Monday, August 31, 2009

End-of-summer hiatus

The blogs and Twitter feed will be on hiatus until Sept. 8.
Please check back for new posts after that date.
Crossposted at

Sunday, August 30, 2009

An idea

This percolated to the top of the thought stream today as I was writing a post here and also reading comments on several other posts.
The Community Schools Alliance has asked Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne to implement a 'smart' moratorium on disputed school closures until a new school-closure policy more accommodating of municipal and community concerns is put in place.
The minister, rightfully, told the CSA the moratorium was a pipe dream. She distributed the draft policy, which was the subject of an earlier post and is also posted over on GoogleDocs.
Yet the complaint lingers that the current petition and review process doesn't allow for reconsideration of a trustee decision, or any ability to have that decision overturned by the Ministry of Education or some other provincial appellate body. Those with deep pockets might still get somewhere with a hearing before the courts, however that hasn't proven to be any more successful at reversing disputed decisions.
The revised provincial guidelines (earlier posts here and here, new guidelines here) and draft policy seem to give a firm nudge to those boards doing a less-than-stellar job at working with community partners to start doing so. They also nudge boards to consider community input differently than was the case -- ie: how the committee recommendations are presented to trustees.
So this version of these documents may not go the distance in laying out a more consultative process in black and white, but the better boards out there will find a way to do this even without specific direction from the MinEd. One would hope it's a step towards that for the boards that don't do this well.
So we're back to the 'no appeal' complaint.
Here's my biggest problem with the CSA demand for an appeal mechanism, which I've touched on briefly in a previous post. Every disputed trustee vote to close a school -- and if you think about it, that would be virtually all closure votes -- would be bumped up to this provincial-level appellate body. What happens then?
Does the appellate body overturn the trustee decision and keep the school(s) open?
Does it magically solve the funding/program/facility/enrolment challenges that led to the school review in the first place?
What can it do that doesn't effectively wipe out a locally elected board of trustees' ability to do its own accommodation planning and place that power in provincial or quasi-provincial hands? Advocates complain district boards have become too regional to understand and act on local concerns-- could you imagine the province being the de facto decision-maker on all school accommodation issues? That would be a monumental loss of local decision making power. Something to ruminate over, which I was doing until this thought: There are plenty of other examples in legal, quasi-judicial and similar situations where the appellate or reviewing body orders a re-examination of the original question by the first decision-making body. IE: The Court of Appeal ordering a retrial. The Ontario Municipal Board asking a municipality to review its decision on a matter that's come before the board. Etc.
Why can't this ability be part of the administrative review of a school-closure vote? In addition to reviewing whether the process was compliant with ministry and board policies, the facilitator could also order the board of trustees to review its decision, passing a second resolution that either supported or changed the initial vote.
There would have to be boundaries-- short time lines, quicker reviews by facilitators, etc. or by the time the issue made it back before trustees, the next steps would be too far along. You'd hate to have a second vote on a school closure when the new facility being built to house the students involved is already under construction. You'd also want to limit the debate (perhaps to one meeting?), or you'd spend months re-hashing and re-arguing every point that should have been made during the initial accommodation review.
Just a nugget to ponder and enjoy as the blog is about to go on hiatus.

The victory lap

London Free Press reporter Kelly Pedro had a full-page feature Saturday on those Grade 12 students who return for a fifth year of high school.
Nothing earth-shattering in the piece, but it's been a while since we focused on these fifth-year students. The piece doesn't include any current stats for local boards (which a good board demographer does track), but an average of 15-20 per cent of Grade 12 students return for a fifth year of high school.
As the piece points out, the reasons are extremely varied and include:
  • Taking additional credits -- either because they weren't offered during the students' first four years or because the students want to take elective courses they couldn't or wouldn't squeeze into their schedule in prior years
  • Upgrading grades on previously taken credits
  • Related to the first, some schools are unable to offer a full slate of senior credits and must offer these credits every other year to net a critical mass of students
  • Some parents and students feel they're just not ready for work/college/university after four years at the age of 17 and 18.
The difficulty is, there's no one reason to explain why-- the piece had several students sounding off at the bottom:
The Free Press asked London high school students: Do you plan to spend an extra year in high school?
"It all depends. I'm hoping just the four (years), but it all depends on if I can keep to the plan."
-- Kyle Rubini, 15, Grade 10
"I'm probably going to do a victory lap to do better on courses I didn't do so well on."
-- Tara Langdale, 14, Grade 10
"I think I'll be staying five years to . . . redo some classes or get a chance to get classes in because you only get three elective courses (a year)."
-- Taylor Scott, 15, Grade 10
"I probably won't do a fifth year. I'll just get the credits done and get out. I'll work on getting a job and then maybe post-secondary."Lucas Mattatall, 16, Grade 12.
"I'm going (back) to get more science and biology because I want to be a CSI."
-- Micheal Alden, 16, Grade 11
"I want to be an architect so I want to go back. I want extra credits in design and art."
-- Danielle Vanhooren, 14, Grade 9
This fall marks the 10th cohort of students entering a four-year high school curriculum -- the first was the 1999-2000 cohort whose four-year grads left high school in June 2003. I'd love to write this piece again in 10 years and see how the stats look at that point in time (note to self-- remember to do this).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Using the right words

