Monthly Archives: January 2012

Why Move Recess?

On January 25, 2012 the Saanich Board of Education passed a motion to move the elementary school mid-afternoon recess to the end of the day, i.e. starting the 15 minute recess at 2:25 then dismissing at 2:40 p.m.  This shift is scheduled to commence on April 2, 2012 and go until the end of the provincial teacher strike, with the hope being of course that the contract talks will have come to a conclusion by then and we won’t need to move recess at all.  But if the bargaining impasse between the BC Teachers Federation and the BC Public School Employers Association (representing the province’s 60 boards) continues we will in April have passed the one year anniversary of the start of bargaining and be into our eighth month of the strike.  So what does this have to do with recess?

In Saanich, as in many districts, teachers have a contractual obligation to do playground or in-school supervision before school, during recess and after school.  One of the 29 responsibilities removed from teachers under an essential services order by the Labour Relations Board was that supervision.  Other duties deemed non-essential (albeit important) by the LRB included completion of report cards, meeting with administrators unless for emergencies or employment issues, serving on committees, receiving information from or providing information to administrators, invigilating provincial exams or assessments, and much more.  Consistent with the BCTF’s expressed intent to use this job action to put pressure on government through adding to the workload of administration, the LRB ordered that management do certain struck teacher work, including supervision.  As a result, all district excluded and management staff (although there are not many of us) are deployed district-wide to supervise during the three supervision times, along with some principals and vice-principals who for scheduling reasons are pulled from their schools to supervise in schools down the road.  Another silent effect is that even in their own schools all principals and vice-principals must be on duty during the three supervision times when they might normally be working with students, parents and staff to resolve emergent issues.  Adding to the challenge is that our staff who are not in management but are also not in unions (psychologists, speech and language pathologists and some education assistants) must be on duty taking away from their time with children.

All of this was manageable for the first few weeks of school, even the first few months.  But as we move into the second half of the year it is clear that having all district management and non-union staff responsible for three duty periods per day, each of which requires at least half an hour (with travel time) away from their work, is unsustainable. We are a demonstrably lean operation, and our Board of Education has decided on my recommendation that something needs to change.  We can’t go on forever with threats to our ability to manage and lead in areas ranging from health and safety to transportation to human resources to finances, not to mention th effect on our school administrators of their having full responsibility for the free-time care and safety of children, a responsibility that they normally share with teachers (note that we are unable to hire additional staff for this purpose by order of the LRB).  What will change is that effective April 2, 2012 we will reduce “three times per day supervision” down to two by attaching recess to the end of the day.  This is subject to ensuring that we can handle safety and logistics of dismissal from free time, a real challenge to be sure and one that we will work out with parents and administrators.

Feedback to this idea has been mixed, with parents strongly in opposition, but I must say they are for the most part respectful of our need to do something.  I sympathize with that position; in fact I share it.  This is a bad idea, but in comparison to the threat to our system to be able to fully attend to the needs of children, parents and employees it is in my view the lesser of two evils.  And, perhaps naively, I believe that between now and April the BCTF and BCPSEA may be able to resolve the bargaining impasse and come to a negotiated agreement.  This may come through a number of intermediate steps such as government implementing an industrial inquiry commission process, but I will leave that to the parties that are in dispute.  In Saanich we are not in dispute.  Our strong relationships and culture are intact and will emerge strengthened from these challenges, even a challenge as large as finding a way to move recess.  Let’s hope we won’t have to.

Following are two audio files that provide more insights if you wish to listen.  In one I am talking to Gregor Craigie on CBC Victoria’s On the Island (interview at the 8 minute mark), with the other being Al Ferraby’s CFAX morning show (interview at the 21 minute mark).

CBC Victoria On The Island Jan 24 2012

CFAX Al Ferraby Jan 27 2012


Leadership is About Win-Win . . . Unless it’s a Snow Day

(To view this cartoon, click on it, then hit the back arrow to come back)

As a School District Superintendent and CEO I am faced with critical decisions all day every day.  I love living on that edge, as I did when making big decisions as a principal and teacher, and as I still do in the wonderful collaboration that is called being a father and a husband. One thing I love about leadership is that if you are in thoughtful and respectful dialogue with all involved or affected, at almost every decision point you can consider options from a win-win perspective.  Time and discourse are great allies in that quest. And Rushworth Kidder teaches us that even ethical challenges usually have some third option that incorporates the best of both sides of a dilemma. Research, practice, folklore and popular literature are full of examples of how and when this win-win attitude can prevail, whether faced with decisions about what to wear or what to do about global warming, and everything in between.

But . . . I am sorry to say that there is on exception.  There is one place where this positive expectation takes a back seat, where you just can’t win.  Yes, I am talking about snow days.  There is no Snow Day 101 course in superintendent school (of course there is no such thing as superintendent school, but that gives me an idea for another post), but if there were the curriculum would be something like “make a decision, any decision, then wait by the phone and be prepared to hold it at arm’s length”.  Or “pull up your blog or district website response form, but only after donning your emotional armour”.  Why? Because you never seem to get it just right.  Since you have to decide on the fate of buses and schools by 6:00 a.m. you are always at risk of the fickle changes of climate that come with living on the west coast.  Guaranteed snow, with more to follow? Close the schools and watch the sun come out to melt everything away as you live through a snow day with no snow.  Or, as happened to me very recently, trust that the snow will only accumulate to a maximum of five cm and stop falling by 9 a.m., tell people schools are open but to use caution getting there, and watch a system sock in to drop 30 cm of snow that falls sideways inside a wind child of -15.  Okay, in that case, at least I changed the decision to schools being closed for a snow day, but doing that at 7:45 after saying “get there if you can” made me an indecisive person who disappointed one writer who expected more proactive leadership from the superintendent.  But I’m not complaining.  I get paid to make decisions, even wrong ones, and I expect to be reminded of that.  That’s part of the edge of leadership that I love, being held accountable.  Because most times, most of the people, even on a snow day that turns balmy or an in-session day that ends up being the blizzard o’ the decade, stay on side and understand that we just do the best we can with what we know when we know it.  Not unlike any decision, in any domain, in work or in life.

Still smiling,


And check this out! Rick Mercer’s rant on snow days.