COLUMN: Marching to the same tune

Andre Carrel writes on SD82’s release of the consultant’s report

The School Board has received the consultant’s report triggered by last summer’s controversial removal of two principals. The consultant reported that the headline-causing issues of last summer “have been ongoing for many years.” In fact, “[t]he District Leadership Team were aware of some of the issues, and had been working on them for the past few years, including bringing in consultants.”

The District Leadership Team was aware of problems for years. Why have efforts and advice by earlier consultants (plural, not just one) failed so miserably to rectify the perception “that the Board of Education does not question the Superintendent’s decisions or actions, and they appear unwilling to listen to those who express dissatisfaction or disappointment with those decisions.” Were the Board’s efforts botched or undermined, or were they merely ineffective?

The most chilling observation in this most recent consultant’s findings is that “interviewees sometimes expressed nervousness in being interviewed, stating that they felt vulnerable and were possibly taking a risk.” Fear of speaking the truth to authority is common under regimes such as we find in Zimbabwe or North Korea, but in Terrace? In Canada? The consultant remarks that “there is a strong understanding that trust and respectful behaviour is essential for the creation of a healthy organizational culture.” Indeed!

The root of the problem may be in the consultant’s casual mention that “it is standard practice within BC school districts that school administrator placements and reassignments are the responsibility of senior staff.” In my column (May 23, 2019) I referred to the School Act which clearly stipulates that a superintendent of school acts “under the general direction of the board” and is “responsible to the board for the general organization, administration, supervision and evaluation of all educational programs provided by the board” (sec. 22).

In view of this history, as summarized in this latest consultant report, it is disappointing to find that seven of the twelve concluding recommendations advise to the Board is to “continue to/with …” or “consider …” doing this or that. The Board’s many past efforts had clearly failed to “engage in culture building and restorative relationship building.” How can parents, students, teachers, and indeed the community expect anything of substance to change if the Board continues to march to the same old tune?

In view of the history in this matter, I would expect a consultant to caution the Board not to be lulled by ‘standard practice’ found in other school districts, but instead to go back to basics. Take a close look at the responsibilities School Act sec. 22 assigns to the Board. What does “under the general direction of the board” mean? How are legal obligations translated into effective policies? How must a policy be worded and structured to secure accountability on the part of a superintendent to the Board, and through the Board to the community?

Elected officials with experience are an asset to any public organization. Experience is not without risk, experience is susceptible to complacency. Complacency is a disease; it can infect an organization in subtle ways, robbing it of essential oxygen needed for the organization’s vigilance and accountability. The bottom line in a democratic society is that responsibility rests with electors, not with the elected. The same degree of thought that goes into the election of city councillors needs to go into the election of school trustees.

READ MORE: Terrace school principal reassignments on hold

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