I'll use a London Free Press article published today by Kelly Pedro as an example, but this happens often in all reporting, particular education reporting.
First, its headline: "Blyth school closing gets second look," which misdirects the reader slightly, as this is the Avon Maitland DSB's review of a number of schools where the trustee vote is leading to more than one school closure, construction of a modified 'North Maitland Centre of Excellence' for JK-6 and shuttling some Grade 7-8 students to F.E. Madill in Wingham. I've previously blogged about this review— the most recent posts are here, and here.
The journalists who write the articles don't often write headlines. I don't. It's left to copy editors and paginators to write headlines, sub-heads and 'kickers' to run with stories, depending on the editor's read of the article and the space available for the head. That said, it was the Blyth community that petitioned the ministry for a review, so it's that school that gets mentioned first.
However, my quibble is with some of the language used in this article. Bolds and italics are my emphasis.
A small elementary school in Blyth slated to close may have a second chance.
Following an appeal from parents, the Ministry of Education has appointed a facilitator to examine if the Avon Maitland District school board followed its rules in making the decision to close Blyth public school.
The decision prompted an appeal from parents and community members who said the board didn't follow its policies.
A ministry spokesperson said a facilitator will be appointed soon and an administrative review will occur this fall.
The facilitator will meet with the board, the people who signed the petition and members of the review committee and look at the board's policy.
The facilitator may make recommendations, but has no legislative authority to overturn the board's decision, the spokesperson said.
(Parent Lisa) Bieman said she hopes the board revisits its decision.
Southwest Middlesex Mayor Doug Reycraft, who is also chairperson of the Community Schools Alliance, said the appointment of a facilitator may not change anything.
Two communities appealed a Thames Valley District school board decision to close Caradoc South public school in Melbourne and Metcalfe Central public school in Adelaide-Metcalfe, but the facilitator ruled the board followed its policy and the appeals were dismissed.
There is no appeal function as part of the provincial pupil accommodation guidelines. It doesn't exist, and the word appeal is not used, specifically (I would guess) because the administrative review cannot change the decision of the board of trustees. Not in the first draft of the policy released by former minister Gerard Kennedy, and not in the recent revision under Kathleen Wynne. Appeal and petition can be synonyms, however appeal as defined here speaks about 'correctness of a ruling.' Ministry reviews cannot change the ruling (decision) only the process. So petition may be jargon, which copy editors routinely remove from articles and reporters are discouraged from using, however it actually speaks to the intent of the action in a ministry review better than appeal.
That said, there is some very precise and great language used here— when Bieman is quoted hoping the board (trustees) may revisit the decision. That's correct because only the trustees can revisit the earlier vote and change it, although that too depends on AMDSB's specific procedural bylaw. So yes, they may revisit it.
I'd bet an XL Timmy's double-double they won't, even if the review tells them their policy wasn't followed.
As to the language: Reporters who have the time to become well-versed in the intricacies of their beats can fight and win battles against copy editors over these sorts of things. It's unfortunate most papers don't keep their education reporters in the beat long enough for that to happen more often.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Shotgun-coverage start of school advancer

Tyler Kula at the Sarnia Observer had me salivating for more with the headline "More school closures on the horizon," which ran Thursday.
Elementary schools with fewer than 170 students and high schools with fewer than 350 students could be identified in an October pupil accommodation report, along with communities in which there is more than one small school, said Gayle Stucke, director of the Lambton Kent District School Board.
“Looking at pupil accommodation issues is ... becoming a more urgent issue,” she said.
Hillcrest School in Petrolia, on the other hand, is experiencing a population increase that recently caused town council to pass a bylaw for two additional portables.
A letter was also sent to the board requesting “a facilities study” which will be considered in the October report, Stucke said.
Then we are taken onto other topics, such as the provincial EQAO release along with summertime renovation and alteration work.
That's disappointing-- why not take a broader look at the pending decisions on any upcoming reviews? I had to sell that to my own editors this past week, the results of which are here, and here, given a general distaste for accommodation review stories after the first round.
It's a tricky line though-- do you want to be alarmist as a reporter? Or simply remind the audience that these important questions have not disappeared and need to be kept alive in the public's consciousness? A better-informed populace comes to the table better prepared, no?

Near North can't count?

This story from North Bay threw me for a loop the first time I read through it. The headline suggests one thing, but as you spend more time with the story, you have to wonder how the board and school messed up their enrolment projections by such a large margin.
(Principal Lucio Pavone) said families have moved North from southern Ontario, and other families have been transferred and stationed at Canadian Forces Base North Bay.
Jordan Hitchon and his older brother Josh are part of that trend.
The teens moved to North Bay with their family three weeks ago from Nova Scotia. Their parents are stationed at CFB North Bay.
There is always a certain amount of flux in enrolments over the summer-- but this seems a bit wide. The Grade 9 count was off by 40 students, which is equivalent to almost another two sections/classes per semester. The Grade 12 numbers -- off by 47 -- aren't as drastic a miscalculation due to fifth-year students and the reality that not all Grade 12 students take a full course load, whereas Grade 9 and 10 students usually do.
The bigger concern here is how the board's projections were off by such large numbers. Board demographers usually pride themselves on developing enrolment projections that are as close as possible to reality. Principals are usually involved in projections as well and I would suggest perhaps this one should have had his ear closer to the ground.

Missing out on EQAO

OK, lash me later.
In recent years, I don't typically spend time reporting on the provincial release of EQAO results on the two occasions every year when they are announced. There are several reasons, the main one being these provincial-level results, while relevant in the big picture, are not relevant enough to my readership and coverage area for me to spend time working on a story. This despite a personal e-mail and phone call from EQAO earlier this week letting me know the results were released. As such, when my paper does run provincial EQAO stories, we grab something from SM's Queen's Park bureau or, perhaps, even a wire service.
Not that there wasn't a smorgasbord of coverage.
The EQAO itself has also been upping the ante with the amount of information available to the public with every subsequent release of test results. As a result, the testing process itself is becoming increasingly more transparent as the full assessments now routinely accompany the announcement on the releases. Being the data-nut I am, I particularly enjoy the recent move to show more longitudinal cohort analysis (you have to look at page 2 in that document). As everyone gets better working with the data, you get a more complete picture (a moving picture, as opposed to a snapshot) that usually reinforces the success of data-driven decision making.
Interestingly, I noted a lot of the early tweets and headlines from media focused on the 40 per cent of students who weren't meeting a Level 3 standard. OK, but why aren't you telling me how many scored a 2 -- which is roughly equivalent to a 'C' grade? Lots of people (and parents) were perfectly happy with Cs through their entire school career.
As the day wore on, the headlines at least became a little more balanced, with first mention of the 60 per cent who reached Level 3 or 4. Sixty per cent achieving at least Level 3 -- equal to about a B grade, or mid-70 per cent -- on the provincial test? Sure, it's not the 75 per cent goal set by the Liberals six years ago, but I can't help but feel that's not bad. EQAO results coverage suffers from bad reporting by journalists who don't or can't take the time to get a full understanding of what the results mean. So, it becomes a collection of articles mentioning percentages, with quips and quotes from talking heads without any context as to what it all means.
Go see the tests, say the primary (Grade 3) one. Language 1, Language 2, Math. Ask yourself if the average eight- and nine-year-old you know could ace that test. Better yet, ask yourself if you could ace that test.
As for me, I'm waiting for the school- and board-level results to be released, which usually happens in mid-September.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Quick August hits

Been busy with a project I've been chipping away at all summer, a sneak peek of which was posted today. However, a few things that have caught the eye in the past 48, all somewhat related:

Whose assets are your assets?
A Strathroy-Caradoc radio station had this piece about Adelaide-Metcalfe pols musing about being 'repayed' for the value of what they invested in Metcalfe Central, pegged for closure.
The township of Adelaide-Metcalfe feels they should be reimbursed these things once the school is officially sold. Milligan said the township sent a letter to the board over one month ago with no reply or return of an answer yet. Just last week Milligan said the provinces Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne said she was in support of both relocating the towns cenotaph and reimbursing tax payers for their contribution to the building, adding a gymnasium to the school.
I struggle with these sorts of conversations. Public body 'x' spends money from the taxpayer to build asset 'a.' Public body 'y' chips in some of its own taxpayer dollars to help cover a portion of the cost of asset 'a.' Who 'owns' the asset? I see this in municipal politics as well, much too often (over a beverage I'll spin a tale about water and sewer pipes that sounds exactly like this one).
The easiest answer I've been able to come up with?
The public owns the asset until it's sold to a private-sector owner.

