Friday, February 26, 2010

LFPress goes deeper on bullying

I believe this is set to publish in Saturday's paper, but it went online Friday afternoon so I'm linking it now.
Kudos to Jennifer O'Brien and to her editors for allowing her the time to do the research, contact the sources and do the interviews. In a busy newsroom, this is any reporter's largest challenge-- to be assigned the story (whether editor-generated or reporter-initiated) and more importantly, be given enough time to give it justice. It's a great example of how a newsroom and a journalists takes an immediate-impact article (the recent death of a high school student) and comes back to it after taking a breath and keeps asking questions.
I think it hits all the right notes I was trying to sound myself last week when I posted on Elizabeth Witmer's resolution for a November anti-bullying awareness week. It correctly points out that while schools and their staff members cannot be excused from their role in observing, reporting and enforcing meaningful consequences for the bullying that continues to occur within their domain, crapping on the school system won't bring the panacea families of bullied children are so desperately looking for. I contrast O'Brien's piece with a full-pager in the Toronto Sun today by Michelle Mandel on a 13-year-old being kept home from school by her parents because of repeated bullying.
From the LFPress piece:
You can find a parent in almost every Canadian city - many, in this one - who blame school boards for allowing bullying to continue, blame teachers for turning a blind eye. The London Free Press receives calls regularly from parents who say their kids are being bullied and the board isn't helping. Many applaud Ontario's just-imposed requirement that any school staffer or volunteer report bullying behaviour to the principal, while others question why that wasn't required in the first place.
Other social ills - smoking and drunk driving, for example - have lost some of their harsh edges from years of public awareness campaigns, many of them focused on school-age kids. But after a generation of similar treatment, bullying remains such a persistent problem that Ontario, for example, recently had to beef up its legislation meant to help tackle the problem.
While experts point to a variety of factors, and note school boards aren't off the hook, many say the wider solution needs to start at home.
With the mean behaviour continuing, even growing through Internet technology such as social networking sites that leave victims vulnerable online, 24-7, even in their own homes, anti-violence researchers across the board say it's time parents, themselves, addressed what's become a national in-your-face culture that supports bullying.
"Parents want the schools to handle bullying. But how do you handle treating hired help? How do you handle it at a family gathering, when someone makes a racist or a sexist joke? If you say something, you've taught your children to stand up and speak out when something isn't right," said Barbara Coloroso, a best-selling U.S. author and anti-bullying consultant.
Coloroso is eminently quotable and always finds the exact place to stand on when it comes to the issue of bullying. Her landmark text  was the first to find headlines across media to educate on the concept of the triangular relationship that always exists in bullying. I would take every one of her quotes and scream them from a mountaintop if I could.
See for yourself:
"We've come a long way, where kids and schools are recognizing this is not a part of growing up, not normal and necessary. However, we are dealing in a culture where, on one hand, we say be kind and loving to others, and then, here are our TV shows that kids watch. . . where they learn to laugh at somebody else's pain," said Coloroso, who pointed out reality TV shows and aggressive celebrity gossip programs are contributing factors.
"Kids are swimming in a culture of mean."
Coloroso firmly believes school staff and all other adults must hold bullies accountable. That includes those who join in or support the behaviour, through laughter or comments on Facebook.
Bullies, she said, should never get off with just a warning.
"Bullying is never a (simple) mistake," she said.
She said schools need to enforce what she calls the three Ps: strong anti-bullying policies, strong procedures in place and strong programs in place.
So, there is no easy answer. There is increasing realization that ending bullying requires cultural change at a level that goes far beyond the walls of a school or the employees in a school system. We live in a culture of mean, where those who bully get ahead and are often rewarded for their actions. Until society is prepared to realize that, we'll never do justice to tackling the problem.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

MacDonald profiles Dombrowsky

The Toronto Sun's Moira MacDonald had a full-page profile of Minister of Education Leona Dombrowsky in today's paper, her first opportunity for a sit-down with the MPP since she was shuffled into the post in January. It included the portrait by Dave Able Abel, linked above.
As I've indicated here in the past, it should come as no surprise Dombrowsky said what she's said in this article. That despite her prior experience as a trustee and chair of a largely rural school board and her previous post as minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, that 'saving' schools from these closures is not one of her four main priorities. From the piece:
“My focus as minister, as was assigned by the premier, is to focus on student achievement — on results for kids — closing the gap (in achievement, between advantaged and less-advantaged students), higher graduation rates and on improving the perception of publicly-funded education,” Dombrowsky told me earlier this week in my first interview with her since she became minister in late January.
Dombrowsky made that statement after I asked about the possibility of seeing some school boards — particularly in more remote communities with small school populations — amalgamate to some degree to create economies of scale that could support a wider range of programs and services.
Dombrowsky says she’s here to serve all four school systems — English and French, public and Catholic. While “there’s probably a very healthy debate there,” the government is not going to be diverted off its big four priorities in an exercise that could venture into constitutional amendment territory (there are constitutionally-protected rights to attend French and Catholic schools).
She's proven through her legislative service at Queen's Park she is extremely competent at staying on message, and the message from the premier's office right now doesn't include 'saving' schools from consolidation and closure. It includes achievement, closing the gap and the implementation of the Early Learning Program.
Dombrowsky is a feisty politician, not one to back away from a challenge and even return to it to ensure she makes her point. I've witnessed this personally at Canada's Outdoor Farm Show when she was ag minister— post-scrum, as I had turned to move on, she returned and ensured she got the last word in. MacDonald's bang on when she writes this minister will stay on-task and on-message in the face of what are surely to be some tough decisions ahead.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

