Monday, December 19, 2011

Not pretending GSAs are panaceas

The introduction of Bill 13 by the government last month (along with the introduction of Bill 14 by PCPO education critic Elizabeth Witmer) has led to weeks of continuing discussion, angry opposition and name-calling by all those who have a stake in trying to reduce bullying in schools.
The contentious clause in Bill 13 reads:
303.1  Every board shall support pupils who want to establish and lead,
  (a)  activities or organizations that promote gender equity;
  (b)  activities or organizations that promote anti-racism;
   (c)  activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people with disabilities; or
  (d)  activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.
The 303.1(d) is the clause that people have either manned the gates to defend (often over-interpreting it to mean every school must support the creation of create gay-straight alliances) or storm the gates to destroy by making the same interpretation. Which of course, has led media coverage on this, some examples:
And all the big players chipped in as well. I was particularly impressed by the night-after-night coverage given by CBC Radio's As it Happens, which had the opposition on one night, Minister Laurel Broten on the next, a student who pushed for a GSA at her Catholic school and then the subsequent response from the president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association.
All the coverage that I've seen neglects to mention the related Policy and Program Memoranda 144 from 2009, upon which Bill 13 adds a legislative and regulatory framework.
So what can we determine from all this?
  • LGBTQ kids get bullied in school due to their differences from a perception of what 'normal' should be.
  • Lots of other kids get bullied in school regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, fashion sense, etc. for the same reasons.
  • Lots of bullying happens at school because that's where kids spend most of their day.
  • Schools reflect our culture in how well or poorly they've responded to bullying.
I've never believed that GSAs (or whatever the hell you end up calling them) are a panacea because they're not. They can be instrumental in helping build a culture within a school community that's more accepting of all students regardless of sexual or gender orientation, but we shouldn't be so naive as to believe that the mere presence of those three words to a club in a school fixes all bullying. It doesn't and it won't.
Does that mean they shouldn't be part of Bill 13?
The Liberal government has hit the right tone with Sec. 9 of this bill, which amends Sec. 303 of the Education Act. It allows students to decide what sorts of student groups they'd like to have in their own schools. It (deftly?) allows the innate conflict of funding a faith-based school system that is outright against promoting any sexual/gender behaviour that doesn't lead to procreation (and, of course, even then not until you're duly married) and the requirement to accept all students to continue. As I've written in the past, until we get a government that wants to tackle the Catholic board question, we should stop being surprised when Catholic schools behave in a manner consistent with the tenets of their faith.
My worry? In our preoccupation over whether or not some kid at a Catholic school can name their club a gay-straight alliance, we're taking our eye off the ball. We're becoming obsessed with three words that in and of themselves don't do that much to change our culture-- one built upon bullying in so many different layers. The people in that club, whatever it's actually called, are the ones that will act to change others' behaviour. That can happen regardless of the name of the club -- heck, it can happen regardless of whether there is a club to begin with.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday link dump

Hey, I'm off work for a few days. So, um, here's a link dump to celebrate all my open browser tabs!
Policy / procedure
  • The Globe and Mail on the People for Educaiton report on the reading data from Education Quality and Accountability Office testing; and,
  • The Waterloo Region Record on a silent protest by the Canadian Auto Workers in response to Waterloo Region DSB cuts.
Happy browsing. Some of the links touch on matters covered by other media as well, but I am posting the first coverage I saw of the issue above.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Babysit me!

With apologies to Arrested Development, who I stole that title from. It's a flippantly provocative choice, given what's been flying around and being thrown around in at least two areas of the province when it comes to the programs that wraparound the core portion of Ontario's full-day kindergarten program. I don't think FDK is babysitting, for the record.
One model, reported on by the Ottawa Citizen, shows school boards partnering with existing third-party childcare providers and children's agencies who're already present in schools offering before- and after-school programs.
Compare that to the battle underway in Waterloo Region, where the district school boards have decided they will operate all wraparound programs for full-day kindergarten. This is the model that was set when the province first released the details about FDK, as well as the one written into Bill 242. The subsequent regulations gave a multi-year reprieve, then Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a permanent extension of that reprieve around this time last year, providing everyone follows the provincially set FDK curriculum.
I received an interesting email from a lawyer in that region, parts of which are quoted here:
There is an 'uprising' of parents in this community that do not agree with the way in which this school Board is executing its plan for the extend day program. There is a petition of 408 parents calling for a change in their plan. The petition website is at There is currently a Notion of Motion served to the Board, which is signed by two Trustees. WRDSB requires the signatures of three in order to get the Motion on the table. Not a single trustee will come forward to put this Motion to debate and discuss why it is they think the parents of their community do not deserve consultation on this matter. They don't feel 408 parents, a countless number of children/students, and the stakeholder are worthy of that discussion. According to the Education Act, Section 218.1(e) they each have a duty to “uphold the implementation of any board resolution after it is passed by the board”. But, by their own admission this decision was a 'management decision' (, and there is no resolution in place concerning the use of the third-party operators. And in the absence of a resolution in this matter, their duties must be such as outlined in section 218.1(d) that is to “bring concerns of parents, students and supporters of the board to the attention of the board”. Currently, they are not fulfilling this duty which is a requirement under the laws of this province. And they clearly appear to have no attention to ever performing this duty on this matter. 
The Record's education reporter Luisa D'Amato wrote about the issue behind the petition recently.
I'm puzzled by the Waterloo Region stuff-- though the boards are exercising their right under Bill 242 to implement wraparound programs for kindergarten-aged students where the demand exists. The last two words there are key-- the boards are only forced to setup these programs, either themselves or in partnerships, if there is enough demand from the parents of kindergarten students to do so.
No demand, no requirement to put these wraparound programs in place.
The programs are also funded by the parents -- which can be a key issue for parents since board early childhood educators on union contracts make a higher wage than their counterparts working in the private non-profit sector. Yet, having third-parties on board moves away from the original FDK program design, that was supposed to be a seamless day from before-school, through school, to after-school programming with three adults-- a classroom teacher and two ECEs.
For boards that are willing (and able, considering contracts with their own employees) to allow non-board ECEs into the classroom, this could still be the scenario envisioned by the program's designers.
That said, allowing existing children's agencies to continue working with kindergarten students at a lower cost isn't going to render the program moot either. I've said since the first announcements of the program that the children's agency / childcare sector was going to have to adjust their revenue models since FDK was going to eliminate their best source of funding-- kindergarten students needing care during school hours when they weren't in class. Given the five-year phase in, that's plenty of time for adjustment-- although as the take up on FDK continues we can't expect every childcare program to continue at its current level. Part of me wonders whether the argument in Waterloo isn't partially underwritten by this. The concern in the sector is palpable-- see this St. Catharines article as an example.
Charles Pascal did say, on several occasions, that implementing FDK would be messy and that mistakes would be made throughout the rollout. Once these wraparound programs are in place, let's see how they change into their second and third years based on that line of thinking.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Browser tab roundup