More on relationships
This one posted by the Welland Tribune Wednesday, regarding the District School Board of Niagara's dir of ed speaking about co-operative relationships with the local municipality.
Historically speaking, Hoshizaki said the need for such partnerships wasn’t as prominent because more funding for education was readily available.
By partnering up and assisting one another, “there’s less cost but the community is gaining more,” he said.
He said partnerships between the board and the community are going to be “a big theme in the region.”
DSBN will also be working closely with community members come October when it begins conducting an accommodation review of five east Welland schools — Mathews Public School, Crowland Central School, Empire Public School, Plymouth Public School and Prince Elizabeth Public School.
This almost runs counter to the one above-- although the DSBN hasn't controversially closed a school in Welland (yet?) that I'm aware of. A refreshing take, however, given Niagara-on-the-Lake's pending dance with the board at the Ontario Municipal Board over a new elementary school in that municipality.

It added to this London Free Press piece posted and published Wednesday on Thames Valley District School Board dir of ed Bill Tucker's appearance before Middlesex County council, also speaking about communication and partnerships. This is a council that birthed the Community Schools Alliance due to its discontent with TVDSB trustee decisions, so understandably the reception was frosty. To his credit, this is not the first time Tucker has stepped into a municipal line of fire and attended a council meeting in a municipality where the pols were against the board's intentions.
the dialogue won't necessarily keep small or half-empty schools open, education director Bill Tucker said during a Middlesex County meeting.
... County politicians have been pushing for a process that would force boards to include them as partners in talks about rural-school closings.
Tucker offered up a compromise: "I believe there's an opportunity where we can sit down and work together toward both those goals" of program equity and fewer surplus classroom spaces.
But when asked if those partnerships might stave off school closings, he told councillors more than once he wouldn't make any promises and that ultimately the decision is an educational one. Tucker offered that senior administrators would meet with community members and politicians before accommodation review committees convene.
"I think as a group we need to move forward. I think the days are gone when we have competing interests," Tucker said, noting they share the same taxpayer base.
Interesting comments and discussion reflected in the rest of the article, given the radio piece at the top of this post.

Buy it
Closing the loop here, Nathan Taylor and Teviah Moro at the Orillia Packet & Times co-wrote a cross-beat article on the city buying three surplus school properties.
“It’s good news for the city because the city is short of parcels of land,” said Orillia trustee Debra Edwards. “And it’s win-win to have the city purchase these sites at fair-market value.”
Mayor Ron Stevens expressed similar thoughts after hearing about the city’s successful offer last night.
“That’s great. We now own them and we have care and control of what happens to them.”
Stevens noted Mount Slaven (earlier in the piece you'll see it sold for $600K) is slated to continue taking students from Harriet Todd Public School for a while, but said that’s not a problem from the city’s perspective.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Draft policy

So, I was able to get a copy of the draft policy Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne presented to Community Schools Alliance executive at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa on Aug. 17. The cover letter and draft policy are posted over on my GoogleDocs account.
First things first, this is a draft policy. From what I understand, it has been distributed to boards (per what's in the cover letter). The requested return date is this fall, so this policy should then come out as either a policy/program memoranda (PPM) or B-memo once it's finalized and approved.
To address a point in a comment from a previous post, this draft policy clearly is aimed at school boards (which makes sense, since the Ministry of Education has little business telling municipalities what to do). Its intention appears to be to use the distribution list in the Reg. 444/98 and tell boards that when, through the capital plans they would be required to complete (per declining enrolment group and other recommendations), they identify surplus space, they look to public-sector partners to see if there's an opportunity to fill that space.
It doesn't replace community use of schools, which is primarily aimed at ensuring school spaces used during class time are made available for community use outside regular class hours. This is an attempt to add a few more tools to the box (or perhaps encourage boards to be more aware of the tools already in there) for boards as they deal with unused space.
From the draft:
Boards are to create a list of space that is suitable for community facility partnership and a list of potential co-building opportunities based on their facility partnership policies (see below). This is the information that will be provided to potential partners through Ontario Regulation 444/98 and through the new notification process outlined below.
The Ministry encourages the sharing of facilities and co-building, between co-terminous school boards where boards are able to better utilize existing space and protect the integrity of their programs. Regarding new construction, boards typically work together on a case-by-case basis, sometimes facilitated by the Ministry. The memo assumes that board-to-board facility sharing remains a priority for our school boards, since school facilities are best suited for use by students.
Boards are expected to hold a community meeting at least once a year to discuss potential facility partnership opportunities with the community and to listen to what needs or plans community partners may have. Boards are expected to notify the entities on their notification list and the general public about the meetings. Boards that cover a large geography may want to consider holding meetings in more than one community. The Ministry recognizes that this process will be most effective when community partners notify boards in a timely manner when they are looking for space or considering new construction.
However, I think the key part of the draft policy for many boards will be this:
School boards will be expected to remove the capacity of space occupied by community partners from their on-the-ground capacity (my bold emphasis). The Ministry expects that rent or fees will cover the operations and capital cost of using the space borne by the board, net of available top-up funding. In co-building, partners will be required to pay for their share of construction.
Where there are additional costs to perform minor renovations to protect student safety, provide appropriate washrooms, and otherwise make the space suitable for use by facility partners, the Ministry expects that cost to be borne by the partners.
I would guess in areas where there isn't much sharing and co-operation between boards and other publicly funded groups, this has been a frequent reason why. However, by allowing that surplus space used by another organization to be removed from the board's on-the-ground capacity, and indicating any lease agreement cover the utilities and maintenance costs, the financial risk disappears.
It'll be interesting to see how this draft changes between now and when its finalized version is published.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wynne speaks on CSA

