No “Snags” in these School Councils
I have a somewhat cryptic memorandum that outlines the agenda of a meeting held recently in an elementary school at Cold Lake. The “from-to” part of the memo reads as follows: From: 441SNAGS To: 4SES. 4SESPO. 4SESDALO. IMSGT. The date reads 4/16/97 11:18 am. The remainder of the memo is written in plain English. Part of the message reminds the recipients of a meeting at 3:30 in the afternoon and that a member from the ATA will be present as an observer (me). Some other things mentioned are the three-year plan, the provincial music festival competition, school fees, daily physical education classes and the new CTS program slated to be introduced this fall. This is the agenda of the Athabasca River School Council.
The members of this council are interesting folk. The chair of the council (441SNAGS) is Sergeant Tom Allmendinger. Tom works in a section of the Cold Lake air base that performs maintenance on the airframes and engines of Canada’s CF-18 fighter planes. Specifically, he is assigned to 441 Squadron and helps fix “snags” or problems in the airplanes as they are reported to him by the pilots. 4SESDALO (number 4 software engineering squadron air liaison officer) is really Major Ed King who, as a school council member, represents parents with children in French immersion stream. Captain Marc DeChamplain serves as secretary treasurer. His military moniker wasn’t included on the memo because he received a copy directly from Tom. The two other military members of the council are Sergeant Dale Horwill (IMSGT), who serves as vice-chair, and Master Corporal Darrel Shiels, another parent representative. Darrel is an aircraft weapons specialist and was on TD (temporary duty) at a weapons range in Utah while the meeting was going on.
The civilian members of the council are Walter Hrycauk, principal (that’s Walter on the cover), Theresa Legault, representing school support staff, Nicole Simon, representing French immersion teachers, Bill Callas, staff representative, and Dean Bischke, vice-principal. Dean was also on TD during the meeting but probably not in Utah.
It was a friendly and productive assembly. Bill Callas led a discussion on the proposed educational plan being developed for the school, a plan that will have input from staff, parents and the council. One of the goals of the plan is to integrate parts of the curriculum with field trips to specific sections of the air base. I marvelled at the unique opportunities this will present to students attending this school. Members also addressed the collection of school fees, some of which are delinquent, and the importance of these fees in the operating budget of the school. Meanwhile, fighter jets were coming and going on the nearby runway and, while the noise always got my attention, it seemed to have little effect on the concentration of the council members.
The day before my visit to Cold Lake, I attended another school council meeting, this one at École Beau Meadows in Beaumont, just southeast of Edmonton. Not a military person in sight but rather 14 community members, including teachers and school staff, who, like their counterparts in Cold Lake, work together in the best interests of the school and its children. Instead of weapons experts and electronics engineers, this council was composed of stay-at-home mothers, a real estate agent, a supervisor at the local IGA, a gas-bar operator and a smattering of other community occupations. The president, Ann Buffel, works part time as a secretary in the school. She runs a very good meeting. Backed up by impressive teamwork, this school council manages a range of programs that includes school supplies, a lunch program, the track and field event and the year-end picnic. Before they meet as the school council, these same people meet as the school fund-raising committee. This year, a recipe book is being published for sale, a juice machine is being considered and some members are tracking down the best price on a class set of snowshoes.
The commitment of parents to this school goes beyond service on the school council. Last year, parents of École Beau Meadows students volunteered 2,200 hours in the school. Nearly two-thirds of parents have volunteered for school activities. This allows a lot of things to get done that otherwise might get relegated to “when we’ve got the time.” The storage room used for sports equipment is getting attention right now and I can assure you that its contents will be culled, sorted, identified and put away in a very orderly fashion. A bike safety program is in the works and the family dance is just about all organized.
The parent members on both these school councils model effective involvement by parents in the operation of schools. They want to support the education of their children and are prepared to devote time, energy and creativity to help the process along. At Cold Lake, arrangements have been made to incorporate meetings of the council into the working day of the military members—the work of the council is just that important to everyone on the base. At École Beau Meadows, each member of the council contributes constructive comments and suggestions as the agenda items are addressed. In this way, the council serves as a responsible forum where views from a sizeable portion of the community are expressed, developed and implemented.
These councils also provide a valuable communication link to the community for school staff members. When principal Anita Muller reviewed the proposed budget for École Beau Meadows, she was talking to community leaders who were on-side, as far as the school was concerned. She pointed out a contingency allotment for possible pay raises for her teachers and noted that they had accepted a voluntary pay rollback and were now interested in getting back that contribution. Walter Hrycauk brought forward concerns about the timing of year-ends. Athabasca School is taken over by air cadets. But before that happens, classrooms have to be emptied and the school made ready for this annual summer invasion. Accomplishing all this, running the tests, rescheduling the buses and making sure that all kids are supervised takes the cooperation of lots of people in the community. The cooperation began at the April 16 meeting of the school council.
A comment by one council member at École Beau Meadows struck me as insightful. She cautioned her colleagues about the change that occurs in the school at Grade 4. “Remember,” she said, “that’s the year all the moms go back to work.” She was concerned about the deployment of volunteers next year. Got me wondering about parent involvement at higher grade levels. Phone calls to a couple of high schools indicated that the numbers drop right off, despite the best efforts of schools to bring parents in to the school council setting. Mitigating against parent involvement are such things as the large size of high schools, the belief on the part of parents that their high school offspring can pretty much look after themselves, changes in the interests of parents away from schools to other pursuits, and the fact that after a certain age, kids just don’t want their parents hanging around the school.
The meeting at Cold Lake ended just after 6:00 p.m. and I asked Tom where I could go to get a look at the operations side of the airbase. He gave me directions to a picnic area adjacent to the runaway. Standing on a table, I looked over the base and noted the peace and quiet that had descended, quite a change from the busy operations during the afternoon. Looking north, I became aware of five tiny specks that were approaching the field at a terrific rate of speed. The specks turned into CF-18s, which flew right down the runway and then broke off to form a line astern for landing.
I have no real evidence of this, but I’m inclined to think Tom arranged this fly-past just for my benefit, part of the code in his morning memo.