All the latest in my browser tabs.
  • The Barrie Examiner on a new school-closure review for Catholic elementary schools in north Barrie;
  • The Kincardine News on the Bluewater DSB and the Gideons' distribution of Bibles;
  • The Sudbury Star on a Rainbow DSB decision to keep French immersion at a city school;
  • The Brantford Expositor on pending school-closure review(s) in the Brant-Haldimand-Nofolk Catholic DSB;
  • The Chatham Daily News on saving a French immersion program in Blenheim;
  • The Hanover Post on post-school review work within the Bluewater DSB to setup two K-12 schools;
  • The Fort Erie Times on a school-closure review underway in that area;
  • The Goderich Signal-Star on an Avon Maitland DSB response to a school-closure committee's request to keep one rural school open; and,
  • The North Bay Nugget runs a letter to the editor from a Near North DSB trustee speaking to the recent censure of another trustee by the board.
There are still a few more tabs open, but one is on full-day kindergarten wraparound programs in Ottawa -- to which I've also received an email from someone in Waterloo Region that deals with the same issues. The other is the recent early learning report, which really does deserve its own post and which I haven't finished reading.
Happy clicking and reading, for those who do.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Charts and more charts

The Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School folk forwarded me an interesting chart this week.
It didn't convert well to GoogleDocs, but I've posted the .xlsx document there anyway.
As the rallies continued before a board meeting Thursday, this document is being circulated.
If I've interpreted its aim correctly -- and I didn't ask for clarification -- the idea here is to shift the closure of a Peterborough school between the options available to the school-closure review committee and trustees as the latter chose an administrative recommendation to axe PCVS.
Shift which school closes and the numbers change.
Play with the number of students -- and from what the chart shows only one such survey has been conducted -- that might leave the Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB and go to the Catholic system (which from what I can tell has no comparable arts program) and the numbers on the rest of the chart change. Play with the numbers from the Catholic system that have chosen PCVS' arts program in the past and the numbers change.
Why? My guess is they're trying to show a belief that closing PCVS and moving the arts programming to another school equals a loss of students to the KPRDSB.
Interestingly, though it takes these from the board-provided stats, the number that never changes is the projected student populations.
As wary as some might be to depend on projections, they're usually quite solid for high schools. The students who will attend high school in five years already exist-- they're in Grade 3 or 4 right now. Heck, the students in Grade 1 today will be in high school starting in 2019. With some variables (such as population shift/migration) to take into account, these numbers won't dramatically change. Boards also know the average number of credits taken by a high school student (since these schools are funded on figure based on the provincial average number of credits taken by a high school student). They also know, after more than five years, the average rate of Grade 12 students who return for a fifth year of high school. For most Ontario boards that I've heard of, that figure is around a 30% to 35% return rate.
Looking at the chart, 2009-10 enrolment at five schools is 4,099 FTE. In 2014-15, it's predicted to be 3,238. That's 800 fewer FTE, which in many boards across the province is larger than the average high school's population.
That's a number that shouldn't be forgotten and that won't be growing enough to change the rationale for why the review was started in the first place.
Don't trust the board numbers? OK. Let's look at the most recent census stats available from 2006 (to be updated in March 2012 from the 2011 census). You used to be able to embed the chart, but it's here.
Accounting for the five-year difference, for our purposes we take the 10-14 age cohort as the 15-19 cohort today. In 2006, there were 4,490. Going five years down the age range, it drops to 3,650. Hitting the age group that will be in high school towards the end of the date range from the board figures, the number in 2006 was 3,345. That's a difference of 1,145 to split between all the city's high schools.
My point here is you can chart and chart and chart, but nothing changes the reality that there will be far fewer high school students in five-to-10 years than there are today. In addition to other factors such as facility condition, etc., this is what drives the entire process.
With the board appearing to be committed to the survival of the arts programs at PCVS, it does seem, again, like we're talking about buildings instead of programs and people.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It never happened unless it happens to me

My heartstrings are being pulled by the rallying that is currently building and taking place in Peterborough. I've long held a soft spot for this city on the Otonabee, where I lived for just over eight months a decade ago.
The city, particularly those interested in its downtown Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School, is in the midst of a post-vote, pull-out-all-the-stops campaign to try and get an unpopular decision to close PCVS reversed.
There are petitions afoot, to be presented Dec. 5 when a group from the community travels to Queen's Park.
In the meantime, the Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB carries on implementing the decision of its trustees, with the scheduling of the program for future years underway. With the ever-annoying-to-me practice of calling a review an appeal... which it's not, since it cannot reverse the decision of trustees. Only trustees could choose to do that if they wished.
Together, they show the hopes being placed behind a process that won't likely result in any reversal of the decision by a power outside the board of trustees. They also show how life goes on for the programs involved in this review while those who fight to save a building carry on their track.
This weekend, I received an email from the local committee. It's not really meant for me since I'm not reporting in the KPR district, but it's a message the communications section of the local group is sending out to media throughout the district. It was shared with me by someone who tripped across this space and has started reading past posts on accommodation reviews. I've posted it to GoogleDocs (edited to remove personal email address and names) and it's embedded below.

I find this approach interesting. I did reply, indicating that despite how nice it is to be recognized for my expertise, the save-PCVSers may not end up finding me to be their best ally. Working in the biz, I also doubted they'd get any new attention with this appeal, given the realities of chain ownership and what local papers outside of Peterborough would be focusing on for their coverage.
Despite the "we're all in this together" and "you could learn from what we're going through" sentiment, practice has shown time and again that no, you're not in it together and unfortunately, you're not learning from others' prior experience until you find yourselves in the hotseat.
Regular readers here will know what other communities across this province have been through in their valiant efforts to reverse a school board's decision. None has, to date, been successful.
Of interest, I did a cursory search of the KPRDSB website for previous accommodation reviews-- 'cause hey, if we're all in this together we should have been together all along, right?
In a few minutes I was able to find documents relating to a prohibitive-to-repair closure review dating back to 2007 for Castleton and South Cramahe schools, the launch of a review for Newtonville PS and the re-activation of a review for Young's Point PS. It leaves me to wonder whether anyone in Peterborough was paying attention when those reviews happened and was as concerned about those school closures.
Likely not.
I do wish it was different. Particularly as a reporter who's covered several rounds of school-closure reviews within the same larger community. Watching (usually metaphorically hitting my head against the wall) as the next community repeated all the same steps as the one before it, because it hadn't paid any attention to the preceding reviews since they didn't come home to roost in one's own backyard.
With declining enrolment slowing or edging towards rebounding enrolment and the ever-aging condition of schools built for baby boomers, the prospect of a school-closure review is an ever-present reality for much of this province. Municipalities need to recognize this too-- think about the fate of your existing schools as you choose to build greenfield neighbourhoods instead of infilling and intensifying existing ones. Don't wait until your school is struck to learn the basics of how this process should work or what other communities have already tried.