Had to post this when it flew through my inbox. Tiffany Mayer at the St. Catharines Standard wrote about the Community Schools Alliance meeting at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario meeting last week, and her story includes quotes from Education Minister Kathleen Wynne. As far as I can recall, this is the first time Wynne has been publicly quoted on the meeting with the CSA.
From the piece:
Though she called it a good meeting, Wynne didn’t buy in to the group’s concept of a “smart moratorium.”
“We’re not going to invoke a moratorium on school closures or consolidations because we really believe that school boards need to be able to make those decisions community by community,” Wynne said.
Instead, Wynne presented the group, which includes Niagara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Gary Burroughs and Coun. Jim Collard, with a draft policy calling for partnerships between school boards and their communities to share school facilities, including unoccupied space in schools.
Wynne said the draft policy “goes a long way to putting in place the expectation that boards will work with municipalities and work with other partners and make their school usage policies more open and transparent so that the decisions can be community based as opposed to simply the board of education.”
Kudos to Mayer for calling the minister and getting the quotes.
I know at least one reporter who'll be asking for a copy of this policy too...

G&M gets it (CD Howe)

This is a little late, but I thought I'd post the link to a Globe and Mail opinion piece regarding the C.D. Howe Institute's recent ranking of Ontario schools.
In a nutshell, the institute one-upped its west-coast, righter-wing cousin by doing a different analysis of schools' assessment data and demographic data. While Frasier uses certain demographic data as part of its overall ranking (meaning rich neighbourhoods with well-educated parents always win), C.D. Howe's analysis actually neutralized these demographic traits. The summary is here, the full report, with rankings, here. The institute actually links to the above G&M piece on its site now as well.
From the piece:
Not surprisingly, schools with students from more affluent backgrounds tend to do better, but within that generality Prof. Johnson says there are sharp variations. Based on the above-average affluence of their students, Mount Hope Public School in Hamilton and St. Cecilia Catholic School in Toronto were each predicted to have a pass rate of 5 per cent above the provincial average. In fact, Mount Hope's pass rate in Grade 3 testing wound up 10.7 per cent below the provincial average while St. Cecilia was 22.3 per cent above. Obviously, St. Cecilia is doing something right. Mount Hope has some thinking to do.
Prof. Johnson found the same variations in schools with less privileged students. Based on its socioeconomic makeup, Cornell Junior Public School in Toronto should have had a pass rate 7.9 per cent below the provincial average. Instead it scored 15.1 per cent above. It is way, way ahead of other schools with students of similar background. What is Cornell doing to give its underprivileged students a leg up?
It's a legitimate question, but the teachers unions would rather keep us in the dark. Though they represent a profession dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, they seem to feel that information of the kind being unearthed by Prof. Johnson is a dangerous thing.
In fact, it is priceless. It shows, to begin with, that background is not destiny. Kids in poor districts don't have to have lousy schools. Kids in rich areas don't always get great schools either.
Gee takes us down the garden path a bit, but the main point I pick out of here is that people make all the difference. You get the right people with the right skillset in front of students, armed with the right resources and you get results. Does life outside the classroom have an impact? Absolutely. But again, it's about having the right people, with the right skills, in the right places. Unless schools and boards are analysing assessment and demographic data, they're never going to know, with certainty, where the 'right' people need to be, and what skills they need to have.
I have not read the full C.D. Howe study or seen how my local schools have ranked -- that may come in the next few days -- but thought this G&M piece nicely summed up most of what I would say here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

More CSA coverage

Picked up on this in some late-night surfing-- from Niagara.
Municipal leaders from communities where school closures are being protested—48 currently (my bold emphasis), with more expected to sign on in September—have joined the Community School Alliance, and some met with Wynne in Ottawa Tuesday, seeking help from the province.
(Niagara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Gary) Burroughs and Councillor Jim Collard were in Ottawa for the meeting, which was timed to co-incide with the annual conference for the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
The group was hoping to find a sympathetic ear from the minister, as they attempted to convince her accommodation reviews are flawed in that they don’t reflect the concerns of their community members, including municipal leaders. They were also asking for an appeal process to remove “absolute power” from local school boards—not just to appeal the process, but to appeal decisions on school closures.
First, I'm happy to see a number beyond the municipalities represented on the Community Schools Alliance executive. The actual number is low, I think, given the 200 delegates who reportedly jammed the room at the conference in Ottawa Monday. However, many councils take summer breaks and if the correspondence from the CSA didn't arrive in time for a summer meeting, it has to wait until councils' meetings in September for further approval.
I would expect the numbers to swell.
However, I would also expect the CSA to eventually post, on its website, a list of all its members, instead of simply inviting anyone to suggest his/her own municipality for membership.

ETFO v. Pascal

This is another post that could be slugged surprise, surprise.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario's new president, Sam Hammond, was quoted as saying the federation will not give up on its mission to see full-day kindergarten (or, rather, 'full-day learning for four- and five-year-olds' as the government prefers to call it) led exclusively by certified teachers. TorSun's Queen's Park reporter has a piece published today. The majority of these teachers, of course, would be dues-paying ETFO members.
In our sit-down with Dr. Charles Pascal Wednesday, he touched on this opposition from ETFO. First, he was very clear to say the federation has become the single opponent to the recommendations for full-day early learning contained in his report. He also pointed out ETFO's animosity, if you would call it that, to the recommendations is in contrast to its glowing approval of his initial appointment.
He noted the federation's survey released Monday (PDF link). The comment he mentioned was to look at the wording of the question asked in the survey. Playing with words, the survey uses "child care worker" vs. "kindergarten teacher." I wonder how different the results would have been if child care worker had been substituted for "early childhood educator."
Pascal was very clear his recommendations centre on getting the people with the right skills leading early learning, regardless of title and/or membership in any particular professional college or federation. ETFO's own information provided to Pascal for his report showed a majority of teachers start teaching kindergarten with zero training in childhood development. Early Childhood Educators? Well, these college graduates actually spend significant time studying how young children's minds develop, how they learn through their ages and stages. Heck, as a swimming instructor-trainer, I spend time in my courses teaching 16-year-olds ages and stages and child development. These teenagers likely get more time with the topic than what's covered as part of a B.Ed. Those teachers who excel in kindergarten pick up this knowledge and experience practically-- some if they're lucky through local professional development obtained after their B. Ed. Present in the audience Wednesday was the dean of Althouse College at UWO, one of many in Ontario who admitted during Pascal's research that B.Ed. programs fail miserably at training teacher candidates in early childhood development, because they just don't do it.
So Pascal recommends a transition period where teachers' existing experience could be recognized, but that by the end of that period, every adult -- whether ECE or teacher -- leading full-day learning has the necessary training in early childhood development. That would require integrating that into existing B.Ed. curricula. It would also mean the flexibility to recognize that ECEs and teachers need to be lifelong learners, swapping experience and information so their students end up being the biggest winners.
It's about getting people with the right skills leading these programs, not what their titles, affiliations, etc. are.
ETFO's 'our way or no way' mentality will become a barrier to the implementation of this report. Given the political will to implement Pascal's recommendations, and if Pascal's anecdotes are to be believed, the desire of existing ETFO members to just get on with it, will the federation's executive once again screw its members out of progress?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Alliance meets with minister, holds inaugural mtg