London has its cake and eats it too

I was sorely surprised Monday evening as I was reading Kate Dubinski's tweets from London city council as council considered the report from its committee regarding the Community Schools Alliance request for a "smart" school-closure moratorium. Council voted to support the call for the moratorium after over an hour of debate. From the article in Tuesday's paper--
"A moratorium is meaningless. It's not our jurisdiction," said Coun. Cheryl Miller, one of several councillors who opposed the move for a moratorium. Miller is a former school board trustee.
"If you want to change the school board, there's an election coming up. You can run," Miller told her colleagues.
A recommendation from city council's community and protective services committee stopped short of asking for the moratorium, instead asking the public and Catholic school boards to work with city council to develop a new school review policy.
Coun. Susan Eagle said council needed to go further because schools are an inextricable part of each neighbourhood.
Really? You want to go further? Well how about joining in?
Thames Valley District School Board London ARC 1, no municipal representative. Eagle sat on London ARC 2. Coun. David Winninger sat on London ARC 3. No city of London reps on ARC 11 (Ross / Thames-- a HUGE review that was ultimately disbanded and will be reformed once a program review of school-to-work pathways is complete). Coun. Walter Lonc sat on ARC 12 (Riverside and Westdale PSs).
That's a 60% participation rate for the City of London in the very school reviews it now sees fit to condemn and whine about. Congrats council, you've earned a C- grade on participating in the process.
With current ARCs being brought together for the board's third round, some on council are again saying they want no part in the process (see previous posts), BUT, they really, really would like those nice trustees to listen to them and their concerns.
The part that really bugs me?
I would bet dollars to donuts these same city councillors wouldn't tolerate or respect this sort of stance from another political body in their own affairs. Council makes decisions that are on the same level of difficulty (if not greater) as school closures and councillors take flack for these decisions made (hopefully) with the best intentions for all based on the information before them. Their seeming ineptness to understand trustees follow a similar process boggles the mind.
Does council realize that if it hadn't allowed north London to continue expanding but rather had invested in urbanization, redevelopment and intensification, it could have moved the lever on school accommodation issues? This sort of debate leads me to think some on this council don't have a clue the role they've already played in these issues and the one they could continue to play if they came to the (board) table, sat down, listened and brought something meaningful to the process.
It's easier, sexier and plies more potential votes to take this stance. The part that really, really grinds my gears is that the boards will still come to the city asking if council wants to play in the sandbox. The boards would bend over backwards to bring the city into the process, and even with this council decision, I expect trustee discussion tonight to be all about how to bring the city back into the fold. I hope my county counterparts in this district are paying attention, because from out here beyond the London Fog, it sure looks like trustees are obsessed with having London on board to a much greater degree than the other dozens of municipalities their schools are located in.

Monday, February 22, 2010

ELP blog

This came across in an alert today-- Full Day Early Learning: Facts and Speculation.
As the subtitle indicates:
There is much rumour and speculation about the introduction of full day early learning in Ontario. This blog attempts to separate fact from speculation about issues faced by not-for-profit community-based childcare centres in Ontario.
Something to keep an eye on in the coming months as more and more information is hopefully pushed out from the Ministry. One for the bookmark list, and I'll add it to the blogroll on the right. I'll just note its backers are from the not-for-profit childcare industry.

ELP concerns a plenty

A couple of things today on the Early Learning Program and some repetition of concerns already heard since the summer regarding how this program is to be implemented and the impact it will have on communities and school boards.
First is an opinion piece in today's Toronto Sun written by Kelly Massaro Joblin and Fred Hahn, presidents of the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, respectively. From their piece:
But the removal of four and five year olds from child care centres, combined with a $63.5-million loss in federal funding, has rocked the child care sector.
The City of Toronto estimates shrinking resources for child care will mean de-funding 5,000 spaces.
Another 3,000 spaces will disappear from other regions.
Feeling the financial heat, Windsor City Council just voted to shut down nine municipal child care centres. The city will get rid of all the buildings and assets that have been the foundation of Windsor’s child care services for decades.
What is so regrettable about this decision is how it runs completely counter to the early learning reform report the premier commissioned from Charles Pascal.
Pascal’s blueprint charges municipalities with leading the way in caring for children from infancy up to four years of age as the next step in the early learning initiative.
This opinion piece simplifies the challenge faced by Windsor to the extreme-- council made a difficult choice faced with sustaining a service that wasn't providing the greatest value to the community and was being operated at a steep loss.
This piece speaks more to concerns about private, for-profit childcare gaining a toehold in Ontario than it speaks with any authority on the ELP. There are municipalities out there (I live in one) who don't operate any childcare services-- they simply manage the fee subsidy element and assign who gets what spaces. Having said that, my experience here shows the sector dominated by private, not-for-profits. Let's remember the largest operator of childcare in Canada is the YMCA. (Full disclosure: I work part-time for the Woodstock YMCA as an aquatic and youth program staff).
The second piece by Nathan Taylor at the Orillia Packet & Times touches on further concerns, but from the Simcoe District and Simcoe-Muskoka Catholic District school boards' worry it will end up raiding Peter to pay Paul within its 2010-11 budget.
"We can't afford to start subsidizing daycare for before and after school. We can't do it at the expense of our programming," said Jodi Lloyd, trustee for Ramara, Severn and Tay townships. "It's a wonderful service. However, it needs to be on a 100% cost-recovery basis."
The concern from staff is that 100% cost recovery might not be achievable while, at the same time, charging a reasonable fee.
If the fee is higher than other daycare options in the community, "their likelihood is to leave the school and not take part in the extended-day program, and that kind of defeats the purpose of the extended-day program," associate director Carol McAulay said, noting the point is to maintain continuity for the children.
I think the pending release of the Grants for Student Needs will be telling.
My prediction? You're going to see some reinvestment of the clawed-back Primary Class Size capital grants to support the much-smaller cohort of year-two ELP sites. You're also going to see some strong messages that boards need to get their vacant spaces under control through tightening of the declining enrolment adjustment grants. Trustees will be forced to cut their costs in relation to the decline in their enrolment in order to support ELP costs. It only makes sense-- you're supposed to be losing costs relating to the overall drop in students, so reinvest those "savings" from elsewhere in your budget into the ELP. The days of ever-increasing funding into education when there are drops in enrolment that lie between 2-5% are over-- funding is much more likely to remain stable, with heavy mandate to reinvest costs that are supposed to be dropping with enrolment into ELP.
I also foresee this a a big year where special education costs will face off over ELP and other programs. Boards will have some tricky work ahead of them to balance their budgets for 2010-11, but the word from the ministry will likely still be that it's possible if trustees are ready to tackle some difficult decisions they've been putting off since the Liberals entered government.
I could be wrong-- but would be slightly freaked out if I was right on this call.