Getting social (with this guy)

With apologies to QMI's Gina Phillips (who has a daily "Getting social with Gina" bit in QMI papers) for the title of this post, this blog's social-media profile has changed in the past few weeks.
With Google+'s arrival earlier this year, I had initially created a profile for this blog using the Google account it was created under. Around the time that Google started telling me I had to be a real person and not a 'brand' to have a G+ account, the social-media site started allowing brand and business pages.
This blog now has such a page and if you're on Google+, you can add it to your circles.
In the world of Facebook, which in my opinion still has the better 'page' experience, I had moved to feeding my posts into my personal page, but as of recently also built a brand page around this blog.
Links to the Facebook page are to the left, and my single Twitter account will remain the source for the varied array of things I post there, including feeding this blog's posts to that stream.
Given I no longer cover this beat on a day-to-day basis for the newsroom I work in, these will help me continue building the profile of this site and the work I do here. The aim has not changed-- to be a great choice for news, analysis and opinion on K-12 education within this country with Ontario as its focus.

Voting with their feet

This is a question that's come to me a few times in recent weeks reading coverage of some ongoing school-closure reviews-- particularly the high school review being undertaken by the Grand Erie DSB for its secondary schools in Norfolk County.
Port Dover Composite is under the gun as the candidate for closure at this stage of the review. To put things into some perspective from afar, the GEDSB kept Delhi District open a few years back, voting to tear down a vacant wing and invest somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4 million on that project and some renos to the school. The school benefited when Norwich DHS, in the Thames Valley DSB, closed in 2009 and the largest group of students to be dispersed chose to start attending Delhi DSS.
The review was highlighted in my recent tab roundup, with reporting coming mainly from my colleagues at the Simcoe Reformer. The paper has posted a few more articles since I wrote that roundup-- one accusing the board of sabotaging PDCS, one on a meeting held at the school and one questioning whether the data being presented to the review committee is flawed. On the latter, the article is a bit confusing since it has the municipality acknowledging that most of the new housing has gone to older populations (who don't have school-aged kids). It seems as though the municipality's growth stats don't match the board's because it's comparing two different demographics.
From the first article:
They are also angry that the GEDSB pays for one-way busing of Port Dover students to Simcoe Composite School.
Because of this unique busing arrangement, 117 secondary students in the PDCS catchment area attend high school out of town. Were they forced to attend classes in their home town, the number of high-school students at PDCS would rise to 402, well within the board's goal of 75% capacity.
"There has been 25 years of the board surreptitiously putting nail after nail into this school," Marg Ryerse said to loud cheers in the packed gymnasium at PDCS. "As taxpayers in Port Dover we should be outraged. Port Doverites pay some of the heftiest taxes in Norfolk County. Port Dover is being shortchanged here. The board is literally driving our children away. Why is this being allowed to happen?"
GEDSB has PDCS under the microscope because there are 2,200 vacant pupil places at Norfolk's five public high schools.
This is a critique that has come up in this board and others before. Boards providing transportation from one area of the district to another that local advocates feel is overly detrimental to the local high school. I know that the GEDSB does this in Delhi, where if a student wants to access a senior-level course and is unable to (or doesn't want to wait until there's a critical mass at the school to have it offered), they are given busing to a school in Simcoe.
The critique is similar with PDCS, where students are taking advantage of the free busing.
This can be somewhat of a catch-22 for a school board. It has an obligation to serve all students through all pathways (open, workplace, college, university, academic, locally developed, etc.) regardless of what geographic area of the district their families choose as home. It has to do this within a finite amount of funding. Boards in southern Ontario can be very creative in their approaches, such as offering certain credits every other year, combining grades into one classroom, combining levels into one classroom, offering e-learning and even putting some tele/video conferencing solutions into place. At the end of the day, each of those solutions or all of them are not the solution for every student.
What can sometimes happen (and did in Norwich to some extent, according to data presented in 2004-05), is that the student body tends to sign up for the courses that are offered, regardless if that's the most appropriate course. In this example, the data showed more students taking academic and university level courses -- because that's what could be offered -- than necessarily students heading down that pathway post-grad.
Families tend to vote with their feet. If a course isn't being offered in their home school, or isn't being offered in the format they want or need and they can do so, they'll travel to get it. When you reach a critical mass of people travelling from point A to B, when do you start transporting the students in that direction? Never?
Even a 400-student school can be difficult to time table for every option.
Rather than condemning the board for this situation, I think a far more interesting question would be to ask (in this case) the almost 200 students who take advantage of the transportation why they've done so. The answers could be very, very instructional and illuminating to the committee and the school board.
It's a question that's never asked. Even a few years ago in the midst of Niagara District Secondary School stuff where census stats shows 700 high school-aged students in the catchment area and fewer than half choosing NDSS, no one asked why the other students voted with their feet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Random tab roundup

Browser-tab dump! In the following groups:
Capital / accommodation
Full-day kindergarten
Safety in schools
  • The Cornwall Standard Freeholder on the Upper Canada DSB keeping wifi networks in its schools;
  • The Sault Star on the Algoma DSB pondering surveillance cameras in some of its high schools;
  • The Peterborough Examiner on the Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB's wifi study and implementation in its schools; and,
  • The Welland Tribune forshadowing a recent visit by Broten to a local elementary school.
Fiscal / governance
  • The Belleville Intelligencer on 16 layoff notices that didn't turn into callbacks;
  • The North Bay Nugget on the suspension of a trustee in the Near North DSB;
  • The Hamilton Spectator on a breach-of-conduct investigation at the Hamilton Wentworth DSB; and,
  • The Timmins Daily Press on local schools' review of new fundraising policies (a little muddled in confusing fundraising with a convicted thief who stole from athletics programs).
It feels like I just cleaned house. Will do better with this sort of aggregation in the weeks ahead, promise.

Let's move from awareness to change

Welcome to the second day of bullying awareness week.
From statements from ministers to pledge drives, to twitter hastags we keep talking about bullying-- a term that is so overused it's lost some meaning as what it truly is: harassment.
With schools often leading the way, boy have we taken on bullying. Well, awareness of this form of harassment. I think every kid in any of our school systems has most certainly heard what this behaviour is, even if they weren't listening or understanding it.
But, as Moira MacDonald asked this past weekend, the evidence on the impact of these many awareness programs and activities is scant.
While revisions to the Education and Safe Schools acts now require board in Ontario to conduct periodic scans of their student body to look at where students feel safe and don't, I'm only aware of one board that took it to the extent the Thames Valley DSB did back in 2004-05, after the death of 14-year-old Strathroy student Joshua Melo.
That board surveyed every high school student in its (then) 30 high schools, some 17,000 or so kids, asking them where they feel safe, where they don't. It identified a definition and then asked several questions on how teens responded to this behaviour.
Overall (and going from memory) the responses could be troubling. In this first survey, the responses showed one in 10 students didn't feel safe at school. Social and peer acceptance along with a fear of recrimination were the leading answers for why students didn't report being bullied or witnessing it.
Remarkably, the board also surveyed every one of its Grade 4-8 students the following year. Then, it surveyed everyone in all age groups again-- spotting some slight improvements in the responses received. Some of the programs put into place were credited with helping, most notably the TRIBES program which is now widely used across Ontario.
Now some will continue to be critical of this board and others because students are still being harassed and the overall culture within some schools and communities hasn't moved. Rightly so in those cases where an appropriate, reasoned response isn't being put in place by the school and supported by the larger community around it.
As mentioned earlier in this space, changing this behaviour of harassment is going to require more than words and pledges, as well-intentioned as they may be. It means accepting that this behaviour is prevalent across our entire society. That it's woven into our fabric, particularly in sports, political and business worlds.
Is this the generation we're raising that will guide its children away from these attitudes and behaviours? It'll take 30 years to know.
So take your pledges (I did), learn your lingo, wear your ribbons (where available) and tsk tsk in shame every time you hear of bullying. Then ask yourself whether you're actually prepared to do more. Ask whether you'd be willing to accept a consequence
Look around you for this harassment in your circles-- I guarantee you'll find it. Would you do something to change it? Would you be accountable for your own actions and behaviours if you were the harasser?
Until more of our answers start changing on those questions, I fear all the awareness in the world won't effect the change we all say is needed.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Latest capital roundup