Catching up to everything that happened with the Community Schools Alliance at the recent Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference which ended Wednesday in Ottawa.
The CSA executive met with Education Minister Kathleen Wynne Monday for its allotted 30 minutes. CSA chair Doug Reycraft's assessment of the meeting is here. Another assessment is here. From the LFP piece:
Lobbyists were trying to persuade Wynne to change the process by which rural and under-enrolled schools can be closed. They have called on her to impose a "smart moratorium" on such closings until municipalities can be included in school boards' decision-making.
That assurance didn't happen during a half-hour meeting in Ottawa at the conference of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Reycraft conceded.
But Wynne did talk about the ministry's new draft policy that urges facility partnerships among school boards and municipalities and that was an "encouraging" sign, Reycraft said.
"I think we knew when we started this (alliance) it wasn't going to be a 100-yard dash but a marathon."
The minister's response, as phrased by Reycraft, doesn't in and of itself surprise me. The chances of her coming into the room and saying, "OK, sure. We'll freeze every planned school closure again for another few years-- against the recommendation of the very working group you sat on, Doug," was slim to none at best.
At the conclusion of the AMO conference, the CSA sent out a press release to media outlets regarding the enthusiastic support shown by delegates at the inaugural meeting. It also posted the PowerPoint presentation as a PDF to its main page. I'll take a moment here to quibble with a few things in that document:
  • P4 How we got to this point -- Funding formula, foudation grant and top-up funding for rural schools spent at board's discretion: Um, no. The ministry tells the boards which schools are eligible (based on distance from the next nearest school, usually) and the boards can only spend the money in those schools. (I am looking into this). Most southern Ontario boards get very little of this funding because the schools aren't far enough apart. As to the foundation grant, it provides funding for full-time principals and other staffing for all schools whose student populations aren't large enough to pay for one through the funding-formula ratios. Misrepresenting the way things work for a political end might work with those who don't know how school-board funding works, but it won't fly with me.
  • P5 The challenge -- These closures represent: If municipalities do nothing, absolutely agree. If they step up to the plate, not necessarily. See an example, here.
  • P8 CSA guiding principles -- This challenge must be solved by the Minister of Education and not school boards: Really? This contradicts the items on P4 regarding the loss of local control. Does the CSA want local solutions to local concerns, or the Minister to decide everything?
  • P13 Bill 177: Interesting, but I don't see the point of including this as part of a smart moratorium request. CSA believes the regulation-set standards boards will be held to will hasten the move to a singular school model across the province. Given the wide variety of school structures and organizations that already exists, I highly doubt that.
All that said, this was an important step in the evolution of the CSA if it is to become a viable and respected voice on school closures in Ontario. I was particularly encouraged the mayor of Burlington was appointed to the executive, showing the CSA's tent is broader than rural Ontario and providing recognition "community" schools exist everywhere. Up next, the CSA will be distributing MPP letters to councils so they can send them to their local members.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pascal in person, part one

I had the opportunity Wednesday to escape the newsroom and cover Dr. Charles Pascal's keynote address at the Thames Valley District School Board ed. centre in London. The board hosted an early learning symposium that ran for the bulk of the day Wednesday.
I truly wish I could have attended the whole day, given the other items on the agenda. I'm a big fan of the early development instrument (see previous post) and in a small-world twist, once worked at an Ottawa-area camp with Dr. Dan Offord (who founded the centre that governs the EDI) who passed away in 2004. I am also familiar through my reporting with the Thames Valley Early Neighbourhood Learning Program and the Parent and Family Literacy Centres, both of which were subjects of panels during the day.
Alas, the schedule didn't allow.
Through some persistence (which was actually quite easy) I was able to snag an interview with Pascal after his keynote, which the London Free Press' Kelly Pedro also sat in on (her article published Thursday). While my article on the keynote is filed and will run soon ran Thursday, the sit-down interview will be part of some posts here and also another article for publication in my paper. The post will be updated with relevant links as they are published.
As a starting few quick observations, I found Pascal to be a genuine, passionate advocate for improving how society deals with young children. In the spirit of Dr. Fraser Mustard, Pascal has taken the general philosophy and been heavily inspired by it in his report presented to the premier in June.
The thing he said that almost has me starting a Dr. Charles Pascal fan club however, was mentioned as Pedro, myself and he were briefly chatting in front of the ed. centre as he awaited his taxi.
He encouraged us to keep at education reporting-- noting no Canadian media let education reporters be education reporters long enough to become knowledgeable enough to write authoritatively. Even at the Toronto Star (Pascal's day job, though he remains seconded to as early learning adviser is at the Atkinson Foundation), which has three education reporters they shuffle the deck too often to allow any one reporter to develop the in-depth skills needed to successfully report on the subject matter.
I couldn't agree more. That's why this blog exists, and why it will outlast my time at the Sentinel-Review (whenever that may end) and continue to exist into my next j-job, even if I'm no longer reporting on education for that media outlet. My experiences in my region over the last six years and exposure to the Education Writers' Association conference this past May only serves to prove his point. I was astounded by some of the reporters at U.S. outlets that have been reporting on education in one or multiple districts for ages.
Education reporting in Canada is done so very poorly so much of the time, yet as I've stated here before, education, especially K-12 education, is the one thing everyone has in common because we all went to school.