HIstory of changes

One of the challenges in media coverage is that we're so focused on the present, we tend to forget the past. We tend to stick to the changes people are upset about today, rather than trying to put them into some kind of historical context. Particularly when it comes to changes in schooling-- we tend to prefer to send our kids to schools that follow the same sort of practices and traditions we remember (those that we can remember) from our own days in school. Hence the difficulty in closing schools and in changing the structure of schools (ie: K-12 schools, 7-12 schools).
The Community Press has a nice, 'soft' article (as we call these in print) on the history and present circumstances of S.S. No. 5 Brickley Separate School, opened in 1855. The Northumberland County school is now in private ownership, and the article looks at what the owners might do with the structure along with some historical context. As a history buff (I minored, but could have double-majored, in history while taking my journalism degree), I eat this sort of stuff up.
People in the area have been wondering what's to become of the school, which closed in 1968, and the (Sean and Charity) Hannigans obligingly spoke about their acquisition. Archival records kept by the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board were also made available.
"We decided to buy the Brickley schoolhouse as it adjoins our property – our house and property surrounds the school," Charity replied in an e-mail to questions from this paper.
"At the present time we have/are tinkering away at a few things inside and out but with two smaller children, both working fulltime, and living in an older home that we enjoy updating and renovating, as well as taking the time and money to fix it up, is a factor that has prevented us in doing anything to it," Charity told The Community Press.
Both she and her husband are intrigued by the schoolhouse, its history and its architecture.
The Hannigans have have been kicking around several ideas about what to do with the schoolhouse but have not yet made a decision.
"We have had many ideas of our own and many from others, including some ideas such as an antique shop, tea room, music studio or living quarters," she explained.
For the Hannigans it seems to be a labour of love as they attempt to preserve a historic structure of significance to the community.
S.S. No. 5 Brickley Separate School, located at the junction of County Road 25 and the Eight Line, was built on land donated by John Brickley. It served an Irish immigrant community, typical of many that existed throughout the board's region.
In 1843 the Act for the Establishment of Separate Schools was passed. When Brickley opened in 1855, the log school had 50 pupils in attendance. Two dates – 1871 and 1873 – surfaced in the archival material as to when the structure that exists today was built.
The article also speaks to one of the few constants in education (and society at large): change. From the birth of separate (read: Catholic, in most parts of Ontario) schooling, to the end of one- and two-room schoolhouses in the 1960s, it's all referenced here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Remember the SIF?

Fridays can be fun, when the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario sends out its newsletters. This week's iteration dedicates the lead element to the federation's new section of its website,
From the page:
ETFO opposes the Ministry of Education's School Information Finder (SIF) for the following reasons:
  • The SIF has an inappropriate focus on EQAO test results—an overly narrow measure of a school's effectiveness. This misuse of testing data leads to certain schools being stigmatized because of their results.
  • The SIF website provides demographic data about schools such as socioeconomic status, parental levels of education, the number of special needs students, and the number of students whose first language is neither English nor French.
  • These data encourage users to compare schools based on the information provided; in other words, to shop for schools based on test results and/or demographics.
Join ETFO in its fight to have the School Information Finder dismantled. Spread the word about to your friends, neighbours, and colleagues. Encourage them to visit this site and email their MPP to protest the SIF. If you manage a blog or website, help promote the campaign by embedding icons with links back to
This is likely because Minister Leona Dombrowsky has been recently quoted on the SIF and I'm sure ETFO wanted to ensure we all remembered what its opinion was.
The thousands who logged onto the site when it was launched, or go seek this data elsewhere, prove a point that lies opposed to this.

Fee subsidy clarification

This will eventually be published in my own paper, but I did have a conversation with the Ministry of Education Thursday regarding my confusion over the fee-subsidy elements of Bill 242. In particular, about these sections in the first reading of the bill:
25. Section 2.2 of the Act is amended by adding the following subsection:
Contracting authority, school board
(6.2) A school board may enter into an agreement with a delivery agent under subsection (6) regarding the provision of financial assistance to persons who are charged fees in respect of extended day programs and the agreement may provide that the school board has some or all of the powers and duties of the delivery agent that relate to the provision of the financial assistance.
26. Subsection 7.2 (1) of the Act is repealed and the following substituted:
Agreements for provision of services and financial assistance re extended day programs
(1) The Minister may enter into agreements with municipalities, delivery agents or other persons or entities, on the terms and conditions that may be agreed, respecting the provision of,
(a) the prescribed services; and
(b) financial assistance to persons who are charged fees in respect of extended day programs.
27. (1) Subsection 18 (1) of the Act is amended by striking out the portion before clause (a) and substituting the following:
(1) The Lieutenant Governor in Council may make regulations governing the management, operation and use of day nurseries and private-home day care agencies and classes of either of them and premises where private-home day care is provided by a private-home day care agency and governing the provision of financial assistance to persons who are charged fees in respect of extended day programs, and without limiting the generality of the foregoing may make regulations,
. . . . .
(2) Subclause 18 (1) (p) (ii) of the Act is amended by striking out "day nursery or a private-home day care agency" and substituting "day nursery, private-home day care agency or school board".
(3) Clause 18 (1) (q) of the Act is amended by striking out "private-home day care or services provided in a day nursery" and substituting "private-home day care, services provided in a day nursery or extended day programs".
(4) Subsection 18 (1) of the Act is amended by adding the following clauses:
(z.3) governing the application of the provisions of this Act and the regulations to circumstances in which a school board and the Minister enter into an agreement regarding the provision of financial assistance to persons who are charged fees in respect of extended day programs;
(z.4) if the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers it advisable, adapting or modifying the provisions of this Act and the regulations for the purpose of their application to the circumstances referred to in clause (z.3);
(z.5) providing for such transitional matters as the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers advisable relating to the provision of financial assistance for extended day programs.
My understanding based on the conversation-- these clauses are an escape clause for the ministry. If the ministry cannot reach agreement with all of Ontario's municipal service managers on fee-subsidy management for before- and after-school as well as non-instructional PD Day and summertime programs, this would allow boards in those regions to manage this element themselves.
The spokesperson was adamant the education ministry does not want to take away from a 'one-window' approach for fee subsidies, and confident agreements could be reached in time to make this clause redundant in time for the programs to begin this fall.
Now, we know.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Feel-goodery from Witmer