When I'm not as attentive to this space, the open tabs on my browser for items to mention here start to pile up.
Here's a roundup of what's been crossing my desk in the past two or three weeks.
I haven't included a number of other tabs relating to a few school-closure reviews, some more on the wi-fi in schools debate, some trustees getting slapped on the wrist and the continuing PCVS coverage from Peterborough. More on those in a day or two.
Kudos to these folks for the coverage. The sexy article is the one with the crying students and parents when a decision is made to close a school. These help explain that night is not the end of the story.

Look ma, I made the radio!

It was a distinct honour to be interviewed by Barry Hennessey last week for Inside Education, a regular program broadcast on 102.3 Dublin City FM.
Hennessey scoped me out via this blog and we spoke about the 2009 PISA results.
The Irish and their recent coalition government are zeroing in on PISA results there, after a decline and some soul-searching on why that's happened and what could be done to correct it.
I hope I sound intelligent in the interview-- it was difficult to speak nationally about results in Canada given our provincial education systems, so often I did lean on my particular expertise regarding the Ontario system. We spoke about the EQAO tests, the OSSLT, the culture that might be contributing to the Canadian results.
It also allowed an opportunity to exchange information and learn a few things about what education topics are being discussed in Ireland.
Hennessey was quite surprised that we don't have many if any national education reporters here-- he contacted Katie Hammer at the Globe but she's off on a leave. So to fill in for that designation was quite a distinction.
The specific piece is here, and my interview is about 2:00 in, right after the introductions to that week's episode. It was quite a Canadian show-- the item after my interview is on interactive whiteboards and the leaders in that tech are SMART, a company with continental roots but firmly a part of Western Canada.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Always plenty of fault to spread around

I've been mulling what the appropriate post could be on the death of 15-year-old Ottawa teen Jamie Hubley and the reaction to this tragic event across various media.
It's been inspiring to read things like the op-ed piece by Ottawa Citizen education reporter Matthew Pearson — who I had no idea was from Woodstock. He sent the piece to the Sentinel-Review on the weekend and it ran as the line item on Oct. 24. The Citizen later ran it as part of an op-ed package.
Then the online world has simply been buzzing since Tuesday's airing of the Rick Mercer Report, where Mercer (who is gay but has never been, quite appropriately, "the gay comedian") ranted about Hubley's suicide. He flushed out his thoughts on Thursday morning's The Current on CBC Radio, where the podcast of that segment is sure to be linked from the show's website. It was posted Thursday afternoon.
That a person — of any age, sexual orientation, gender identity or ethnic background — would choose to take their own life because of harassment, intimidation and sheer feelings of insurmountable loneliness and an inability to survive it all is wrong. Period.
Things that irk me however, are the predictable rushes to assign fault to the school and/or school board. Schools have, in my opinion, been quite responsive to these issues— the quantity and quality of programs, clubs and initiatives have vastly improved since I was a middle- and high-school student in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Let's talk about our culture though.
Despite how tolerant we all say we are, our continuing actions and inaction speak louder than our words, ribbons, clicks and pledges. While many out there have made Gay-Straight Alliances the hill upon which tolerance won't die on, I'd like to see the hard statistics on whether reported harassment at those schools has changed.
High school culture is, if you're not popular, is a horrible phase of life. It just plain sucks. Personally, until I hit Grade 11/12/OAC and stopped caring about what others said and thought, these years weren't good ones for me either. Homophobia was rampant (as it remains today) and even if you were straight but not as masculine in your stance, the jump to the world of being called every homophobic slur under the sun was quick, short and brutalizing.
Ironically, I always found the taunts tended to be harsher and more frequent from those who in hindsight came from well-educated, middle-class families.
The homophonic undertones of our teen and youth culture haven't changed. Being openly LGBTQQ is such an obvious difference from "normal" that it puts a target on your back. It bleeds through our popular culture, the culture of our athletics and youth culture.
Since youth spend a majority of their day in school, it's only natural to expect it's through schools that much of this harassment will take place. Those schools who can't change the culture in their student and staff bodies will continue to struggle with ending harassment and holding the perpetrators accountable.
Schools are no different than the rest of our society on this mark though. We need to understand that it happens in our schools because it's embedded in our culture. Harassment is a learned behaviour. While some of it may be learned in a school setting, a lot of behaviours aren't.
Something to think about the next time a tragedy strikes a harassed youth and everyone rushes to blame the schools for not doing enough.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Could Peterborough break the mold?