Surprise, surprise.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, meeting this week in T.O. for its annual convention, doesn't like standardized testing. The earth may have moved when they formalized the announcement, for which they'd already said they would do some time last week. Too bad the rest of us didn't feel the tremors. (Additional story here)
In a nutshell, the federation feels too much time is wasted preparing students for the test. Doing so stifles teachers and forces them to spend time in ministry training, local PD and working with data when, as we should all know, the federation would prefer its members spend every minute they're not directing their own preparation time and professional development in front of their students, teaching away like good little teachers.
I got wind of this last week, when contacts at the Education Quality and Accountability Office sent me a statement on ETFO's position regarding standardized testing. I've converted it and posted it in my picasa album here.
It reads, in part:
Full-census assessment results help the province, school boards and schools identify student strengths and target areas where attention and resources are needed. Government and school board initiatives that have been developed based on EQAO’s full-census assessment data have had a measurable impact on tens of thousands of Ontario students, as demonstrated by the significant improvement in student achievement in schools across the province.
Data collected from full-census assessments have enabled the Ministry of Education to establish such successful initiatives as Learning to 18, the Turnaround Schools Program and the Ontario Focused Intervention Partnership. EQAO data provide evidence for tracking the influence of these and other Ministry initiatives as well as supporting the Ministry’s work on professional
development for educators, targeted funding and collaboration with boards on local strategies to ensure each child learns effectively. The success of these and future initiatives relies on the close monitoring of every student and the availability of data that can come only from full-census assessments.
I have er, a bit of experience in regards to this particular topic. I'm also a big fan of evidence- or data-based decision making. Time and time again, I have seen teachers (many of them ETFO members), principals and the two school boards I cover get better at using the data from their assessments (not just EQAO, but things like the Developmental Reading Assessment and the Early Development Instrument) to drive program and staff placement and decisions. Taking a longitudinal look at life, the body of evidence is growing that shows these targeted deployments work and do result in students' results improving.
I am always reminded of a response I received from a now-retired superintendent and acting director of education (not the one who is a frequent responder here) about standardized testing and speaking to the complaint of teaching to the test.
"What's wrong with that if we're testing the skills they need to be successful?"
Having lived in a classroom for six weeks and seen what's happening first-hand at an Ontario Focused Intervention Partnership school, I find it hard to disagree with that response. If I had kids, I'd want them to be learning about the main idea, to spend time analyzing different writing styles, etc. etc. I'd want them to be in a school where teachers are analyzing their assessment results and changing their teaching methods to match the way my child and his/her peers learn.
There may be an element of 'the old guard' at ETFO that's squawking about the old days and reluctant to change (change for things that have been in place for over 10 years). I wonder how representative this opinion is amongst all ETFO members. Let's also see what happens with the executive elections today-- given how the provincial executive absolutely bungled the most recent round of bargaining and screwed their members out of wage parity with secondary teachers, I'm curious to see how this plays out it looks like members have chosen a new path.

2K visits!

Totally tooting my own horn here, but while I was away this weekend, the site nabbed its 2,000th visit. I'm ecstatic to have reached that level in only five months.
Now I just need to catch up to this big week in ed news.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Quick hits

Two quickies before jetting off for a three-day weekend. I know I have been neglecting a few issues here (particularly To Kill a Mockingbird), but time has been tight lately between work and my other blog.

Technology in schools? What a concept.
Nathan Taylor in Orillia had this in today. If memory serves, it's not quite like at Bluewater, if member serves, where the elementary federation complained its members are being asked to learn too much about modern technology like the interweb.
Students can access the Internet -- sometimes -- at their schools, but once they're in, surfing options are few.
"Basically, everything is blocked," said Carol McAulay, the board's superintendent of business and information technology services.
In fact, Internet access isn't allowed during schools days unless it's done under the strict watch of staff.
According to the broader school community, something has to change.
The Catholic board I cover recently did this as well-- installing a firewall that blocked everything, which for a reporter using web-based e-mail to file a story was mildly annoying. At the same time, I get it-- every student would be whiling away life on Facebook, etc. in class if they could. It's just too easy of a temptation

H1N1 prep
Owen Sound had this story about prep for H1N1 in schools this fall-- one of the first stories I've seen dealing with how the provincial and national/international planning impacts locally. Most of the coverage I've seen to date elsewhere centres on the decisions schools will stay open if students develop the flu.
Parents will also be asked to report via an automated phone system if their children’s absence from school is due to flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough or sore throat, gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea, or if they are ill for other reasons.
Up until this school year, parents were only asked to note if their child was going to be absent.
“The schools are by far the best barometer we have. When we’re looking for flu season to start it’s the school absenteeism that happens first and that happens before we see emergency room visits increase or we start to see nursing home outbreaks,” said Dr. Hazel Lynn, medical officer of health with the Grey Bruce Health Unit.
They've had 15 reported cases. We've had far fewer in our district, so it will be interesting to see what the strategy is here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Redundancy callbacks

Nathan Taylor at the Packet & Times had this in today regarding the Simcoe County District School Board's callbacks of teaching staff who were issued layoff notices earlier this year.
The Simcoe County District School Board was hit particularly hard by declining enrolment, resulting in 105 teachers receiving redundancy letters. That represented 78.5 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions.
Now, the board has 53 redundancies (34.6 FTE). Any further callbacks will be dependent on further resignations or retirements.
That number is not typical for the board. Last year, for example, 35 redundancy letters were sent out and all the teachers were recalled.
Kudos. This is responsible reporting, making sure that since coverage was given to the layoff / redundancy notices in the spring, a followup is done on how many are being called back. We tend to panic in the spring (particularly some of the federations' local folks) and then by the late summer and fall the situation is very different.
Expect further callbacks in September and into October as well, once boards have a better idea of who shows up on the first day of school and do some final tweaking to the way schools are organized. This reorganization occasionally results in a few more callbacks.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Schools alliance gets Wynne meeting

I had heard this initially on Monday, then confirmed it Tuesday, the same day as Deb Van Brenk at the London Free Press had a story with Community Schools Alliance chair and Southwest Middlesex Mayor Doug Reycraft's confirmation.
The alliance's executive committee will meet with Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference next week in Ottawa.
From the Freeps' piece:
The alliance had sought a meeting with Education Minister Kathleen Wynne at next week's Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa.
The timing is a positive sign, said Reycraft, because other groups have been granted just 15 minutes.
"I think that indicates the importance that she attaches to the concerns that we're bringing to the table," Reycraft said this morning.
He said the alliance, which began only weeks ago, has already won the support of many municipalities, some of them facing the loss of their only school in town.
My gut, and a few conversations had earlier this week, leave me thinking Wynne will listen, agree the interaction and co-operation between boards and municipalities needs to improve, but likely tell the CSA its desire for a 'smart' moratorium is wishful thinking.
I'm also curious to know, since most municipalities have received the CSA invitation by now, how many have accepted the invitation. I know of one (Goderich) because of an already published decision, and others due to my own story on the CSA and the commitments made by politicians here in Oxford. I'd love to see the rest of the list, particularly since it appears only the executive committee is meeting with Wynne at the AMO conference.

