Making Connections ... the Burke School Review
 
By Barry Putz
 
SSTA Research Centre Report #94-01: 32 pages, $11
 
Table of Contents
I. Introduction 
II. Structure of the Committee 
III. Purpose 
IV. Method 
V. Data 
VI. Analysis 
VII. Recommendations 
VIII. Summary and Conclusions 
Appendix A 
Appendix B 
Appendix C 
Overview
 
Each school in the Melfort School Division No. 100 is expected to conduct a school review once every four years. Making Connections the Burke School Review is the summary report of the third of the four Melfort Schools to conduct such a review. The Melfort School Board established guidelines for each school to regularly and periodically undertake a thorough review process. The purpose of such reviews is to adjust program, methodology, development and communication devices, facilities, interaction with publics, and administrative practices to changing needs. The review process is initiated by the school. A review committee is established to oversee the process and report the results to the Board of Education. 

This final report, written by Barry Putz, was accepted by the Melfort School Board in December of 1993. The SSTA Research Centre appreciates the cooperation of the Melfort School Division in sharing this report. 

I. Introduction

The Burke School review resulted from direction given by the Melfort School Division. The School Division schools in the division to conduct a review every four years.

Following the initial reviews of the Melfort and Unit Comprehensive Collegiate (1991) and Brunswick Elementary School (1992) the Director of Education instructed staff at Burke School to conduct its first review.

Burke Elementary School is the lone school located on the south side of the rail line which divides Melfort Built in 1951, it was expanded in 1961 and 1981. At the time of the review, the facilities included a small gymnasium with stage, several classrooms, a small learning resource Centre, a music/science/ utility room, a resource room and a computer room. Washrooms (one for each: boys, girls, male staff, female staff) are located in the basement of the original 1951 structure. By the time the review was completed, renovations had taken place expanding the learning resource Centre into an adjacent classroom, thus losing one classroom.

The school has the largest playground area of any of the three elementary schools in Melfort. Playground equipment, though, is limited to teeter-totters, tires, one slide, and a "hand over hand" climbing unit.

Burke School has an enrolment of approximately 150 students from Kindergarten to Grade Six The students are drawn from a community that has a variety of housing featuring many older and smaller houses, two townhouse rental complexes, and many newer, larger houses. Families include single parent and dual parent settings along with several extended family situations. This is a mixed socioeconomic area. It includes families with no employed adults, one employed adult and two employed adults.

In 1993, when the review began, the staff included 7 fulltime equivalent classroom teachers, a full-time learning assistance teacher, a .25 learning resource Centre teacher, and a .5 principal. Other staff included a .4 secretary, a .5 learning resource centre technician, a .5 teacher assistant, and a full-time caretaker. In the fall of 1993, one teaching position was reduced and the teacher assistant became a .8 position.

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II. Structure of the Committee

School board practice is that a committee must be formed to plan and to conduct the school review. This committee must include the school principal and have representation by the teachers. Other members may come from the non-instructional staff or the community. In addition, provision is made for including outside experts.

For the Burke School review, the committee consisted of Mr. Barry Putz (principal), Ms. Kay Montgomery (teacher), Mrs. Sharon Farley (teacher), and Mrs. Wylma Pilling (secretary). Mr. Bob Kroeker (Director of Education) was an Ex Officio member of the committee.

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III. Purpose

The purpose of the school review, according to school board policy, must be determined at the school level. Early in the review process the committee agreed that the primary purpose of the Burke School review would be "to connect with the community.' Additionally, the committee agreed that the review should serve to identify areas or issues that could assist in "fine tuning" the school.

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IV. Method

The committee met in December of 1992 to consider the process of conducting a school review. Five questions were presented to the committee members following this meeting. These questions established a focus for the committee. They were

1. What issues do we wish to address and what questions do we wish to ask?

2. What information will we need to get intelligent answers to the questions?

3. What sources will we tap to gather the information?

4. What methods will we use to gather the information?

5. What methods will we use to organize and analyze the data?

The committee's intent was to develop a plan for the review in January, complete with appropriate and reasonable timelines, role and task assignments, and a budget.

The review committee had earlier decided that it would be appropriate to contact Dr. Liz Cooper of the University of Regina to provide assistance in identifying and selecting data collection methods and the questions to be asked. The committee met with Dr. Cooper in January of 1993. At this meeting Dr. Cooper described research that she and her colleagues were doing regarding the importance of 'conversation' in unveiling important issues between and among individuals and groups. Dr. Cooper stressed that in such conversations, the most important product, usually, comes from the process itself. Committee members met the following week to consider a structure for the review.