Doubtful. Very doubtful on this one, despite a strong connection to the City of Peterborough and its collegiate and vocational institute.
For those who haven't met it, PCVS is the city's historic high school Built turn of the century ish, like many other schools across Ontario that have the CVS or CI to their names. In the heart of the city, surrounded by heritage buildings of a similar ilk. Home to a Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB specialty arts program that accepts students from the PCVS attendance area and from across the district after an entrance exam/evaluation of sorts. There is (or was) a school like PCVS in every city and larger town like Peterborough in this province.
Through my former camping career, I've had the honour of getting to know a few Peterborough families, most of whose children either attended or currently attend PCVS.
The school -- along with three others in the city -- was involved in a closure review. The numerical reality of life is that there aren't enough school aged students in Peterborough to support full programming, etc., at four schools. While the early bets, and committee report, suggested another school would close when it came time for trustees to vote they voted to close PCVS.
So the campaign -- not really in high gear during the accommodation review because, c'mon, who would close PCVS, after all -- has begun.
These clips are from the Examiner, although I'm sure Peterborough This Week's coverage has been similar.
First, allow me my usual bristling at the continued misuse of terminology. It's not an appeal. It's a petition to review the process that was used (under which the decision of the school board cannot be reversed). Appeal implies the possibility of a change in the result and the ministry's petitioning process doesn't allow for that.
In that sense, Coun. Riel was absolutely correct in earlier coverage linked above when he says it's all hot air for council to support or not support the petition since it won't change the result. I was also intrigued by his comments to council on what students are saying about the PCVS decision on social media.
Interesting also as he was the councillor on the accommodation review committee that looked at the four high schools and recommended (under a shotgun process he called flawed) closing one high school but not making any recommendation to trustees on which one should close. I have no doubts in my skeptical mind that if the board had chosen to close the high school in his ward instead of PCVS that Riel would be one of the ones leading the parade.
Anyway, regardless of all that.
Anyone drawn to this post involved in the PCVS campaign, please hit accommodation reviews in the labels box on the left and spend some time reading coverage of other reviews, other petitions to the ministry. Not one petition to the minister (or even judicial review) to review the process used for a school closure under the province's pupil accommodation review guidelines has resulted in overturning a school board's original decision. Not one.
Spend some time in particular looking at what happened in Niagara-on-the-Lake and that town's futile efforts after a District School Board of Niagara decision to close Niagara District Secondary School.
Peterborough is now treading down a road that many, many other communities have already tread. I know, maybe you weren't really paying attention at the time because it wasn't in your backyard yet. Well, now it's been in your backyard and there might be an opportunity to realize what lies ahead.
I don't think anything the save PCVS crew does will change this decision of the school board. Despite there being a new minister, etc. etc., the process won't change for the time being.
As I mentioned in an earlier comment on the last post, I would urge some contemplation of where energies are best allocated (somewhat tying into what Riel had to say). The programs and people are what makes a school like PCVS tick. What gives it is substance. The bricks and mortar can add character, but without the people and programs they don't do it alone.
So what are you going to fight to the end of days for? To keep the programs alive, healthy, sustainable and fully funded and enrolled? Or to save the building?
You can yell and scream that the process is flawed, but it's the process that exists and it can, rarely, net recommendations that school boards can support in their entirety. Just imagine, under a different government, under previous guidelines, whether the decision would have been as consultative and whether the end result would have been the same.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ontario's next education minister is...

... a question that surely has been circulating through people's minds since the results came in on Oct. 6 showing Leona Dombrowsky had been defeated in her Belleville-area riding.
I was somewhat shocked, to say the truth. Not being as connected as people in the region, I wasn't anticipating that her seat was under threat. Coverage from the night shows it might have come as a surprise to her as well, though fingers also pointed at the HST and the ongoing debate over wind energy developments. While no one's thumping their chest on the first, at least one group is on the second.
Regardless of all that, the question now becomes who will Ontario's next education minister be?
Looking at who was re-elected, an easy choice is Dombrowsky's predecessor, Kathleen Wynne. Wynne, despite the shuffle / lateral move / demotion to Transport a few years ago, has been Dalton McGuinty's longest-serving education minister and was in that ministry when she defeated then OPC leader John Tory in 2007.
Wynne may not have been shepherding the implementation of full-day kindergarten (and let's face it, the premier was the public face of that program), but she shepherded Bil 177 and the first few tests of the province's school-closure guidelines. She was the minister when the current and soon-to-expire collective agreements were negotiated.
If McGuinty chooses to leave Wynne at Transport or move her into another portfolio whose minister was shown the door Oct. 6, who's left that's a known quantity on the Liberal bench that has the chops to handle the education portfolio?
Looking at former parliamentary assistants to the ministry is one way to go.
The most recent was Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, who was in the PA slot until the writ was dropped. His social-media outreach is incredible and he appears to be very well liked by his constituents. He's a lawyer by trade though and the preference of late has been to either put reformers in the slot or people with political experience in school boards.
Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale's Ted McMeekin was an education PA earlier in the McGuinty government, and he's been in cabinet since 2007. If memory serves he was PA when former minister Gerard Kennedy pushed through the first omnibus bill in the government's first term of office. He may have also had the role during Sandra Pupatello's brief tenure in the ministry.
Guelph MPP Liz Sandals was the longest-serving PA for education since 2003. In addition to that honour, she chaired a number of strategic legislative projects around safe schools and the initial shepherding of FDK legislation. Sandals is a past public board trustee and past-president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association.
Looking around the rest of the caucus, some others' names have popped up. In my work riding (Brant) reelected MPP Dave Levac is a former teacher and I did see a mention or two of his name and education within social-media feeds. That position would surprise me for Levac, who isn't (publicly anyway) egging for a cabinet position of any kind.
I don't know enough about the background of the rest of the field elected or reelected Oct. 6 to confidently predict whether any would be in contention as strong candidates for education minister.
The next minister will have to work to complete implementation of FDK, negotiate a new round of collective agreements for every school employee group and take boards through what will no doubt be interesting times of trying to muddle through times when the education budget will be under severe pressure to match the enrolments that will for the most part continue to drop throughout this next term of government.
For my vote (and a coffee, whatever it's worth to you as a reader), I say Sandals gets the nod, with my backup choice being Wynne. For all the complications of cabinet-making, the minister will likely be a woman and this may be a post that helps the government if it's not given to a Toronto-area MPP.
Place your friendly wagers in the comments section. I promise I won't email you to collect on any coffee.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

On hiatus

Not that I've been terribly wordy on here lately, but the blog is going on hiatus until Oct. 6 as I travel to do some more volunteer work.
I did promise to do a platform-by-platform comparison, which I haven't done for here but I did do as part of our campaign coverage for the Expositor if you want to take a peek at it there.
I'll return with some thoughts on election day and thereafter.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Quick thought on GoogleAds

As longtime readers here would know, there's a GoogleAds sidebar on the right-hand side of this blog (scroll down a ways if this is currently the top post).
As those who know GoogleAds would know, the ad(s) displayed are generated by an algorithm based on the content that appears in this blog. During the election campaign in Ontario, the content of this blog may result in political ads being displayed in the GoogleAd space (I kept getting a PC Party one tonight).
Just like in a newspaper or broadcast, the appearance of these ads is in no way in and of itself an endorsement of any one particular political party or viewpoint. Should I choose to use this space to express my personal views during the Ontario election campaign (or at any other time), it will be stated from this space, not the one generated by the GoogleAds algorithm.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Clearing up my open browser tabs

Time is fleeting, but did want to share some of the non-election campaign ed-related stuff that I've clicked on and read over the past several weeks until this morning.
At some point this week (likely in and around the writ drop on Wednesday), I'll take a look at the parties' education platforms released to date and do some linkage and analysis. In the meantime, happy reading for those that click through on the links above.