Private-school credits

This popped up in the last week, and the fallout continues. Now, Minister Kathleen Wynne has indicated all private-school secondary credits and grades will now be flagged on student transcripts as 'P' to indicate their origin. The CBC Toronto online piece is here, which includes Wynne's interview on Ontario Today, as a Real Audio-format streaming file.
The Star appears to have broken the story on Aug. 11.
From the CBC online:
"We're trying to bring more transparency to this," Wynne said, adding that only a small minority of schools are at risk of not meeting provincial standards.
The government is also studying how to define a school and distinguish schools from tutoring services through criteria such as classroom hours.
There are 315 private schools in Ontario that offer credits toward an Ontario Secondary School Diploma, and must have passed inspection by the Ministry of Education in order to do so. However, the inspection does not deal with health, equipment, safety practices, or staffing issues.
This has drawn some interesting reaction. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation is quoted in the original Star piece, with president Ken Coran pulling a suitable rabbling tongue-lashing of the situation.
Never ones to miss an opportunity, the Society for Quality Education also e-mail-blasted a statement to its lists today, which read in part:
Now, ALL those private schools' grades will be tainted with the suspicion that they are inferior and not to be trusted. While some grade inflation may be happening, this certainly cannot be the case in every situation. Without concrete data, properly collected and studied, this makes the “P” stand for punitive.
Why doesn’t the minister flag grades of kids who take public school summer courses or who hang around for the “victory lap” fifth year of high school in the same way? In both of those cases grades might be inflated, or so we’ve heard, anecdotally.
Colleges and universities are already suspicious of the province's "no fail" policies. The unpreparedness of secondary students has made remediation the norm at post-secondary institutions.
A better solution would be exit examinations for all high school students. The Scarlet P will not help.
The SQE's concern may be on the money-- the approach is a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to weeding out the crappy private schools that offer credits for cash. A stronger inspection and followup system might serve as a better method of enforcement and a deterrent. As to the point on those victory lap students, I graduated in an OAC world, so I don't actually know what a transcript looks like when you take a credit a second time to improve your mark.
Victory lappers aren't trying to cheat the system however, as I don't imagine most teachers upgrade their assessments for students taking a credit the second time around. Which means those returning students would actually have to do better, and earn higher marks as a result, not just show up (let's stay away from the credit-integrity discussion for a second to let me make that point).
The 'unpreparedness' statement, backed up by a few vocal post-secondary faculty, doesn't merit the generalization. Certainly, when education was far more local, in the day of OACs and when, from memory, there was a dropout pathway and a 'we're channelling you for university even if you'll never finish a degree at one' path, I was still stunned in my J-100 class to spend a whole lecture being reminded of basic English grammar.
The 'P' flag doesn't offend me in any way, however better investigation, inspection and enforcement would be the better solution.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

NatPost on Toronto ARCs

Well, everyone arrives at the party some time. The National Post had an interview in today with Toronto District School Board chair John Campbell and other trustees regarding the need to start some accommodation reviews.
From the article:
Josh Matlow, trustee for St. Paul’s, said he will present a motion at the Aug. 26 school board meeting, requesting that the board consider closing 10 of its undersubscribed schools this year and 10 more the year after. A TDSB accommodation review committee would assess each school to determine whether it should be closed or has surplus space to be leased.
“I’m not calling for a fire sale,” Mr. Matlow said. “Some schools should be sold if there is no reasonable projection of growth in the community. In some cases, there may be community organizations that express interest in working with the TDSB.”
An inventory of schools released last year showed 92 of 533 public schools in Toronto have an enrollment of less than 60%, and the TDSB loses about 4,000 students every year.
“We wouldn’t be forced to cut valuable resources as we do every year if we managed our properties assets responsibly,” Mr. Matlow said.
The Toronto Lands Corporation (TLC) manages about 74 of the board’s properties that are either not in use as schools or school sites that contain excess space.
In the last year, the corporation collected $10.5-million in leased revenue and made $15-million through selling surplus or vacant property.
OK, I learn something every day too. I didn't know about those last two paragraphs. However, the reporter doesn't make it clear who gets that revenue-- the board or the TLC?
Welcome to the ARC party, National Post. I think this leaves the Globe and Mail as the only major Toronto-based media that has not written in any great detail about the pending Toronto reviews.
Also not touched on -- because they've not written about the changes -- is whether the TDSB will start reviews pre-Sept. 30 or amend its policies and start them post-Sept. 30. I would expect after.