I've received numerous invitations to participate in today's announcement by former education minister and Kitchener-Waterloo MPP Elizabeth Witmer regarding the creation of an anti-bullying week in November.
The press release is full of endorsements from anti-bullying coalitions, teachers' federations, etc. If it passes through to its eventual end, it would create an awareness week in the third week of November and mandate that activities take place in every school across Ontario during that week.
So what?
You can wear pink, label a week and parade against bullying all you want. It'll make you feel great -- particularly if people who bully get behind it and add their weight (imagine being bullied into anti-bullying activities?). But what does Witmer's resolution do to actually improve the social conditions in our schools?
Does it direct any increased funding to safe-school programs?
Does it encourage adults in schools to use their common sense and step in when they see any signs of behaviour that lead to someone being bullied?
Does it teach parents how not to make bullies of their children?
Does it change our society as a whole to reward the meek and punish the aggressive?
Does it do anything to address the deep-rooted sentiment of not "ratting out" bullies?
Does it eliminate the bystander? You know, when we stand by and watch it happen but do nothing?
If it doesn't move any closer to answering yes on any of the above, then this resolution is just empty platitudes.
Bullying is a societal problem that extends well beyond schools. I always hesitate to join the masses slamming schools and school boards for 'not doing enough' to stop bullying. Ending it requires more than just teachers and principals. The first place to look is in the home, then in the peer group. Solve that conundrum first.
To add to this, I always cringe at media coverage of bullying. Those who are most successful in media are type-A personalities-- aggressive, dominant, stubborn. Read: bullies. So someone whose bully qualities have been honed to the benefit of their craft is now writing about someone who was bullied. I saw journos I respected bully a school board through coverage and public opinion into taking unprecedented steps to address why people weren't reporting what they witness.
I cringed when I read this today, almost a repeat of what happened in Dec. 2004 and I do hope we're able to take a breath, count to 10 and consider the bigger picture prior to blaming any school involvement.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bill 242 introduction

Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky's first bill is Bill 242: Full-day Early Learning Statute Law Amendment Act, 2010 (PDF version).
It's not a lengthy bill by, say, Bill 177 or Bill 78 standards. It makes a series of amendments to the various pieces of legislation so that early childhood educators (ECEs) can be fully incorporated into the Education Act as school employees offering school-based programs. Much of the bill deals with these amendments in order to define ECEs within the Ed Act and make provisions for school boards to hire, evaluate and discipline these new employees.
A significant section however, and the one that's carried the bulk of the coverage Wednesday is where the bill speaks to the fee-subsidy element of the before- and after-school programs. It also allows boards to setup full-day childcare programming on professional development days and non-instructional days (read: the summer). I've been thoroughly confused by the fee-subsidy element given an interview with the former minister had her saying it would be handled by municipalities. Now it appears school boards will get the responsibility but can delegate.
(6.2) A school board may enter into an agreement with a delivery agent under subsection (6) regarding the provision of financial assistance to persons who are charged fees in respect of extended day programs and the agreement may provide that the school board has some or all of the powers and duties of the delivery agent that relate to the provision of the financial assistance.
(z.3) governing the application of the provisions of this Act and the regulations to circumstances in which a school board and the Minister enter into an agreement regarding the provision of financial assistance to persons who are charged fees in respect of extended day programs;
(z.4) if the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers itadvisable, adapting or modifying the provisions ofthis Act and the regulations for the purpose of theirapplication to the circumstances referred to inclause (z.3);
(z.5) providing for such transitional matters as the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers advisable re-lating to the provision of financial assistance forextended day programs.
This seems to speak to a redrawing of the map in children's services— something envisioned in the Pascal report, where the authors recommended the Min Ed become the lead ministry for birth to age 12. I'm attempting to get some clarity on this, will post here after and if I do. There are hundreds of municipal childcare service managers who are likely as eager for this clarification as I am.