At this next meeting, the committee sought to find ways to get parents involved in a 'conversation' about the school. It was felt that the best kind of dialogue is face to face. The committee realized though, that something concrete would be necessary to serve as a focus for the conversation. It was decided to produce a form of response guide to assist the conversations which were then proposed to take place at public meetings. The framework used for the guide is described later in this section.

The outcome of this meeting was a proposal for a review consisting of three separate rounds. Each round would involve an opportunity for a stakeholder group (first the parents, then the community, then the staff) to provide comments regarding what the school was presently doing which met the needs of the students and what the school could do differently to better meet the needs of the students. Each round was to include a general meeting to provide an opportunity for the public to see the comments that were gathered and to provide additional comments. This review plan (Appendix A) was taken to the school staff for feedback and then to the school board for approval.

Following approval from the school board, the plan was introduced to the community at a March, 1993 meeting at Burke School. The intent of this meeting was to demystify the process by letting parents know beforehand what the review would entail. Questions were solicited and reactions tended to be supportive. Round One began the following week.

In Round One, teachers began talking to their students about school, the kinds of things they did at school, would like to do at school, and the kind of school they would like to attend. Students had opportunities to talk about these issues in mixed-grade groups. They also had opportunities to write about their ideas and to draw pictures showing their ideas.

Teachers gathered these ideas and compiled them into categories taken from a study which took place in Scotland. Information about this study was presented at a conference conducted by Dr. Judy Arrowsmith of Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland. This presentation had been attended by Mr. Putz.

The Scottish study happened to follow a process much like that planned for the Burke School review. The categories were

All these categories, except 'teacher morale', and 'teacher job satisfaction' were believed to fall within the scope of the Burke School review. The remaining categories, then were used as the framework for the response guide used in Round Two and Round Three.

These ideas were presented at a general meeting in April. Additional ideas and feedback were gathered at that time.

The community was canvassed in Round Two. Response packages were sent to all families in the community and to the previous year's Grade Six students. The response packages (Appendix B) used the same categories as in Round One. An additional category for "other" ideas was included. A further addition split each category into two subsections. The first subsection sought ideas about how the school was presently meeting the needs of the children. The second subsection sought ideas about how the school could better meet the needs of the children.

 Once again, the information was collected and collated and presented at a general meeting. This second meeting was held in May. Further ideas and feedback were collected.

Round two involved the school staff. All staff members were canvassed with a response package similar to that used in Round Two (Appendix C). The responses were collected, collated, and presented at a general meeting that was held in June.

In the weeks following the review, the school review committee analyzed the data that was collected. A meeting was held in October to discuss the analysis of the various members of the committee. A further meeting was held to see if the earlier discussions had fostered any further analysis.

Once the analysis was considered to be completed, drafts of the review report were written by Mr. Putz and brought back to the committee for comments and suggestions. The final draft of the review was produced in December and presented to the Melfort School Board that month.

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V. Data

A substantial amount of data was collected during the review (Appendix D). Much of the data was provided by students. Not all could be viewed as practical. Suggestions for longer recesses were common. Many students saw the need for a swimming pool, a cafeteria, an elevator, and a balcony in the gym. Many student ideas were interesting. One student suggested a 'sound-proof lobby for kids on cold days" while another called for more free time to "get away from the teachers.' A young student wrote that report cards were "unfair because teachers aren't the boss of us."

Many students displayed a good perception of what should go on in a school. A student wrote in support of the Student Representative Council "we get to help organize school activities." Another wrote:

I enjoy coming to school because: see friends, talk to friends, enjoy math, concerts/performances, reading, recess, hometime, gym, learning, social studies, intermurals, schooling, get away from family, art, challenging, teachers, spelling, creative writing, sports, gymnastic routines, meet people and make new friends. (Spelling and underlined section as in original.)

Parents also provided interesting suggestions. One parent wrote that the last two terms of Grade 6 should be stricter only to prepare them for Grade 7. Regarding parent-teacher consultation, one parent responded 'I've been encouraged by teacher responses over the years to both my children and my desire to help." A parent suggested that extra-curricular activities should remain "diverse; not just sports, but drama, computer, whatever. Maintain interaction with other schools even if budget is tight!" A parent wrote, in response to 'student morale," that "Burke School teachers generally have a warm and caring attitude ... Maybe teachers need more loving from their kids and kids' parents."

