Reader takes offence to coverage of school board

Re: October 17th FFWD Cover

The election is over and Calgarians have chosen a new board of public school trustees. Now that the campaigning is done and every weekend blogger and op-ed writer and self-proclaimed expert has had their say I’d like to weigh in too. As a special education teacher with the Calgary Board of Education since 1994 (now on a three-year contract downtown to provide supports to teachers in schools) I’ve learned a thing or two about public education in our city.

Your front page from October 17th caught my attention as I gather it was designed to do.

You could be right. It would suck if nobody paid attention to public education. If nobody cared. If the CBE was a mess. Fortunately that’s not the case. Day in and day out I am surrounded by people — teachers students parents leaders — who care very deeply about public education and who in fact pay very close attention to ensuring that it works.

Do you know what sucks more? The constant spewing of negative attention — of sensationalist headlines and mindless jumping on bandwagons and smug self-righteous rhetoric that tars us all with the same brush. Of journalism that can’t seem to reach past the low-hanging fruit.

The CBE actually isn’t a mess. Sorry if that’s not sexy enough for a cover story.

It is in fact a very fine learning organization. The CBE is full fascinating learners — beautifully complex kids who make me think and laugh and wonder and hope; students who make me thankful every day that I have chosen a profession that I love. We are an organization of generous dedicated interesting teachers. We have visionary principals and senior leaders who have spent their entire careers building a public education system that serves the greater good.

Are we perfect? Ha!

The CBE is and always will be a work in progress. There are real problems that need to be solved — big and small — if we are to achieve our vision of success for each student every day without exception. But do people really believe that those problems are going to be solved simply by pointing them out? Since when has a “gotcha” mentality ever led to meaningful change? How can we — a city so hopeful about our future a city so willing to come together in times of tragedy — be so shamefully hostile towards our own public education system?

The fact that ARTICS a group of four candidates who failed in their bid for school trustee in the 2010 election was somehow entitled to become the voice of “concerned parents” and branded the “CBE watchdog” in the media for the past three years is beyond comprehension (particularly when one of the four has no children). These are people who have made careers out of as Stephen Carter put it “heaving rocks” at the CBE. And the media gleefully reports the commotion. Forgiving themselves of the responsibility to dig a little deeper — letting complex issues seem simple smudging the facts indulging the individual agendas. This is okay if it makes a good story? Something to be indignant about over coffee with the neighbours? Is that who we are as Calgarians?

Every day I work with teachers school-based leaders and folks from downtown. People with multiple degrees (many with PhDs) who have never stopped learning and who have cultivated incredible skill sets in service of public education. We meet early in the morning through every lunch hour and often on the weekends. Always about kids. And do you know what? The people I work with aren’t incompetent. They don’t suck. They meet each day head-on with ingenuity imagination and integrity. They all work incredibly hard to make the Calgary Board of Education a great place to learn. For my kids. Probably for yours. And they deserve better than to have their profession publicly slogged through the muck day in and day out.

Enough already.

If we are going to find real solutions to real problems in the CBE then we have to find better ways for people to engage. Schools senior leaders trustees and members of the public need to find meaningful ways to work together so that everyone who cares enough to lend a hand or lend a voice can actually make a difference to public education.

The time for chest thumping and tabloid stories and holier-than-thou mockery has passed — get over it. It’s time to be part of the solution. If you think that the solution is to make each moment of every board meeting public figure out how to do that ethically. If you think that problems can be solved by finding efficiencies in the budget fantastic — find them. Have an idea about how to fix class sizes? Wonderful! Share it!

Have a voice! Make a difference! Get involved! But be involved in finding solutions not just pointing fingers. Roll up your sleeves. Get your hands dirty. Public education is messy complicated challenging work. Nobody ever said it would be easy but believe me — it’s totally worth it.

Alison Van Rosendaal works for learning services at the Calgary Board of Education.