In the book “Vanishing School Boards: Where School Boards Have Gone, Why We Need Them, and How We Can Bring Them Back” Patrick Rice asserts “school boards keep the public in public schools, have a positive effect on student achievement, function as trustees over district resources, and serve as advocates for public schools.” He backs up these claims with research and experience. Fortunately, in British Columbia, there is significant buy-in to this assertion, and the recent signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the BCSTA and the Ministry of Education is concrete acknowledgement of the value of boards in our province.

Why a Leadership Series?

It is not just having school boards / boards of education that achieves the positive effects. Boards have to be doing the right things. Good governance is necessary. Well informed trustees are essential. Clear vision, aligned strategies and focused resources must be in place. In this context the current series of Leadership Sessions offered by the BCSTA clearly is very important for the work of boards of education in the province. Comments offered by trustees in the Fraser Valley, Metro Area, Prince George and Victoria indicate the sessions are also very much appreciated by the trustees attending.

Planning and Background

In October 2018, the Ministry of Education confirmed a $150,000 grant to the BCSTA for the ongoing development of new Leadership courses to develop capacity in governance, financial management and labour relations. BCSTA staff immediately went into high gear to develop materials and plan professional learning events. They used the funds, in part, to engage Joan Axford, former secretary-treasurer, BCASBO Executive Director, mentor and consultant; and, Anne Cooper, former Superintendent, mentor and consultant, to work with BCSTA on the planning of twelve regional sessions offered to boards across the province. This collaboration models what is happening in at the sessions, where district leadership join trustees to engage in a professional learning experience. All sessions are also facilitated by former secretary-treasurers and superintendents who were trained by Axford and Cooper. Boards are supported with travel expenses to send up to three trustees to the session. Hugh Blackman, Director of Education Services for BCSTA, has been the link throughout the process, planning and attending sessions across the province.

With close to half the trustees in the province serving in their roles for the first time, the sessions are very timely. Participation has been high and comments from those attending the two-day events have been positive.

The Regional Sessions

Boards and district leaders across the province have been invited to attend a two-day session in their region. The Leadership Series is intended to add to the learning of trustees gained in the Trustee Academy and the New Trustee Orientation and to provide more time and depth to topics of importance. There are twelve locations in total:

  • Abbotsford (SD 34) on January 30, 31
  • Vancouver (SD 39) February 5, 6
  • Prince George (SD57), February 11, 12
  • Victoria (SD61), February 12, 13
  • Campbell River (SD72), February 28, March 1
  • Prince Rupert (SD52), March 4, 5
  • Nanaimo (SD68), March 7, 8
  • Fort St. John (SD60), March 7, 8
  • Kamloops (SD73), April 4, 5
  • Kelowna, (SD23) April 11, 12
  • Trail (SD20), April 11, 12
  • Cranbrook (SD5), April 15, 16

The expected outcomes for the Leadership Series are that participants will:

  • Understand board governance in the areas of planning, accountability, financial due diligence and communication and consultation;
  • Gain confidence in their role and better understand governance versus management and what they should expect from management to support their due diligence;
  • Improve ability to monitor financial matters, ask better questions, and understand the answers;
  • Improve ability to tie resources to objectives and invest in student outcomes, and;
  • Be in a position to reflect on district policies and documents and improve on them as appropriate.

In order to facilitate rich discussion and account for differing contexts, trustees and district leadership teams are invited to prepare by working their way through a “Work Book” (downloadable on the HUB). The workbook is designed to assist trustees to develop confidence in their roles and gain knowledge in areas of planning, accountability, financial due diligence, communications and consultation. Trustees are encouraged to bring documents such as strategic plans, board policies, committee structures and the district framework for enhancing student learning in order to make the session relevant to each district in its unique context. In addition, bringing information about specific initiatives, annual reports and annual budget documents help the facilitators to tailor the sessions to district needs.

Over the two days participants are led through discussions and presentations on governance, strategic planning, fiduciary responsibility, annual budget setting and communications. Time is devoted to discussion among trustees and district leadership with reporting out to the full group after each of these discussions. Opportunities to hear from the facilitators and from each other are balanced so that learning is maximized.

Trustee Response to the Sessions

Shelley Carter, Fraser Valley Branch President and Trustee for Mission (SD75), attended the session in Abbotsford. She says “I think the session was very informative and worthwhile for both experienced and new trustees. It was also valuable to have members of the leadership team learning along side. We were a smaller group but this was awesome as it gave everyone a chance to speak and participate in all discussions. I highly recommend that all BC trustees and senior staff attend these regional meetings.” Willow Reichelt, Chilliwack (SD33) trustee tweeted “This was an excellent 2-day training session. We (Fraser Valley Branch) were the first group to participate and I highly recommend it to trustees from other regions. I look forward to sharing what I learned with my Chilliwack colleagues.”

Lynne Block is a new trustee from West Vancouver (SD45) who attended the Metro region session in Vancouver. She agreed that the session was well done, stating “I have spent my life in education, and I believe in the power of education be it presentation, discussion, role modelling, or mentoring. This session provided an opportunity for all those. I am just beginning my learning journey as a new trustee.” Pammila Ruth, also at the Metro session explained that she is the only returning trustee to her board in the Sunshine Coast (SD46). “Having this session for our board members and management to work and learn together is such a great team building experience. We are all learning so much!”

Close to 300 participants are registered across the province. With sessions running until April, there is still time to sign up. If trustees missed the session for their region, they are welcome to sign up for another region that might work for their team.