to bullying.  Period.  I think what has made me uncomfortable is that these questions I have been asked have implied that if I am opposed to bullying I am threatening someone’s faith.  Is bullying allowed in anyone’s faith?  Maybe someone out there can enlighten me on a religion that tolerates violence and harassment of children in any school, much less in a school funded by your tax dollars. 

The Edmonton Public School Board has been very clear in its policies in the past, that there is no reason for violence or threats of violence to be anyone’s experience in our schools, FOR ANY REASON, and I wholeheartedly agree.  If this offends you, I can’t comprehend why.  If this seems to indicate that I lack tolerance for your faith, I can’t comprehend why.  A friend of mine reminds me that as a society, Canadians have been clear that we will ameliorate discrimination and oppression with clarity.  The EPSB policy does that for students who are or have been systemically bullied, and I fully support their courage and foresight. 

Size Matters!

This week I had the opportunity to clarify and articulate my position about overcrowding in classrooms.  While there is definitely consideration that numbers are relative to the needs inherent in each child, it is important that we understand that there ARE indeed standards for class size that we simply need to uphold.  According to the Alberta Commission on Learning maximum size for a classroom of children in Kindergarten or Division One (Grades 1-3) is 17 students.  

Based on the 2012/2013 statistics shared by the Alberta Teachers Association it is clear that we are far exceeding that maximum.  This is, in my opinion, chaos management not education.  When a classroom of young children is too large, then we risk allowing children to “fall through the cracks”:  as long as they behave compliantly, we will not challenge them to meet their own potential for excellence.  This is a serious issue that I expect your Public Board to address.

I also expect you to be part of the solution!  In the coming weeks and months you will need to help me remind our provincial elected officials that education is a priority for Albertans, and Edmontonians are prepared to lead the way in that reminder.  I will need your help in shifting our assessment of a successful funding model away from a model that is dependent upon large class sizes, especially for our youngest students.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Last Auction

Some awesome items to bid on including 2 sets of Oilers tickets. Auction on until tomorrow at 7 PM!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kind Endorsement

I am blessed to have people I admire and trust in my corner in the pursuit of the Ward C Edmonton Public School Board Trustee role. 

"Susan understands what it takes for public schools to thrive. She will strive to create the necessary conditions - both in Ward C and throughout the Edmonton Public School District - for teaching and learning to be the very best it can be!"

Lynn Odynski [former trustee Ward C]

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Forum Follow Up

On October 3 I had the privilege of speaking with the public at a forum organized by Laurier Heights Parent Advisory Council (and they did a phenomenal job at it, by the way).  It was an evening rich in questions and diversity, with great opportunity to engage you, the voters, in what matters to you as you choose your next school trustee.  You are my hiring committee and I appreciated the interview!

I was able to articulate three key factors that will influence my leadership should I be elected to this position:

1. I will follow in the footsteps of good work
2. I will follow with a critical eye toward what we can do better
3. I will expect you, the voters/parents/grandparents/community members to engage in the process of advocacy for our children.

I will follow in the footsteps of good work

Predecessors of this position, Christopher Spencer and Sue Huff, have worked tirelessly to ensure a new era of communication and collaboration with government.  I commented at the forum my disagreement with a statement that advocacy to-date has been “all asks” relative to the School Closure Moratorium Committee.  I think the previous board has done amazingly well to establish a relationship with the government of Alberta that is reciprocal, and with the best interests of students at its heart. While this relationship is never easy, I do think that the board has forged ground that will allow the new trustees to effect change to the betterment of our students, teachers, and classrooms within Edmonton Public Schools. 

More importantly though, issues of inclusion were discussed at length at this forum, and I’m so grateful that they were!  I was able to articulate my firm belief that if there is a policy as sound and effective as the no-bullying policy, and its extention to the LGBTQ students in our schools specifically, then that is simply a policy that must be implemented.  PERIOD.  I am grateful for the opportunity to formally (and informally in conversations afterward) to articulate my deep conviction to this awesome policy. 

I will follow with a critical eye toward what we can do better

The forum audience raised questions about school closures:  a matter near and dear to my heart.  I participated in the Sector Review Process, so I know how debilitating and disheartening process can be in relation to school closures.  I know from conversations with other parents in that time in my role as chairperson of a school council that we can do better!  There were suggestions in that process that emerged from parents as alternatives to school closures that I don’t think that the board has investigated, or at least not fully investigated.  I also think that now is the time to be fully open as a board to all aspects in our budget:  the money that we have available to us must match what the board has skillfully named as priorities for our district.  In my experience as an entrepreneur and as a former Corporate Director of a multi-decision unit company I have deep concerns over the anticipated spike in absenteeism and the costs (human and financial) associated with that.  Additionally, there are budget items that, despite hours of inquiry as a private citizen, are still unclear to me.  There are clearly many avenues of conversation about cost-saving and cost-sharing that simply must be explored. 

Communication with the public and policy implementation are two additional ways that the board can work better.  While communication with government has deepened, I’m certain that we can do better at communicating with the public.  In terms of policy implementation, I was present at the board meeting when a former Physics teacher from Ross Sheppard spoke about the lack of implementation of the boards policy on Student Assessment, Achievement and Growth  which allows teachers to issue zeroes.  Why is that?  Why are board policies not being followed?  This is the critical eye that I bring to the board as a parent and as a citizen now, and expect the trustee to bring as well. 

I will expect you, the voters/parents/grandparents/community members to engage in the process of advocacy for our children.

It won’t work without you, though!  I have been part of a small group of concerned parents and active citizens who have asked questions of our elected officials.  This has been hard work, but it is also PIVOTAL to the success of democracy.   I KNOW that your voice, your opinion, your input has power.  I know this because a small group of communicative and vocal parents helped strengthen the motion for changes to our utilization measure to incorporate child wraparound services as utilized space.

I am so grateful that I was able to articulate to the forum audience that I expect them (and you!) to be engaged in the process.  Ask me questions!  Talk to me about how policies are, or are not, being lived out in your schools.  Attend meetings in person or online, be on Alberta Education conference calls, talk to your school councils and community league boards, talk with your MLA, support initiatives for a super-board collaboration between schools, or any other way to make your voice heard.  For I deeply value the power of grassroots communities voicing their vision, their hopes, their concerns, and their wisdom.

It was such a rich evening!  I can’t wait to meet more of you at the North Glenora Community League on October 16 from 7-9 PM.