Rose and thorn for CBC's teachers

Four days of the National last week included mini-docs on four teachers as part of a back-to-school package put on by the CBC. Called "The Real Lives of Canadian Teachers," the CBC has posted its four parts online through The National's website.
First a rose. Sending out producers and crews to follow these four teachers earlier this year deserves some applause. As someone who routinely strives to see more K-12 coverage across all media outside of the usual back-to-school coverage, this was an investment of resources by the CBC that should be complimented.
In a 55-minutes-minus-commercials newscast, each piece grabbed a good 15-20 minutes of air time. Also rare and also to be commended.
Now the thorny bits, though context helps understand them.
This title is above all misleading. This was "The Real Lives of GTA High School Teachers." Given its resources, it's unlikely crews could have been dispatched to other classrooms outside of the GTA or Ontario. But it would have been great to show individuals in other provinces.
It also only showed high school teachers. Which neglects a whole segment of teachers who face their own challenges and rewarding moments but teach K-8. Could access have been an issue, given the younger ages of the students? Maybe, but not an insurmountable one.
Overall I'd still put this series in my recommended viewing pile.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Double time in the instruction line

I took to twitter Wednesday morning as soon as I started reading tweets about the Ontario Liberal Party's announcement that if reelected it would extend teacher-training programs from the current minimum of one academic year (eight months in reality) to two. Here's the OLP release.
A lot of newsrooms got into this today-- here's The Star (which did two), The Globe and Mail, the CBC (which did a radio thing on the Toronto / southern Ontario drive-home show but has no podcast), CTV and even some of my colleagues within Sun Media / QMI Agency.
First and above all else, I like this plan. Eight months -- and it's not because you factor in holidays and it's less than eight months -- and 40 practicum days is too short. I've seen it in the experiences of new teachers and I've heard it, anecdotally, from many B.Ed. grads that aside the practicums there's little for many to learn in teachers' college that they didn't already have a foundation in before starting.
The Libs are correct in stating this province has one of the shortest degree-to-teachers'-college-to-job-market turnarounds. Looking at those countries we aim to match in the skills our students can display, teacher training isn't over and done with in eight months. Over the last three generations this has evolved from the point where becoming a teacher meant graduating high school and attending a few years of normal school to now needing an undergraduate degree before starting your teacher training.
Other nations require master's degrees and then a multi-year or multi-stage teacher education program.
The very proof of the relative inadequacy of initial teacher education in Ontario is a program this very government created when it killed off teacher testing: the New Teacher Induction Program. Every new teacher since the middle of the last decade must complete this mentoring / observation / evaluation program within the first two years on the job. Their certificates with the Ontario College of Teachers aren't given full status until the NTIP has been completed.
These are the reasons why this program should be extended an additional year regardless of who wins the election on Oct. 6.
One of the reasons mentioned by Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities John Milloy Wednesday is tricky. He cited how a two-year program would cut the number of graduates in half. Um, OK.Implied but not specifically stated in this is that instead of throwing 9,000 through per year, they'd throw half that number through and still only have 9,000 in total registered. It does little to address the four-plus years that universities and the college of teachers have been pumping out 9,000 grads a year into a highly oversaturated market-- but I do keep forgetting all those teacher-education grads are supposed to travel the world and feed teacher shortages in the places few Ontario teachers' college grads actually want to teach.
Some were also griping about the added cost of an additional year of teachers' college. Though I wholeheartedly agree the last reason anyone should get into teaching is money, this is a well-compensated profession in Ontario. If you can get full-time permanent work, you're set for life financially as long as you don't do silly things with your money.
Implementation is where this idea starts to get mired in the details. Aside from concurrent B.Ed programs, I'm only aware of a single two-year initial teacher education program in the province, which is the Masters of Teaching program I had the opportunity to shadow in Toronto. Universities will have a lot to say about whether they would accept a mandated two-year program for all.
The Ontario College of Teachers, which for all intents and purposes is the regulatory approval agency for teacher education in this province, would also need to approve -- or be told/regulated to approve.
These are not insurmountable odds and all parties should be signing on to this idea.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hudak's FDK change of mind

Though I have a number of tabs open to blog about on the desktop, I'm hunkered down avoiding highway driving in torrential rain as this came across Twitter tonight. The Star's Queen's Park columnist Martin Regg Cohn posted this Wednesday evening with the details on Tim Hudak's change of heart on full-day kindergarten.
But Hudak had reflexively opposed full-day K when Premier Dalton McGuinty acted on the recommendation of his early-learning adviser, Charles Pascal.
“When your credit card is maxed out, when you have no money in your bank account, Ontario families don’t go out and buy a shiny new car,” Hudak said last year. Full-day K “is just not affordable at this point in time.”
He refused to commit to any future rollout. It wasn’t just a matter of money — $1.4 billion a year by 2014 — but ideology and politics. Instead, Hudak held out a classic Tory alternative: putting cash in parents’ hands.
A PC survey asked voters about scrapping full-day K to “provide parents with direct financial support to allow them to choose the child-care option that works best for them.”
The answer came back that Ontarians actually liked full-day K. That’s also what MPPs were hearing from parents and school trustees in their ridings. With growing pushback from caucus, Hudak gave Witmer a hearing — but still didn’t heed his education critic.
That changed when the party did its own intensive polling. Witmer, who wears her social conscience on her sleeve, acknowledged privately to her education contacts that Tory focus groups showed overwhelming support.
This comes as no surprise to me.
Meeting with Dr. Charles Pascal during my foray at Massey College, he was steadfast to what he's said about full-day kindergarten since day one. It's a program parents love and want. No party would dare touch it in the upcoming election— and this was mere weeks after Hudak came out with his quip on the first day of school saying the government was implementing a "Cadillac" version of the program.
Cohn gives Hudak a "middling mark" on FDK. Interestingly though, it perhaps shows why Witmer came to Brant a few weeks ago to peddle the hydro message and didn't say a word about education.
Sadly for people like me, it also means the pending election will be bereft of any K-12 education debate.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Treading softly into the writ drop