Another nail in Alliance coffin? (Amended)

This had slipped from my consciousness last week, even after covering the meeting at the Thames Valley District School Board where director of education Bill Tucker spoke about his and London District Catholic School Board dir of ed Wilma de Rond's appearance before a City of London council committee. An article in this week's Londoner refreshed my memory. I'll note the London Free Press didn't cover the committee meeting.
Some may remember Community Schools Alliance chair Doug Reycraft was also meant to speak at this Feb. 8 committee meeting. I've got some of my own quotes from Tucker on this that I'll add later today from the office.
Bill Tucker, director of education for the Thames Valley board, said there has to be an alternative to the process that is currently in place. "Closing schools is never an easy decision, but there has to be a better process and we don't believe the Smart Moratorium is the way to go."
When asked by Ward 2 Councillor Bill Armstrong if he would stop closing schools while a new process could be developed in place of the Smart Moratorium, Mr. Tucker's response was simply, "No, but we can slow it down."
Mr. Tucker says at present his board is losing 1,000 students per year as a result of declining enrolment, resulting in a significant amount of space in schools that has to be maintained, but not used.
Wilma DeRond, director of education for the Catholic board echoed similar concerns. "Right now we are losing the equivalent of small elementary school each year (as a result of declining enrolment) and we see that trend continuing for five years."
Mrs. DeRond also expressed her concern over Controller Gord Hume's proposed wording of a motion that would include improved communication with affected communities, reviewing provincial policies, and gaining input from those communities on any school closure.
"Our board will be very upset with this. They may not appreciate being told what to do," Mrs. DeRond says. "We may choose to not participate in the process." 
The committee ultimately voted against supporting the smart moratorium so cherished by the Alliance, but passed a motion encouraging more dialogue and joint, constructive sharing of information between the boards and local municipalities. So the largest municipality, closest to the core of the Alliance's founding person and founding county, took a pass on the requested smart moratorium, in recognition it's really not that smart.
From the TVDSB meeting the following night, where Tucker acknowledged the conversation was "at times challenging."
We countered that we believe there's a better process to gain the community's input at the outset… the committee supported our assertion. We will seek to acquire input through the municipal representatives then.

I'm pleased with the results. We're in favour of wanting to change some aspects and also working more closely with city hall.
London trustee and vice-chair Joyce Bennett, who was chairing the Feb. 9 meeting, noted Tucker's work with city administration was to be commended. 
The partnership the director has been building was very meaningful… working with the municipality so people can plan for municipal involvement at an earlier stage.
Though it wasn't directly mentioned, Tucker has shown a willingness to do the same with other municipalities within the district. He attended a Middlesex County council meeting in the summer and also had spoken to a rural Oxford council last year in the midst of a school-closure review there. 
So what's next, Community Schools Alliance? With stated support from only about 1/4 of all Ontario municipalities, a new minister and a municipal and trustee election ahead, what's your next step?

K-12ing in eastern Ontario

Always on the lookout when new school-closure review articles are posted, and this one caught the eye last week as the Limestone District School Board comes to a close on a review of its northern regions. The Whig covered the latest developments, in an article also picked up by a few other Sun Media / QMI Agency papers in the region.
What was different here? Well, for one, I enjoy it when board staff members can state rationale in simple, accessible language instead of edu-speak or hiding behind catchall reasons.
The consolidation of the Sharbot Lake family of schools, as it is known, would be the third done by the board as it shuts aging and small schools and melds student bodies into larger schools for economies of scale and reduced operating costs.
Napanee and east Kingston are already moving down that path and the northern part of the board, home to some of the oldest and most expensive to operate schools in the board, was seen as the logical next step.
"Some of these schools are more than 50 years old and they are increasingly expensive to keep up," said superintendent Roger Richard yesterday.
"Frankly in this age of green schools, these buildings are prohibitively expensive to repair and maintain, so we would like to consolidate them in a new facility." 
The proposed solution recommended by the review is to consolidate five elementary and secondary schools built between 1947 and 1971 into one K-12 school with a population about 500 to 700 students. Senior staff diverged from this slightly, recommending closure and consolidation of four schools instead of five after an analysis of busing times for one of the elementary schools included in the review. The following sentences speak to the intent of the declining enrolment working group's recommendation that boards need to do a better job of explaining why they strike reviews and recommend consolidation.
In a perfect world, there would be sufficient funding available to maintain all of Ontario’s rural schools. However, inadequate school sites, aging buildings which are cost prohibitive to repair, small rural student populations, current government regulations and standards, as well as limited financial resources render this option unrealistic. Accordingly, Senior Staff must be cognizant of what is in the best long term interests of all the Limestone District School Board’s students. This requires us to maintain our focus on how to best provide that which is most important: safe, sustainable learning environments and high quality experiences for our children, now and in the future, while remaining pragmatic in balancing fiscal responsibility and community interests.
I also noted with interest the strong language in the report for seeking partnerships with the local Catholic board and the area's municipalities to get even more extensive value for the pending investment.
The public input session before the entire board of trustees is scheduled for March 2.

NOTL / NDSS wrap

I would have loved to be all over posting about the coverage last week's Niagara-on-the-Lake special council meeting generated, but circumstances didn't allow. It was one of those moments where the moniker part-time blogger falls prey to scheduling and the priorities of paid work.
However, a look back provides a snapshot of the issues at play and how they've been handled. The Niagara Advance has most of the coverage (as it should, being the local weekly), and also most of the criticism. It's an example of the role of local media-- are we boosters? Or do we still have a responsibility to provide fair coverage of events as they unfold, leaving it to the reader to weigh the information presented? These are delineations that are a little clearer and a little wider at most daily newspapers, however many weeklies feel they can't make the same delineations. I disagree-- regardless of size or publishing frequency, the role of community media is the same as it is for provincial and national media.
The Advance's coverage of the meeting and report had multiple angles.
They included Penny Coles' brief opinion piece on the report itself.
In the hysteria of reaction to the report and the threat some of the options are perceived to present, the fact that none of it is particularly new or radical also seems to have been forgotten. A Mennonite pastor has already offered to come on board, and Eden students for years studied their Grade 13 courses at NDSS. There are other schools in our board and across the province, highly lauded, combining Catholic and public education on one site. And there are schools within our board also drawing praise for combining elementary and high school education. The strategy committee is presenting possible solutions to boost NDSS enrolment with various programming options hoping for an extension. The difference is it now wants to take those options to the province.
It all seems so simple, so obvious. Let's hope the ministry of education sees the report and gets that.
This was supplemented by Matt Day's coverage of the council meeting where the report was presented and input received. I received a small flood of e-mails after the meeting and in the few days following. It seems council backpedalled a bit when faced with a gallery of people all of a sudden brought into the Niagara District Secondary School issue because the council report reached into their own backyards.
(Coun. Gary) Zalepa defended the strategy, saying a lot of work went into preparing the document and to have the recommendations thrown out would be a waste of time.
"The committee is focused on keeping a high school in our community. Simply, that's it... We need to move quickly and with everything we've heard tonight, I think we can accommodate and facilitate those needs to make the document stronger," he said.
Zalepa said the idea of creating a campus school is to fix the problems that currently drive students away from NDSS site. He said a new school of an appropriate size would attract students, but when the facility is left to slowly deteriorate, as it has been for the last decade, students will seek education in other places.
"We have almost 800 kids eligible for high school in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I'm not saying the brief suggests forcing anybody to go anywhere. We think we should at least have the facility to attract students as it's proven when a facility is poor, it pushes them away."
The field-of-dreams analogy was a nice one. However, I don't know whether the province will bite at investing in this campus without some sort of proof it will actually attract the high school students to make it viable. Given secondary school is open choice in Ontario (you can attend the high school of your choice, with caveats), I wonder whether Zalepa and the report's other authors place too much emphasis on this hope. I've seen it in other reviews, where a recommendation to shift boundaries would boost enrolment in the short-term but no plan was presented to maintain that enrolment in an environment of declining enrolment.