Unpent JK-3 dollars to be revealed

The other 'B-memo' posted on July 20 I wanted to write about here was in regards to unused cash granted to school boards for the implementation of the primary class size initiative, aka the JK-3 class cap. Memo B-9 directs boards to provide the Ministry of Education with a full accounting on what unspent grant money they have remaining in their reserve accounts.
First, some history:
The JK-3 class cap was the main part of the Liberals' 2003 election education platform. The party committed to reducing class sizes in junior kindergarten through Grade 3 classrooms to a 20:1 student:teacher ratio. After election, the government started pouring dollars into the program under two streams-- one to pay for the teachers required to lower student-teacher ratios and the other to help boards build new classrooms in schools where there wasn't enough existing physical classroom space to simply setup another JK-3 class.
As the program reached full rollout, the policy was clarified and a 10 per cent buffer was added-- meaning 90 per cent of all JK-3 classes must have 20 or fewer students. The other 10 per cent can have up to but no more than 23. This flexibility -- at the time labelled by the opposition PCs as the Liberals abandoning a full class-size cap -- would help boards deal with situations that arise when a school either doesn't have the space or staff to create a new class when student number 21 walks in the door. You can verify how your board has done in achieving this through the ministry's class-size tracker.
What the PCS initiative has done in reality is lead to the creation of many, many more split-grade classrooms. If a cohort is 26 students in Grade 2, the school ends up with either a full Grade 2 and a split 1/2 or a split 1/2 and a split 2/3 depending on the cohort sizes in the other grades. In some smaller (either physically or by declining enrolment) schools, the cohorts are so small most of the PCS work happened naturally. We have a number of schools in my coverage area where grade cohorts are in the single-digit-per-grade range, making it easy to hit the 20:1 ratio without extra staffing or space. Like other similar issues, some parents are very passionate supporters or detractors of split-grade classes. I spent most of my elementary years in a split-grade class and turned out, I think, OK, so I have no particular like or dislike for them.
Much of the PCS capital grant money was used in the following ways:
  • To make small additions of two or three classrooms to existing schools
  • To help cover the cost of new-school construction -- either in growth areas or as a result of consolidation or closure
From the memo:
It is noteworthy that in most cases, the complex and numerous capital projects that were required have been completed and that elementary students in all grades were supported in good places to learn and with minimal disruption. School boards, and in particular their capital and facility staff, are to be congratulated on this positive outcome.
A school board's actual need for PCS capital funds may be less than the amount originally allocated to the board. School board reporting... indicates that a number of boards have not fully used their PCS capital allocation. This is not surprising as primary enrolment has continued to decline in many boards since the PCS capital allocations were provided and because some PCS capital accommodations have been met without the need to spend PCS capital funding.
Ministry capital portfolio analysts will be in touch with board staff to confirm the following:
  • PCS related capital projects and expenditures that have been completed and entered into the SFIS system and/or reported in EFIS.
  • PCS capital expenditures that need to be long-term financed in upcoming OFA debenture issues.
  • PCS capital projects planned by the board including expected timing and the amount of PCS capital to be used.
Interesting. The memo doesn't actually come out and say any unused dollars will be clawed back, but it spends a few paragraphs on the early learning report issued in June. It also, in bold, reminds boards they can't spend that money without a board vote and approval under the ministry's capital-project approval process.
My guess? Unused PCS capital will be either frozen or clawed back and added to the pot for any construction needed to house full-day kindergarten.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Trustees, expense thyselves

Catching up from my two-week hiatus, I came across the following 'B-memo' today on the Ministry of Education website. The memos provide direction to school boards on various items and the site is a useful one to bookmark for those keeping tabs on provincial developments. For example, the province's bargaining position in the last round of contracts was posted for all to see as a B-memo last August.
One of two such memos released July 20 covers new guidelines for trustee expenses. The memo is here with the appendix -- full of 'best practices' -- linked here.
The guideline provides some direction on what could be reimbursed to trustees, committee members and the like based on the legislative framework and some of the best practices already in place at some boards across the province. The revised rules are in place, likely, as a result of the Toronto Catholic board's extravagances-- more on this later.
Here's some of what is listed:
The policy addresses whether and under what circumstances the following types of expenses are eligible for reimbursement:
  • Travel and Accommodations;
  • Meals;
  • Hospitality;
  • Community expenses;
  • Gifts;
  • Advertising and promotion;
  • Office Equipment and supplies; and
  • Professional Development.
  • The policy outlines a standard equipment package to be provided to all trustees and provides for the return of any equipment when duties cease. Duplication of services and equipment should be avoided, for example: Trustees have access to either a laptop or desktop computer.
  • The board’s procurement process is used to purchase all supplies and office equipment necessary to perform the function of a trustee as well as advertising services and promotional items.
  • The policy ensures equitable treatment between staff and trustees.
Last fall, I was up to my eyeballs in receipts and expense statements for two southwestern Ontario French-language boards as a result of a Sun Media initiative to request all these documents from every board where the chain had a newspaper. Some of the TorSun's FOI requests to the Toronto Catholic board had provided the meat to the coverage of its trustees' excesses. While some of my colleagues in this region did publish on their allotted boards, a few of us (here and at the LFP) never have-- due to lack of time and opportunity for the followup phone interviews on my part.
Anyway, boards must have their new trustee expense guidelines approved by Dec. 31 of this year, and posted either on their websites or available to the public.

Moira agrees with Community Schools Alliance, sort of

A frequent tipster forwarded this along today, Moira MacDonald's column published Monday regarding the Toronto District School Board's pending accommodation review challenges.
The column is largely about the board's pending review regarding the vote to close Timothy Eaton Business and Technical Institute earlier this year. A Ministry of Education reviewer has been appointed to conduct the review after the petition to do so was approved by the powers that be.
MacDonald points out these reviewers (she lists David Cooke and Margaret Wilson, missing Joan Greene) make a wad of cash every day they're on the job.
This was the most interesting part of her column:
Nevertheless the education ministry continues to approve the reviews, as long as someone is able to gather enough signatures of parents or community people who participated in the closure discussions, to equal at least 30 per cent of the school's enrolment.
They also have to show how the process used was not compliant with the board's policy.
If not a single case has been successful, sounds to me like either the fix is in or the vetting process for review applications needs tightening up. If this is supposed to be an exercise to allay people's concerns they haven't had a fair hearing, why get their hopes up and waste taxpayers' money on a process unlikely to validate their complaint? (bold my emphasis) Why not create a tougher standard, and give those who manage to make it over the bar a fighting chance of actually overturning what could indeed be a poorly-made decision?
But the other problem is these reviews risk bogging down the entire exercise of getting our school space down to a manageable size.
Having seen three or four of these reviews in the district I cover -- including one petition that was turned down -- Moira's tapped into the overwhelming sentiment on the usefulness of this process. That futility was an important part of the formation of the Community Schools Alliance, which as readers here know is requesting a 'smart' moratorium on closures. One of the reasons why such a request exists is to devise a better appeal mechanism, one that actually includes the possibility of overturning a school board's decision.
I'm of two minds on this one-- communities do feel as though their opinions and recommendations aren't being given serious consideration by trustees. How often is that actually the case, and how often is it a matter of trustees and school boards doing a piss-poor job of explaining why they made the school-closure decision they did? Conscientious trustees surely must have solid rationale for why they supported a closure decision and I think they're doing a crappy job explaining why. If they don't, then they need to be explaining why as well so they can be held to account in November 2010.
I also understand why the petition/appeal process doesn't include the ability to overturn a board decision. This government, while creating policy and procedure that increasingly centralizes K-12 education out of the Bay Street government block, doesn't want to be seen as removing this particular decision from 'local' control. If every closure could be overturned on appeal, then every one would be appealed by someone disgruntled with the decision and the appeal body (province) would end up making the final decision. How does that respect local decision making? It doesn't.
I don't have the answer to what the better process post-board-vote process is, but would welcome any suggestions.