It was an interesting week watching and reading coverage from the proceedings at the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario's annual meeting. I did so mostly through Twitter along with the various media outlets' coverage of the different speakers throughout the week.
As usual, I was left in awe by Moira MacDonald's insightful analysis in a few columns throughout the week from the floor of the conference. The first spoke of how the union is treading softly, "talking softly," MacDonald said, heading into the pending provincial election.
There was no fist-pounding or pumping. Maybe gambling one too many times with the government — and losing — especially in its 2008 contract talks, has sobered the union up or taught it to be poker-faced.
At that time, combative previous president David Clegg (note, he’s not president anymore) headed a confusing campaign called “Close the Gap.”
It tried to put elementary teachers’ work conditions on par with high school teachers’, even though they’re two different jobs.
Great salary improvements, despite the 2008 global financial meltdown, were offered by the government, along with other perks.
But the union blew multiple government deadlines to achieve its demands and ended up with a 10.4% raise, not the 12.55% all other teachers got over the contract’s four years.
Instead of closing the gap, ETFO opened a new one between its members and others doing the same job.
Later in the week, she wrote about the awkwardness of Premier Dalton McGuinty's address to the union-- itself quite interesting. Other media outlets (here's the CBC's as an example) focused more on the messages in McGuinty's speech that fearmongered support for other parties. As far back as I can remember, the ETFO annual meeting has played host to education ministers and leaders of opposition parties, but this week was the first time McGuinty addressed the delegates and I can't remember Ernie Eves, Mike Harris or Bob Rae having done so.
There was nothing earth-shattering in McGuinty's address, as he tried to cozy up to the federation while indicating strong support for continuing the Education Quality and Accountability Office testing the union so abhors, as well as investments in full-day kindergarten.
Ontario PC Party leader Tim Hudak wasn't invited to address the convention, but did send out an open letter to Ontario's teachers on the last day. I have that letter on my work laptop and will upload and link it here soon.
Add to the mix my own conversation with re-appointed First VP Susan Swackhammer (a Brantford resident) and it'll be interesting to see the road ahead. Rather than reaching the usual volume of rhetoric coming out of the convention, the federation is lying low. No doubt it will invest its dollars in ads and such during the pending campaign, but there's no bold statement on what it wants from government.
If the federation is getting better at its political strategies, it would lie low during this campaign-- should there be a change in government, and it won't be to the NDP the delegates swooned over on the same morning McGuinty spoke, it's best to save energy for the battles that may lie ahead. Those with longer memories will remember that the teachers' federations abandonment of the Ontario NDP in 1995 because of their opposition to the so-called social contract bit back in a huge way.
Members understandably want their wage parity back. They should carefully consider how to achieve that given it's very tough to argue for it in this economic and political climate regardless of what party's leader is sworn in as premier after Oct. 6. Had a different government been in power these last seven years, it's quite easy to conclude ETFO would be a smaller union than it is today thanks to continued declining enrolment. It's not and in fact has sustained if not grown its membership.
Hopefully they've pondered that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A missed opportunity, maybe because you've got nothing to add

Got an advisory at work Monday regarding Ontario PC Party Kitchener-Waterloo MPP Elizabeth Witmer's drive-through appearance in Brantford on Tuesday morning. As I type this post Witmer's appearance is about 10 minutes away from starting, but she's the latest in a line of PC MPPs to drive through the riding of Brant in support of candidate Mike St. Amant, who's facing incumbent Liberal Dave Levac. I had the joy of covering Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod's drive-through visit last week.
I'll post our article once it's up on the web, post visit.
Here's what confused me: All the branding in the advisory suggested Witmer was coming to town to talk about hydro and energy rates.
Yeah. The Ontario PC Party sends the last education minister of its last government -- who also happens to be its current education critic -- to a riding to talk hydro rates.
Why not send Witmer into Brant to hammer away at the Liberal government's record on education? Is it because you've got nothing up your sleeve or in your pockets that could make any kind of impact on the education file? Of all the current MPPs I can't think of anyone who would be more experienced or qualified to chase the Liberals on education than Elizabeth Witmer.
She was the first person in government to start acting on the Rozanski report almost a decade ago, the first to realize the 1998 funding formula needed its tweaks to address some longstanding issues. I could go on.
I would think her talents are wasted in coming to Brantford to talk hydro. So have the PCs just given up campaigning on any education-related matters?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Anyone else doing the math?

This came to mind this week as I covered a pre-campaign event in Brantford, centred on energy bills. I was chatting with a staffer in the local PC candidate's campaign office and was mentioning how a former candidate for the Ontario Liberal Party nomination in my former coverage area (Oxford), a trustee, very quickly mentioned the government's investment in schools in the riding.
A colleague at the Sentinel-Review had asked this very question earlier this year and was working on an article (that I do hope she publishes at some point) in regards to what the dollar value of capital (not including Good Places to Learn and school-renewal funds) investment in schools is within the riding.
Given some institutional memory, I was able to rhyme off some very quick numbers to reach a number between $85 and $90 million between the three local school boards.
I wasn't that far off-- the number is approximately $92 million invested since 2001.
In a nutshell, that includes a new K-12 French school opening in September, a new K-8 school on a greenfield site, a new K-8 consolidated school and significant expansions to 12 other elementary and two high schools. With one exception, these projects were all since moving away from the old pupil-places capital funding program under the PC government from 1998-2004 to the various capital funding schemes that have existed since under the Liberals.
As an example, the town where I reside (Ingersoll), as of the completion of construction later this year, will have no K-8 school whose facilities haven't been significantly rebuilt or built since 2003. There's some $20 million to $26 million of school construction and renewal in this village alone since 2002-03.
In the riding overall, that's not a bad record to be running on given the last new school to be built in the riding prior to the current government opened in 1996. A big part of this is how aggressively the Thames Valley DSB moved to go through school-closure committees (the board has completed its third round of these, ahead of any other board in the province that I'm aware of) and work with the province to secure capital funding so that every student displaced by a school closure was moving to a school that was in better condition and a better physical learning environment than the one they left.
Before you start typing the "but" comments, I am very aware this came at a cost.
The new schools and expansions happened after the closure of nine schools since 2005. Communities that had a school in some cases no longer do-- one township (South-West Oxford), had a K-3 and K-8 school in its northern stretch and as of this fall will have none in the entire township. In a locally very controversial move, a 9-12 high school with between 200-250 students at the time was closed in the Village of Norwich. The impacts of those decisions can't even be measured yet, but will start to become visible over the next few years.
The point here is who's out there doing this math? Off the top of my head and without doing some digging, I wouldn't be able to state what the number is in the riding where I now work (Brant). I wonder how many other reporters out there would ask the same questions, regardless of who currently holds the riding.
These numbers might be interested to know and would add another education discussion to the election conversation that, as far as education goes, is looking like it will be all about implementing full-day kindergarten.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Biting off one's nose to save one's faith?

There was a delicious development in the Catholic schools vs. equity and inclusiveness policy saga Monday, as Coptic Christian families with children enrolled in Toronto Catholic DSB schools threatened to pull their kids from schools. Here's the Star's article.
But (Fr. Jeremiah) Attaalla said the Coptic Church is vehemently opposed to any education about homosexuality. Attaalla wrote a letter on behalf of four Coptic churches in the city to the Toronto Catholic school board demanding that the teachings remain true to Catholicism.
“Our members do not want gay-straight alliance groups in our Catholic schools,” Attaalla said. “We will pull our children from the Catholic schools if they go ahead with it.”
The Church said it has 4,000 families with children currently attending Toronto Catholic schools. The board purportedly receives $8,000 to $10,000 in public money for each student, which means this could cost the board up to $40 million. 
So the elements that are delicious?
Well, first it adds an interesting element for Catholic trustees who might be swayed by the threat into taking a stand on the provincial policy and developing board policy that isn't consistent with what's coming from the ministry. If they care about the loss of students, then they might be willing to fight to keep these students and bend to the Coptic church's wishes.
For the families in question I'm left wondering how serious a threat they're willing to act upon. Sure, 4,000 kids is enough to setup a few private schools. Families may be willing to pay and the church may be willing to fundraise to run these schools, which would be faith-based private schools.
The article correctly and rightly points out that public schools wouldn't be an option for these families opposed to the policy, as they've already enacted it. The interesting part is that unless the families leave the province or stop paying taxes altogether, they'll still financially be supporting the policy they abhor.
The money the families already pay to support the publicly funded school system would still be recovered by the province through taxation and just end up supporting the very system that's adopting the very equity and inclusiveness policy they don't like-- meaning regardless of where they educate their children, they're still supporting a publicly funded system even if the TCDSB isn't getting the per-pupil funding for their kids.
Pulling their kids is perhaps more damaging to the public funding of the Catholic education system in the long run. If the publicly funded system doesn't meet their needs, then why fund a faith-based publicly funded system to begin with? Have a singular secular system and those families that believe a faith-based instruction is essential for their children can do so within the private-school system.
So while the families might think their threat pushes the province towards dropping the requirement that Catholic boards enforce the policy, it only adds fuel to the fire of those who might wish to eliminate those boards altogether.
The final kick? The call isn't supported by the Canadian Egyptian Congress.