Of course, the report's detractors also had their moment in the sun.
Christine Lett is a mother of three students at Virgil Public School and is of Mennonite background.
She said she would not like to see her children being a part of a proposed mega school as it goes against what many people in the community want.
She is also concerned discussions about locating the new elementary school—for public school students from Col. John Butler and Virgil—will delay a new school.
"Over the last two years, this council has shown it cares only about the future of NDSS and has ignored elementary students, parents and the community. Now is the time to show that you are listening and willing to act on behalf of all people because we will not be ignored in the fall." 
This is the other issue many have with the report and with NDSS supporters' tactics. They ignore that the elementary school communities in NOTL told the District School Board of Niagara what they wanted and some of those requests are in different phases of implementation. The drive to save the high school ignores saving the model of education many parents have also supported in other facilities. The folks at SOS do a consistent job of advocating for all (and presenting all the information they can get their hands on), supporting schooling within the municipality at all levels, not just the ones that favour one particular facility.
The development of this report has also drawn interest among locals of filing a request to the town's closed-meeting investigator, since the report was developed by a committee of council that met, likely illegally, behind closed doors. I have offered some support to those individuals considering this and hope they follow through so council can get a spanking if it merits one.


The Ministry of Education recently released two program / policy memoranda on the public portion of its website. These get posted quietly and often don't merit any particular news release, although some do. For example, PPM150 was all about healthy foods in schools and that garnered a requisite number of media hits as awareness of it spread across Ontario. Several years ago, the PPM on Quality Daily Physical Activity (QDPA) was released, and years later I sometimes wonder what happened to this particular memo.
Last week, PPM 151 was released, along with PPM 152. The first touches on provincial priorities for professional development days-- the province mandates two of these days throughout the school year be dedicated to provincial priorities. These days, provincial priorities are improving achievement levels on provincial assessments (read: upping EQAO scores) and integrating full-day learning. From the memo:
The criteria that determine the scope of the professional activities for the two PA days required under paragraph 1 of subsection 2(3.1) of Regulation 304 are as follows
  • The professional activities are devoted to the professional learning of teachers with respect to improving student achievement and student success
  • The professional activities are devoted to the professional learning of teachers with respect to closing the gaps in student achievement.
The following are the possible topics for professional activities relating to improving student achievement and student success:
  • early learning
  • performing assessments and evaluations for and of learning
  • facilitating parental and community engagement
  • using data analysis to inform instruction
  • developing and implementing board and school improvement plans
  • creating an equitable and inclusive classroom climate that is conducive to learning
  • developing student and classroom learning profiles
  • facilitating transitions for students who are entering school, changing grades or schools, or leaving school
  • promoting instructional leadership
  • developing skills for teacher inquiry and reflective practice
The following are the possible topics for professional activities relating to closing the gaps in student achievement:
  • developing Individual Education Plans (IEPs)
  • implementing activities related to assistive technologies, differentiated instruction, Universal Design for Learning, and professional learning technologies
  • facilitating parental involvement in Identification, Placement, and Review Committees established under Part II of Ontario Regulation 181/98, "Identification and Placement of Exceptional Pupils", made under the Education Act, and in the development of IEPs
  • using differentiated instructional and assessment strategies and resources that are responsive to students' learning needs and that reflect Ontario's diverse student population
  • developing and implementing strategies to close the gaps in mathematical literacy
  • developing and implementing strategies to close the gaps in literacy
  • developing and implementing strategies to improve boys' literacy
  • developing and implementing early and ongoing instructional interventions
  • using strategies to support English language learners and students in Actualisation linguistique en français and Perfectionnement du français
  • integrating the use of manipulative aids and technology to support a range of learning styles
I found this PPM interesting since this is not the first school year these two provincial-priority PD days have been on the calendar. Board were complying with the requirement, getting the info from other means than a publicly posted memo. It leaves part of me wondering why this memo is being posted now.
The other is particularly interesting, as it lays out standards for school boards to meet as they negotiate with an employ principals and vice-principals. Those with longer memories would remember these administrators used to be members of their respective teachers' federations until the Harris-era reforms of the mid-1990s that removed them from these bargaining units (the right decision in this writer's humble opinion). Principal's associations have emerged from the landscape at the board level, and the Ontario Principals' Council has also filled a void. PPM 152 simply codifies how boards are to set the terms of employment with their respective administrator groups. Why it's taken 12 years to do this is also a mystery.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Innovation at the LFPress

