Understanding the school board: an agenda would have helped. Intern leaves feeling she really wasn’t there.

Milla Pickfield is a Nelson High School graduate who decided to spend a year working in the community, helping her Mother with her business and doing volunteer work before she headed to university.  She volunteered to try writing and did two piece for us; one with the Chief of Police and an interview with the new Hayden High school principal.

Milla’s most recent piece for us is on the school board, that organization that directed much of what she has done for the past ten years.  Her attendance at a Board of Education meeting was a bit of an eye opener for Ms Pickfield.

November 26, 2013

By Milla Pickfield.

BURLINGTON, ON.  I got to my meeting of the Board of Education an hour early; when you have to use public transit or rely on your parents for transportation – your time is not your own

I wasn’t at all sure where I was supposed to go and asked the woman at the reception desk where the meeting was being held – school board meetings are open to the public.

Milla Pickfield is a Nelson High graduate – understanding the proceedings of the school board was not something high school prepared her for.

I was half hoping she could point me in the right direction and expected someone would supply me with an agenda. I was pointed in the right direction – without an agenda.   And I had not brought anything else to read.

Half an hour after I arrived, Dr. Frank J. Hayden and his wife also showed up with Jacqueline Newton from the new high school.  I had already interviewed Ms Newton and was delighted to meet Dr. Hayden and his wife.

When I was doing some research on what school boards do, I came across a quote that put everything in perspective for me. Sir Ken Robinson once said: “Everybody has an interest in Education.”

Those words resonated with me. I know that I am very interested in education which is why I was very excited to go to a Board of Education meeting. I didn’t know what it would be like, I didn’t know what the people would be like, and I didn’t know what they would talk about.  After the meeting, I was left with more questions than answers.

Dr Frank Hayden – spoke to Board of Trustees who had named the new Alton Community High school after him.

It wasn’t a very satisfying experience for me.  I don’t usually need help nor do I willingly accept it most of the time, however I did expect someone to greet me upon arrival at the large room in which the meeting took place. That was not the case. No one greeted me or any of the other three students in attendance.  Everyone was crowded around Dr. Hayden, which was certainly understandable.

No one approached me and asked if they could help and without an agenda I found myself spending most of my time hurriedly trying to write down all I could and hoping to understand a little later from the notes I was taking.   Working without an understanding of what was going on I was forced to pay extra attention to everything they were saying which still did not help. Most of the language used was part of my vocabulary however the fashion in which they used it was not.

I believe myself to be an educated person. I have done everything expected of me; I went to elementary school and high school and graduated from both with relatively high grades, what I lacked in book smarts I made up in common sense, and I can follow many conversations with adults and form and deliver an opinion.   I could not follow the meeting of the Board of Education.

I wondered: if I could not follow the meeting how would other people in Burlington understand the proceedings.  What about someone who just moved here from a different country; someone who just decided (like me) to drop into one of those meetings; someone with very little knowledge of the education system but with a hunger to learn; ever keep up with the meeting?  

The impression I left with was that the meeting was separated into four parts:

First were the speeches which were delivered by Dr. Hayden and a student attending Hayden High.

Second part was passing a whole lot of bills and not talking about any of them.

The third part was mainly focused on speaking about some bills that were to pass and problems they’ve encountered.

Finally there was the freelance period of time, or at least that’s how I understood it. In this time anyone was allowed to bring forward an issue they though important and speak about it to the council.

Milla Pickfield started an internship as a journalist interviewing the Chief of Police. She ‘aced’  it – wasn’t able to do as well at understanding what gets done at Board of Education meetings.

I found the second and third parts of the meeting the most confusing. Perhaps it was the fact that I didn’t have an agenda, so the bills were hard to follow, or maybe it was just the extremely fast pace of the meeting but I have to wonder how someone from the public, like me, would ever follow a similar meeting to that one.

The Board of Education controls a large chunk of our lives, along with a lot of our tax dollars, and we should be able to be a part of the process and understand what’s going on. What I experienced was personally disappointing. I went in with a desire to learn all I could, perhaps understand how our education system works, and see important decisions being made.

I left the meeting feeling as if there was something wrong with me; I should have been able to understand what was going on.  I read, I am informed and I understand the English language.  When I think about the several hours I spent in the Board of Education meeting, I feel like I wasn’t really there. 

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2 comments to Understanding the school board: an agenda would have helped. Intern leaves feeling she really wasn’t there.

  • Stephanie Gromerski

    Next time raise your hand and ask a question. Not every public meeting is going to cater to one individual’s personal expectations. You actually did see how a very small portion of the education system works and how important decisions are being made. Good experience to go to a lot of other public meetings. Keep going, but, go to ones which may be more exciting and interesting.

  • Mavis Graham

    I understand exactly what you are saying Milla. I attended a couple of Board (BORED) meetings in Hamilton. if they want intelligent input it would certainly help to know what they are discussing.