Staff members, in turn, added many ideas and suggestions. These included "Very much appreciate parental support in discipline matters. It makes more and better progress in behaviour." 'Teachers are friendly with the students. Students are made to feel free to talk to all staff members at recesses and breaks.' 'More emphasis should be placed on teaching acceptable social behaviour." One teacher suggested that the school needs 'one room free for the use of speech pathologist, educational psychologist one-on-one work with special needs students." Another wrote that the school should provide 'More involvement in challenging activities. Sports as well as academics."

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VI. Analysis

The committee met in October to discuss the data collected during the three rounds of the review. Each committee member had been provided with a collated package of all data. The members had also been instructed to look for statements for which there appeared to be a growing consensus, for underlying themes which might be apparent, and for questions that might have risen from the data. They were also to consider any recommendations which might arise from the questions or developing consensus, and to suggest any conclusions which could be formed from this information.

There were many statements for which a growing consensus was apparent. These statements were made or supported throughout all rounds of the review. The committee identified these statements as

1. There is a need for new playground equipment.

2. Renovations to the Learning Resource Centre are desirable.

3. A new school on the south side of Melfort is desirable.

4. School teams, the S.R.C., and the House System are valuable to the school.

5. Parent-teacher interviews have great value.

6. Student morale is positive.

7. Student teacher relationships are positive.

8. The Learning Assistance program is valuable.

9. The 'Buddy System' has a positive effect on students, both younger and older.

10. Concerns exist about whether students am self-disciplined enough for high school about difficulties related to large class sizes and mainstreaming, and the in-service time required to adopt new curricula.

11. Computer education classes are supported.

12. The SEEDS program is supported.

13. Parent and adult volunteer programs are supported.

14. Extra-curricular and co-curricular programs are important and useful and should remain diverse in nature.

15. Inter-school sports tournaments am important and valuable.

16. Year-end trips and the use of local community resources are supported.

17. Respect, discipline, and school procedures tend to be inconsistent from classroom to classroom.

18. The newsletters and the newsletter format am well received.

19. Home communication through notes from the teacher is felt to be effective.

20. Open houses are positive.

In addition to these statements for which there appeared to be a growing consensus, several questions were presented by the committee, based on the data collected. These were

1. How can the school get parents to become more actively involved at the school?

2. How can the school make the best use of parent volunteers?

3. Is the present parent-teacher interview format and length appropriate?

4. What are the best ways to get information home to the parents?

5. How much input should the Burke community (parents, staff, students) have in the planning of a new school in the south side of Melfort?

6. Is there a need for (or support for) fees for students who stay to eat lunch at the school?

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VII. Recommendations

Many recommendations were suggested by the committee in the light of the consensus statements and the questions which were an outcome of the data gathered. They are presented relative to each pertinent consensus statement or question.

Consensus Statement 1: Them is a need for new playground equipment.

RECOMMENDATION 1: That the school and the parents work together with the school board to plan and fund new playground equipment for the school.

Consensus Statement 2: Renovations to the Resource Centre are desirable.

NO RECOMMENDATION: The school board expanded and renovated the Learning Resource Centre timing the summer of 1993.

Consensus Statement 3: A new school on the south side of Melfort is desirable.

Question 5: How much input should the Burke community (parents, staff and students) have in the planning of a new school for the south side of Melfort?

BACKGROUND: The Melfort School Division has set a high priority on building a new school on the south side of Melfort. Currently, applications for a new school are in the hands of Saskatchewan Education, Training, and Manpower.

RECOMMENDATION 2: That all members of the Burke community (parents, staff, and students) have the opportunity for input early in the process for a new school on the south side of Melfort.

RECOMMENDATION 3: That the Burke community work with the school board to establish the amount and types of input the community will have in the planning of a new school in the south side

Consensus Statement 4: School teams, the S.R.C., and the House System are valuable to the school.

RECOMMENDATION 4: That the school continue to offer these extra-curricular and co-curricular opportunities for students.

Consensus Statement 5: Parent-teacher interviews have great value.

Question 3: Is the present parent-teacher interview format and length appropriate?