Twice in the last week, the London Free Press has held live online chats on education topics. A Feb. 1 chat was held with Thames Valley District School Board executive superintendent of operations services Karen Dalton regarding the city's high schools and how to navigate the choices from the perspective of a Grade 8 student.
A week later, Feb. 8 , the paper hosted TVDSB's Céline Bourbonnais-MacDonald and the London District Catholic School Board's Sharon Wright-Evans for another live chat. Both are the superintendents within each board currently responsible for the implementation of the full-day kindergarten program.
The livechats can be 'replayed' through the links above.
I don't offhand know how many participants were in the Feb. 1 chat, but Wright-Evans told me Monday evening there were over 70 following the Feb. 8 chat. I've sat in on both to see how they were run and examine potential use within either my own newsroom or even here on this blog.
Live chat isn't new, nor is the Free Press the first media to use it. For example, is a frequent user of the same software being used by What's impressed me (which should be no surprise to those here) is the newspaper chose to do its first two live chats on education subjects -- choosing a high school and full-day kindergarten.
Topics important enough to launch a new way of interacting with readers at southwestern Ontario's largest-circulation daily newspaper.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Busy days in NOTL

I've been getting e-mails about this all weekend. The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is considering its 101-page brief to Minister of Education Leona Dombrowsky at a Feb. 8 council meeting. The document is subject of this special meeting, called before the weekend. Council is being asked to endorse the brief and permit its presentation to Dombrowsky.
Those with their ears to the ground in the area have been hopping all weekend (hence the e-mails I received) over the 'brief' and the proposal it contains for a 'Centre of excellence' model. Essentially, the document is a pitch for a rebuilt school campus on the Niagara District Secondary School site that would be a K-12 facility encompassing all high school-aged children within the municipality, regardless of whether they currently attend NDSS, Eden or the local Catholic school.
The document is fairly repetitive. The centre model is mentioned about half a dozen times, and a sleep after reading it in full, the following percolate to the top:
  • District School Board of Niagara? Bad. Very bad.
  • Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake? Good, very good.
  • Families who chose to attend school elsewhere? Forced at gunpoint by the choices made by DSBN in its messianic mission to close NDSS.
  • Eden? Unholy and very, very bad. Should never have existed. Those kids should be integrated in our Centre of Excellence.
  • Our proposal? Awesome. Especially since the chamber did a survey (with really loaded questions) that shows 76% support! We're so good, we didn't leave any time for potential delegates to sign up and tell us what they think because no one hates this proposal, do they?
Pardon my facetiousness. I had some difficulty with this report, beyond the repetitiveness of its content. As a small example, a newspaper opinion piece is cited as factual support for a point the authors make in the brief.
It also provides only the briefest peek at why the DSBN staff members provided some of the advice / direction they did. This report continually smacks the DSBN for not allowing the community to openly promote itself to students attending other schools. While the authors argue the board has been covertly and overtly doing so for about 10 years, a board letter in the appendices provides more insight. It suggests that if the doors were thrown open on NDSS competing for students in other schools, the board would let other high schools overtly do the same to NDSS' population. Who would lose the most students then?
It also selectively quotes the minutes from the rats' nest of motions in June 2008 that led to the 350-student threshold, despite earlier hints this is where the council committee was going to concentrate its opposition. This centre of excellence model should have been presented (was it?) was presented during the ARC, but not supported and not recommended as an option. Its own report indicated a rebuilt NDSS and the consolidation of the elementary schools that the board is trying to proceed with.
I'm sure someone at DSBN is preparing a response to this brief.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Has the alliance lost its momentum?

A couple of quick thoughts on the Community Schools Alliance, formed back in the midst of late spring / early summer. Lately, along with a frequent poster in the comments sections, I too have been wondering what is ailing the alliance.
A Saturday reference in the London Free Press was the first reference I've seen of the alliance in my regular media scanning since the early fall. The LFP article by Pat Maloney touches on the ongoing er, conversation (?) between London city council / board of control and the local public school board. Thames Valley District School Board director of education Bill Tucker and London District Catholic School Board director of education Wilma de Rond will meet with council Monday to discuss city council's participation in accommodation review committees. As posted here last week, the ward councillor has steadfastly stated he wants to play no part in looking at options for the future of four schools in old east-ish London. He'd rather heckle the committee and the board from the sidelines than come to the table with options and potential solutions.
The Maloney article tells us Alliance chairman Doug Reycraft also wants in on that meeting between the directors of education and city council so he can peddle the 'smart' moratorium. A request that's pretty much been discarded by anyone with the ability to actually act upon enforcing it.
This after the very same council (London) pretty much did, oh, absolutely nothing with the Alliance's sample resolution and request for membership. I was in the room when Oxford County (Alliance members: Norwich, South-West Oxford, Zorra townships) voted to invite Reycraft to speak to council about the alliance's request. That was back in the fall and nor he or other alliance people have yet accepted the invite.
In the article Reycraft states, "about 150" municipalities have joined the Alliance and/or supported its cause. Of course, no one knows who they are because a full list has yet to be posted on the alliance website. There are over 440 municipalities in this province and to have only 150 on board says enough in and of itself. I would bet coffee and a donut far more than 150 have been impacted by the first two rounds of school-closure committees that have already happened in the last three years. Sure, the room was packed at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference, but how big was the room?
I think it's time for the alliance to either step up, or step out and let those municipalities that are prepared to work with their local school boards to get some work done.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Heritage roadblock?

