CBE missed the mark for this parent

Raise your hands if you would like to see the government eliminate school trustees. Raise your hand if you want the provincial government to be responsible for and accountable to how education dollars are spent.

The Calgary Board of Education website states “We are a leader in education and are proud of our students and the outstanding results they continue to achieve.” As a parent of two kids, I disagree.

Currently, we elect trustees in Alberta. I suspect most people do not know who their trustee is, or if they voted for them. Trustee elections draw a small crowd, because it seems most people don’t care, and in fairness, if you do not have kids, why would you? School trustees oversee the governance of our local public education system. According to their website, the CBE Trustees govern “one of the best education systems in the world”. From this parents perspective, Trustees decide when a new head office is the most important priority. Trustees decide which communities get schools; They decide when a 100 year old school needs millions in renovations to serve kids that live nowhere even close to it, rather than close it; They decide to cut bus stops even if the bus has to drive past the stop they eliminated and somehow justify it by saying its more expensive; and they decide on your fees. They make the decisions about education while the provincial government funds their decisions and suffers the resulting politics.

The communities of Harvest Hills, Coventry Hills, Country Hills, Country Hills Village and Panorama Hills (the Northern Hills}, Hidden Valley, Evanston, and Kincora represent about 8% of Calgary’s population, or 80000 people. These communities are up to 25 years old now and there is only 1 high school within the community serving all these people, a Catholic school. Harvest Hills and Country Hills, at 25 years old, still has only 1 school, a Catholic K-6 between them, for 7500 people. The CBE has finally put schools back on the list for these communities but considerably down the priority list. There are multiple issues surrounding the lack of schools in a community including the time kids spend on a bus instead of being home; the inability to participate in extra-curricular activities or stay for subject help unless a parent is able to pick them up; the transportation fees (really a tax) to get the child to school; and the impact a school has on community space and activities. But this is not the only reason I have an issue with the CBE being one of the best.

My daughters middle school (junior high) introduced a new grading system using 1-4’s. It really confused my daughter, and her parents, as what those numbers meant seem to change by teacher and by grade. My daughter still used percentages when scoring her tests, so why go with something new? If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. When it was introduced, we specifically asked if high schools would understand the new system and what the impact would be on the students. We were assured that it would not. 

My daughter really struggled in grade 9 and felt her teacher was unapproachable for help. We had a couple of discussions with the teacher and also found her a little intimidating so can imagine what teenagers felt. My daughter really struggled through grade 9 with what we believe was ‘the new math’. My son, who was in high school and had completed Math 30, looked at her homework and had no idea how to help. We took her to a tutor for assistance, and discovered a classmate at the same tutor, but the tutor, a retired math teacher, had no idea how to teach math the way that they were learning. She ended up with three 2’s, which is basic grade level expectations, and two 3’s, which is good achievement of grade level expectations…..and a recommendation for summer school or ‘pre-math 10C’, with most of the class according to my kid, to facilitate better success. 

So if so many students are recommended for summer school, is it the students, the way the subject matter is taught, the grading system, or is it the teacher? Or a combination of several issues? Be clear, there is nothing wrong with the grading system nor the teaching, but the high school offered a course they have never needed to offer before, and it isn’t free. And 75 kids attended it, 30 of them from my daughters school! I suspect a number of kids attended summer school as well but cannot be sure. Remind me how this is one of the best education systems in the world? Somehow, the problem is usually your child, or you. So what is one to do? Why is it that tutors are so busy and businesses that provide additional teaching and tutoring are booming and growing in Calgary? I noticed two new ones in my community this school year! It MUST be that our kids have somehow become dumber than kids 10 years ago, right? 

My daughter says she learned more in the 3 week course, than she did last year. She actually had a teacher teaching them the times tables, as it was never taught. How is this possible? She also says the school principle has been involved and supportive and that has really made my daughter feel at ease at this high school. A teacher and principle can make a difference, and she is feeling comfortable in math for the first time in years.

I also feel that Chinook Learning, which is owned by the CBE, had little consideration for students and their families with the Pre-math 10C course. The course was 2 weeks long. but rather than run 2 weeks, it started on Thursday, August 13th and ran until Wednesday, August 26th, actually eating up 3 weeks of the summer, and screwing with vacations. The course ran from 830am-1130 every day, yet by adding an extra 30 minutes to the day, they could have started on Monday August 17th instead. They basically extended the school year by 3 weeks for these kids. The real killer is that the high school is not in the neighbourhood. Or even close to the neighbourhood. See paragraph above. Of course the charter school bus is not running for these 30 kids. Instead, they are on the bus at 7am to ensure they are on time for their 830am class because there is not a bus that goes directly to the school except during the regular school year. And yes, this is their designated high school. So now the kids will be starting the school year, already exhausted. Good planning. Even though she attended this course, the her Math 10C teacher has warned that students will be assessed over the next week and will be moved to a lower lever math class if they are not at the standard. Again I refer back to my daughter being at grade level standard or BETTER in grade 9.

Mount Royal University and others have discovered a booming niche in high school upgrading thanks to the CBE and the same Chinook Learning behind Pre-math 10. I would like to see the stats for how many kids graduate CBE schools, but do not even come close to the grade requirements for university entrance. You have to figure,13000 kids attend grade 12 in CBE schools each year in Calgary. How many graduate? Where do they all go? Unless they have 80’s, they are either working or upgrading classes. Chinook Learning runs their upgrade courses from August 31st to January 11th, so students that successfully upgrade, are unable to attend the Winter session of a university or college, which starts January 4th. Yes, Chinook Learning is only $65 per course compared to the $500 or so per course at MRU, but when you consider the value of being able to take University courses, finish upgrading in the first semester, and attend the second semester, it seems well worth the price! 

I could continue with the disaster of bus transportation, or the difficulty the CBE seems to have dealing with divorced parents, but if you have experienced either, you already know the frustration. No one seems to hold this school board accountable so I say its time to get rid of trustees, and time for the CBE to be accountable to the provincial government, taxpayers.and parents. But I want to know what you think?