RECOMMENDATION 5: That parent-teacher interviews continue to play an integral part of reporting to parents.

RECOMMENDATION 6: That the best format and structure for parent-teacher interviews be found to make the best use of the time and opportunity.

BACKGROUND: A committee of teachers from all schools in Melfort, along with the Director of Education, is currently looking at this issue.

Consensus Statement 6: Student morale is positive.

Consensus Statement 7: Student-teacher relationships are positive.

RECOMMENDATION 7: That the issues of student morale and student-teacher relationships remain a priority at the school.

Consensus Statement 8: The Learning Assistance program is valuable.

RECOMMENDATION 8: That the existing program be maintained and that the program be reviewed to ensure staffing requirements are met and that it meets the needs of the students.

Consensus Statement 9: The "Buddy System" has a positive effect on students, both younger and older.

RECOMMENDATION 9: That the 'Buddy System' be maintained and other methods of having younger and older children interact, formally and informally, be found.

Consensus Statement 10: Concerns exist about whether students are self-disciplined enough for high school about difficulties related to large class sizes and mainstreaming, and the in-service time required to adopt new curricula.

RECOMMENDATION 10: That methods be found to assist students in becoming more self-disciplined.

RECOMMENDATION 11: That the Melfort School Division continue to pay close attention to class sizes and to mainstreaming and that adequate assistance (for example, teacher assistants, additional teaching staff) be provided when classes get too large and when special needs students are mainstreamed.

RECOMMENDATION 12: That the Melfort School Division continue to provide the necessary

in-service that is required to adopt new curricula.

Consensus Statement 11: Computer education classes are supported.

RECOMMENDATION 13.- That the computer education program be reviewed to ensure that a division-wide focus and plan is in place and followed.

Consensus Statement 12: The SEEDS program is supported.

RECOMMENDATION 14: That the SEEDS program continue to be used where it contributes to the teaching and implementation of the various curricula taught at the school.

Consensus Statement 13: Parent and adult volunteer programs are supported.

RECOMMENDATION 15: That the volunteer programs continue at the school and that additional ways be found to utilize volunteers and expand these programs.

Consensus Statement 14: Extra-curricular and co-curricular programs are important and useful and should remain diverse in nature.

RECOMMENDATION 16: That the school continue to offer as wide a range of extra- and co-curricular programs as possible.

Consensus Statement 15: Inter-school sports tournaments are important and useful and valuable.

RECOMMENDATION 17: That Burke teams continue to participate in inter-school sports tournaments, providing that coaches are available and that students are committed. Commitment to these programs should be made at the beginning of the school year to ensure participation.

Consensus Statement 16: Year-end trips and the use of local community resources are important and valuable.

RECOMMENDATION 18: That the school make use of extended classroom activities as much as budget and curricular expectations allow and that whenever possible and suitable, local resources be brought to and used at the school.

Consensus Statement 17: Respect, discipline, and school procedures tend to be inconsistent from classroom to classroom.

RECOMMENDATION 19.- That the staff annually review the student handbook to ensure consistency in the application of rules and procedures.

RECOMMENDATION 20: That the staff discuss the consistent application of rules and procedures.

RECOMMENDATION 21: That rules and procedures not covered in the student handbook but are part of operating individual classrooms be communicated to parents of students in that classsroom.

Consensus Statement 18: The newsletters and the newsletter format am well received.

RECOMMENDATION 22: That the newsletters continue in their existing form and content.

Consensus Statement 19: Home communication through notes from the teacher is positive.

RECOMMENDATION 23: That teachers continue to communicate with their parents in a variety of ways, one of which is to send notes home where appropriate.

Consensus Statement 20: Open houses are positive.

RECOMMENDATION 24: That the school host several open house and/or parents' nights during the year.

Question 1: How can the school get parents to become more actively involved at the school?

Question 2: How can the school make the best use of parent volunteers?

Question 4: What are the best ways to get information home to the parents?

RECOMMENDATION 25: That the school investigate ways to answer these questions, then implement the results of the investigation.

Question 6: Is there a need (or support) for fees for students who stay to eat lunch at the school?

RECOMMENDATION 26: That this question be referred to the Melfort School Board to consider.

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VIII. Summary and Conclusions

The Burke School review was a valuable process for several reasons. The method used provided an excellent way to get students, teachers, parents, and the community involved in conversations about what is happening at the school. The three rounds of the review ensured that all members of the Burke community were included.