A very recent article posted by the Niagara Advance, showing yet another opportunity for Niagara-on-the-Lake council and the District School Board of Niagara to play well together. Or not, as it may be.
At issue is a potential heritage designation for Laura Secord Public School, which is to close with the construction of a new building within St. Davids. NOTL council has begun the process of designated the school as a heritage property at the request of those who would like to ensure its relevant heritage features are preserved. This has drawn concern from the school board because heritage designations can impede the potential of a sale given not every developer is willing to maintain the designated features or spending the money to do so.
Jim Armstrong, president of the Queenston Residents Association (QRA), said the property has a rich, important history and jeopardizing the future of the site would mean "running the risk of losing a historical asset that connects us to our past."
Without designation, the property could be transformed into any number of uses, including housing.
"In order for a developer to have success on that site they would have to build on that property, meaning they could come in and do whatever they want," said Armstrong.
"Our group has a vision on what could happen to that property, but it would have to be kept in the public domain."
Here's the biggest thing about designation. It's easy (well, not that easy) with a few strokes of a pen to designate something, but what's it really worth? If council is truly interested in acting on its residents' requests to preserve the building, the only way it can guarantee that outcome is to purchase the building itself. Other options would be some sort of loan program-- some municipalities do this, however its murky ground because councils cannot "bonus" a private-sector business. Designation without any further commitment doesn't actually do much to really preserve a property. There's no real teeth on the property owner to maintain the property after it's been designated, and if they appeal the designation and win, those who wish to preserve built heritage end up losing out completely.
Hopefully the other irritants between the school board and this council don't impede some productive discussions on this issue so the residents are able to preserve the heritage features they value and the board isn't forced to hold onto an unsellable property.

Time for Barrie to step up

This Barrie Examiner article was posted a couple of days ago, highlighting a series of Simcoe County District School Board votes to establish a school-closure review within the city. The vote to establish the review was preceded by an interesting one whose intent will hopefully produce some unique options for the next term of trustees to consider when they vote on the result of the review.
If an ARC is struck, it's pretty difficult to sell a business partnership plan if your side of the partnership is potentially slated for closure," (Janet Kinsey) said, after trustees made their decision.
(Janet's son) Ben was happy Wilson's motion passed.
"They listened to what we said. They're at least trying to attempt partnerships," he said, adding he wasn't surprised the motion to strike the ARC passed, with only Wilson opposing it.
Kinsey and other students aren't giving up, however.
"We are definitely open to doing more and are willing to keep going. We're not going to just go away," he said. "When the ARC comes to pass, we'll definitely be looking into things to do and becoming involved with the process."
The school board's number one priority in its 2008 budget was rebuilding the high school but funding from the Ministry of Education was not forthcoming.
"They let us down," Wilson said. "Last year, it was our vision to seek funding to rebuild Barrie Central. The ministry said, 'You need to look at your problem differently'. They are telling us where it is acceptable to build a new school."
When the first application to rebuild Barrie Central was made, there were partnerships that weren't investigated, she added.
She is fearful the newly struck ARC will not address potential partnerships quickly enough.
"At what stage of the ARC will it start talking about partnerships?" she asked, adding that with the ARC process, it could be eight or nine months before partnerships are explored. "We owe it to the community to open up discussions now."
Kinsey is 100% right.
Start the discussions NOW. Don't wait for the review committee's organizational meeting. School supporters' next stop should be at the next available Barrie city council meeting, where a possible message to council could be that the school needs council's participation and support on the review committee. Not a London-style "we want no part of this" response, or a "please stop the process" request a la Community Schools Alliance and Huron County.
The school's supporters need to have the intestinal fortitude to work on presenting options that don't have a 100% chance of being accepted when the day for a trustee vote comes along. If they can't find that sort of willing support among Barrie's political and business community, then the 'battle,' as it were, is already lost.
I will note, in closing, this was the same board that has postponed a decision on a five-school review in northwest Simcoe County because it felt it wouldn't be fair to burden the next term's trustees with the outcome. Given review time lines, this Barrie review won't conclude before December, but it's another huge decision for the new crop of trustees.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Meeting of the minds at AgendaCamp

I've been particularly lax at writing anything here this week for a combination of reasons. However, I did want to share the experience of TVOntario's AgendaCamp London with you. A continuing stream of thoughts from the day and onwards is available by scanning the tweets posted with the hashtag set aside for the day. As promised, I was able to tweet one session related to education (I was scribing at the other), where the stream-of-consciousness tweets are also searchable.

Above is a Flickr feed of the photos tagged from the day. Beware if you click any of these social-media links after Feb. 28, you'll be getting the AgendaCamp Brockville stuff in there as well.
The session I scribed on education was proposed by Karen Aranha, a Glencoe parent and school council member-- she produced the vacant pupil-place analysis shared with Middlesex County council and the Community Schools Alliance many months ago. The wiki page effectively reflects our discussion from that panel. After another round of sessions, the education theme (also pulled from this session) was merged with a social-services one where we were asked to answer the question: What do the changing needs of London's educational and social services tell us about mid-sized Ontario cities?

The eventual question posed for the hour-long live broadcast was more focused on upper ed, with an examination of how mid-sized Ontario cities like London attract youth to their colleges and universities and what they might do to hold onto them after graduation.
I was exposed to some very interesting perspectives during the day -- from someone who didn't think children should be using computers until after the age of six, to a librarian who told everyone who said they thought libraries created good hubs she loved them.
By the end of the afternoon session, the group had settled on a decentralized hub-and-spoke system of community hubs located in libraries and schools. We figured the schools would be a good fit -- notwithstanding the momentum of Best Start, Pascal and ministry PPMs -- since within urban or settlement areas, there's usually always a school within walking distance. The libraries would extend that approach beyond early childhood and families into older families and other demographics within the population that need the one-stop approach.
Will it happen? A number of folks in the afternoon session were movers and shakers (perhaps) on staff within the city or a school board (Upper Grand, not one of the London-based boards).
It would be neat to see this sort of World Cafe / ChangeCamp model used more often. For example, wouldn't it be neat to see it used in an accommodation review committee? Messy, perhaps, but I'm sure the participants would feel way more engaged than they do now.