On Thursday, the provincial government released the budget for 2013-14. As part of the education budget, one of the most successful grants to instill innovation for learning, the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) was eliminated. It would be easy to simply blame the government in making that decision, but not necessarily fair. While I’m a great proponent of AISI for our school division, I understand there is always a bigger picture. Alberta is facing a significant fiscal challenge that must be addressed. Whether you want to categorize it as a revenue issue or a spending problem is almost irrelevant. We, as a province are not as flush as we once were and therefore we are required to tighten our belts.
Education Minister, Jeff Johnson has always been about putting as many dollars at the classroom level as possible. Unfortunately, AISI in many ways is not seen to be an impact that directly affects the classroom and therefore when looking through those lenses, it can be a fairly easy target. In addition (and I’m very sad to say), some divisions did not leverage the potential of AISI as they should by either making it a top down affair or ensuring it was another initiative as opposed to part of the development of the professional teacher. There were also some teachers around the province who did not see the benefits of AISI either as mentioned by former Education Minister Dave Hancock.
Where AISI was utilized to its fullest potential, like in Holy Spirit, it made a great impact at the classroom level. During the last four years of AISI, our teachers have been immersed in 21st century learning with a focus on competencies to meet the needs of an educated Albertan. Teachers are provided time (this costs money which AISI supports) to collaborate and share expert practices. Through grade or subject level meetings, teachers have the ability to work together building capacity. A great sense of trust amongst the professionals has been established which provides a safe environment for innovation and creativity to be born.
We have developed a collaborative culture that has encouraged both teacher and student engagement and autonomy. This autonomy is allowing our staff to co-create our preferred future. It is unfair to ask our teachers to enhance their own practice without some sort of support in their professional learning. AISI, in Holy Spirit, provided that support! If we truly want to move our learners from compliant to committed, our structurse and practices must align differently. AISI was the driving force of that realignment.
The amount of funding received for AISI equates to approximately 3 additional teachers in our division. That is 3 teachers spread over 13 schools and 4500 students. And while it is always desirable to reduce class size, three teachers will have little overall impact. But, the funding used as we have in Holy Spirit would continue to promote innovation, support creativity, augment engagement and build teacher capacity. So in the end I ask you, “What will impact the classroom more?” My fierce conviction is that AISI will have the greatest impact on creating an engaged thinker, an ethical citizen with an entrepreneurial spirit…which just happens to be the goal of Inspiring Education!