Second thoughts in Peterborough

This hit the desk today from the Peterborough Examiner, regarding a recent high school school-closure review in the city. One of the participants in the committee, the city's appointed representative, is now stating the process was confusing and that committee members felt forced into making a decision to close a school.
Beside the obvious error in logic (yet another report where the writer explains the committee's role as making the decision when it's not), I'm left wondering whether Coun. Keith Riel would have said the same thing had the current recommendation on the floor for Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB trustees been to close a school other than Thomas A. Stewart Secondary School.
"This view is one shared by hundreds of people with whom I have spoken over the past few weeks," the letter (written by Riel) states. "In my view, there has been insufficient attention paid to the many alternatives available to the board to reorganize its services in a way that will maintain all four schools as valuable educational resources for current and future generations."
NOTE: Coun. Keith Riel is also a member of Put Students First — a new group, made up mostly of TASSS supporters — that has prepared its own plan of how to keep TASSS open by creating new and enhanced arts, science and technology programming. The group won't reveal details of the plan until presenting them to trustees Aug. 25. Riel said he's in the group as a private citizen. 
I would have bumped up this note at the end of the article a little higher. Mostly because Riel, as an elected city councillor, no longer really participates in anything within the city as a 'private citizen.' He doesn't stop being a member of city council when he does Put Students First business.
Despite how the article makes it seem that municipal involvement in this process is an unusual thing, there are good examples across the province where school boards and municipalities do get along (or at least when they find it of benefit). So is Peterborough going to go the London route, where they just crap on everything the school board does because they don't like the options? Or will the city choose to bring viable options to the table that trustees can actually act on in good conscience?
Declining enrolment is a reality city council needs to deal with, just as the KPRDSB does. Status quo is not an option and care needs to be taken with specialty programming-- while it might lead to enrolment increases in a few schools, the pool of students to draw from is fixed and as time passes, decreasing.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

More misunderstandings

It's always interesting to read how different accommodation review processes are interpreted across the province. The latest example comes from the Orillia Packet & Times where the local trustee is adamant a review in the area conducted by the Simcoe County DSB should not go forward as planned.
Peter Beacock, representing Oro-Medonte and Springwater townships with the Simcoe County District School Board, will give notice at the August board meeting that he intends to ask that the accommodation review for Moonstone Elementary School, scheduled to take place this fall, be abandoned.
Beacock joins Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop and a group of concerned parents calling on the board to leave the little school alone.
"Hold the train for a bit," Beacock said Thursday. "Get the (capital priorities) list dwindled down some and then have a look at it."
Board staff previously recommended the school be closed. As a result, the board plans to strike an accommodation review committee (ARC) to look at the school's value to the community, businesses and school board, and consider all options.
Right away this gets confusing for the reader because it gives the impression the review has already begun. Well, it hasn't according to the list of active reviews on the SCDSB site. So announcing that you're going to bring something to a stop that hasn't started yet is a bit redundant-- the same as Beacock's eventual notice of motion and motion. Most boards don't vote on negatives, meaning they vote to do things, they shouldn't really be asked to vote to "not do" something.
Beacock wins the political game (maybe) by coming out and announcing this plan now. Even if he loses the procedural logic and any eventual vote, he can play the hero to his constituents. Despite having an elementary school under 200 FTE, likely of a certain vintage, with other accommodation options nearby (well, maybe not in southern Ontario terms) whose population is dropping by a classful of students every two years.
Really, one could ask if the effort would be better placed in lobbying his fellow trustees to defeat the recommendation, should it come forward in the fall as expected, to strike the review for Moonstone.
The reporter also missed a step in the last sentence of what I quoted above-- should have noted the committee makes recommendations. That goes back to my consistent pleas with fellow reporters to adequately explain the process that a review committee makes recommendations to trustees. Not decisions.

One step backwards?

Paul Kokoski argued Aug. 2 in the Hamilton Spectator the Catholic school system in Ontario has lost its way.
I've rarely written about these issues here, since my foundational belief is that if the province chooses to continue to fund Catholic schools, it shouldn't be surprised when the tenets of the faith conflict with provincial policy. As long as this dynamic exists, I don't react with rage, frustration or malice towards school boards that, in opposing or approving but ignoring policy, do so on the basis of the faith that guides the system they've been allowed to run using public funds.
Kicking off with mentions of the struggles between the faith and the province's equity and inclusiveness policy of the past year, Kokoski goes back to the 1960s, Vatican II and the decisions of that decade to move the Catholic instruction of pupils from the ordained to the laity.
Decades of replacing priests and nuns with lay teachers has left most of our Catholic schools in a catastrophic state. The students that graduate from them are, with few exceptions, agnostics, moral relativists and, at best, cafeteria Catholics.
How can this be undone and corrected? Though our bishops may not be in a legal position to exercise control over our schools, they certainly retain the right to freely force the faithful (via penal sanctions) to submit to church teaching. This right, in fact, was mandated at Vatican II in the doctrinal document Lumen Gentium.
Unfortunately, while this would greatly help matters, our bishops have consistently demonstrated a reluctance to exercise this singular authority, especially where it concerns Catholic politicians who support homosexuality and abortion. Why? They think that once in power these politicians will somehow have an epiphany and reverse their creed. But in never happens. Still, our bishops continue to believe in this policy of “compromise” as a means of conquering the world.
Rather than a call to arms to the faithful to strengthen the Catholic school system in a manner that makes the faith more malleable to the social-justice, equity and inclusive characteristics of our society in 2011, this column will likely have people running the other way. It could fuel the call to simply sever the faith from public funding and move to a single publicly funded school system-- such as has already been done in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador (provinces with a much stronger and larger Catholic tradition than Ontario as a whole).
The church's challenges don't start in Catholic schools and taking a harder line on upholding the faith in these schools won't be what begins restoring the faith where it's lost itself. The church's salvation lies in its ties to the community and family -- which includes schooling but shouldn't be led by it. Some of the strongest Christian faiths that are growing aren't built on a school system, they're built on a strong community.
It also makes one argument increasingly more compelling. If the Catholic school system cannot or will not adequately implement provincial policy and this becomes a critical issue for the government, the solution is simple. Follow provincial policies and get funded, or run your school system the way you want, but without public funding.