The first round was designed to have students talking about what was good about school what was not so good about school and what they would like school to be. The second round was designed to get ideas from parents and the community about what the school was presently doing that met the needs of the children and what the school could do to better meet the needs of the children. The third round sought this same information from the staff of the school. Following each round, a meeting was held to other feedback and further ideas or comments from the community.

The Burke School review committee concluded that the method chosen allowed them to meet successfully the primary purpose established for the review. That was "to connect with the community". The committee further concluded that, given the success of the method used, it be considered for use in future school reviews.

A secondary purpose established for the school review was to "identify areas or that could assist in fine tuning the school." This can only be achieved by implementing the recommendations stated in the previous section.

Permeating the and data collected throughout the three rounds of the school review were several underlying themes. It is necessary to present two of these themes to provide some form of contest to view the results of this review.

THEME 1: Changes to the physical structure of the facilities, the school and the school playground are necessary.

THEME 2: There is a need for consistent application of rules, discipline, and procedures at the school.

When addressing the recommendations of the review, those that apply to these themes should get first priority.

A third theme which the committee identified should serve to reassure the school, the parents, the school board, and other stakeholders in education in Melfort.

Theme 3: Much of what is presently being done at Burke is viewed positively.

The school review, then, served to illustrate that we have positives on which to build. As we cannot afford to remain static in a changing world, we must find ways to make ourselves better. The process and its results leave us with some ways to make this change.

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Appendix A
Review Plan

Plan for the Burke School Review
 
March 2 Present plan to school board
March 10 Initial public meeting with parents (Education Week)
March 11 to March 31 Begin activities with students, focusing on their ideas of a 'perfect' school
April 1 to April 7 Compile reactions about what the students said
April 7 Public meeting to discuss what the students said
April 8 to April 15 Compile reactions from public meeting
April 21 Canvass parents about how the school is meeting the needs of the children, and how it can better meet the needs of the children
April 28 to May 5 Compile information to use as framework for public meeting
May 5 Public meeting to discuss what the parents said
May 6 to May 13 Compile reactions from public meeting
May 19 Canvass teachers about how the school is meeting the needs of the children and how it can better meet the needs of the children
May 26 Compile information to use as framework for public meeting
June 2 Public meeting to discuss what the teachers said
June 3 to 10 Compile reactions from public meeting
June to September Analyze information, draw conclusions, make recommendations, form action plan
October Write report
November Present report to school board and release to teachers and the public
* Parents and teachers would be canvassed with questions similar to 'How are we presently meeting the needs of the children?" and 'How could we better meet the needs of the children?" This would allow for open-ended answers.

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Appendix B
Round Two Response Package

 

Burke School Review
Round Two: Parents and the Community

 
 

Thank you for taking the time necessary to help in our school review. We are interested in your opinions about how we are presently meeting the needs of the children and how we can better meet those needs in the future.

We are using a number of categories to help organize our information. These are set out in a chart form to assist you, as well. Please return this form to the school on or before April 27. If you require more room, simply attach additional pages. It is not necessary to comment on each category.
 
  How are we presently meeting the needs of the children? How could we better meet the needs of the children?
Student Morale 

 

   
The Physical Environment 

 

   
The School Program (the learning environment)    
Teacher-student Relationships 

 

   
Discipline 

 

   
Equality and Justice 

 

   
Extra-curricular Activities 

 

   
School Leadership 

 

   
Information to Parents 

 

   
Parent-Teacher Consultation 

 

   
Other 

 

   

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Appendix C
Round Three Response Package

 

Burke School Review
Round Three: Staff

Thank you for taking the time necessary to help in our school review. We are interested in your opinions about how we are presently meeting the needs of the children and how we can better meet those needs in the future.

Try to use the categories below to organize your ideas. Please return this form to the school on or before May 28. If you require more room, simply attach additional pages. It is not necessary to comment on each category.

 
 
  How are we presently meeting the needs of the children? How could we better meet the needs of the children?
Student Morale 

 

   
The Physical Environment 

 

   
The School Program (the learning environment)    
Teacher-student Relationships 

 

   
Discipline 

 

   
Equality and Justice 

 

   
Extra-curricular Activities 

 

   
School Leadership 

 

   
Information to Parents 

 

   
Parent-Teacher Consultation 

 

   
Other 

 

   
 
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