Saturday, January 29, 2011

A race to the bottom of the curve

This crossed the wire a few days ago while I was in transit. The Ottawa Citizen's Matthew Pearson writing about a provincial advertising campaign backed by the French-language school boards.
Gilles Leroux the campaign's spokesman, said many Ontarians don't know the French school system exists or that it could be an option for their family.
His group estimates that between 30,000 and 40,000 children currently registered in English Catholic or public schools would be eligible to attend French schools.
"We hear too many times parents saying, 'I decided to send my kids to the French Immersion program because it is really the same thing'," he said in an interview.
Leroux said he's concerned some francophone parents or those with the right to enrol their children in French schools aren't doing so. (A rights-holder is a parent or guardian whose first language is French, who attended a French elementary school or who has another child registered in a French school).
"We would say to them, 'You have a choice, you have an alternative that really should be your first choice, which is a French-language school,'" he said.
The article also quotes English-language board trustees, angered by this play for students and dollars in a time when many of them are trying to hold onto every student possible.
I would agree with the view expressed here and remain doubtful of the claim that those families who have French-language education rights aren't already aware they can register their children in a French-language school. Many of them do, and outside of the pockets of this province where there are larger numbers of French-speaking people, that choice means a very different set of circumstances than just sending your child to the closest school.
This is an outright play from the French-language boards (and I won't even touch the source of the funding paying for the campaign) to boost their enrolment at the cost of taking students away from English-language schools. They're right-- French immersion is not a French-language school. They've also fought long and hard to maintain French-language education rights in this province, which means a heck of a lot more in southwestern Ontario or the Kawartha Lakes than it does in Lasalle, Russell, Ottawa or parts of Northern Ontario. 
These boards had full-day kindergarten long before others, and many used it to their advantage to boost early years enrolment. Anecdotally I know of a number of families who would enrol in French-language for full-day kindergarten, switching at some point in the primary years to a French immersion school and then, some times but often enough, to an English school by the intermediate grades. Heck, I have family who don't per the letter of the definition qualify as French-language rights holders and have a child enrolled in a French school.
Meaning some boards already softly target and allow almost anyone who wishes to attend their schools. This ad campaign just makes it overt.
Having said all that, I fully support second- (third, fourth, fifth...) language acquisition. I am always thankful for parents who enrolled us in a school where the level of French-language instruction was higher in the primary years (every other day in kindergarten and a quarter of the day from Gr. 1-6) and then pushed us into a late immersion program. I fully recognize and take advantage of the French I possess whenever I'm given the chance -- rare as it is in southwestern Ontario.
I'm just not convinced this is the fair way to do it and predict any boost in enrolment achieved by this campaign won't sustain itself in the long term.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A capital roundup

Still fascinated by all the coverage of capital-related issues with school boards across the province -- be it school-closure reviews or capital plans for submission to the ministry, it's been a great month for coverage.
I'm wondering if someone in my chain (reminder, I'm on leave) sent a memo to attend more school board meetings and write more about what happens there. Or maybe that's just my wish.
Anyway, a summary since the last summary post on this:
  • French immersion-related articles from the Sudbury Star and the Sarnia Observer;
  • Two from the Owen Sound Sun Times' continuing coverage of a high school review as it resumes its task and draws a response from the local MPP (though he insists its about more than his riding);
  • CBC Ottawa (and others not searched or linked) getting into the game on the district school board's latest capital plan;
  • The Kingston Whig-Standard on pending accommodation decisions for the local Catholic district board; and,
  • A succinct analysis of the options before the Simcoe County District School Board in relation to Barrie Central in the Barrie Examiner.
Murdoch's call is too similar to previous ones (hello, Community Schools Alliance?) to be of any impact to me, but I'm sure its motherhood-like statement will guarantee it gets many signatories. I mean, who would refuse to sign a petition supporting a school?
Happy reading.

Defenders of the faith(-based)

Tying two related / unrelated things from the past few days.
First is the Chatham Daily News' reporting on statements by the director of education at the St. Clair Catholic District School Board.
Paul Wubben said as enrolment continues to decline in Ontario, and with a provincial election on the horizon in October, the call for one school system will likely be made.
"This would come as a detriment to publicly funded education in Ontario," wrote Wubben. "The turmoil and confusion that would ensue would disrupt elementary and secondary schools for years to come."
In his report, submitted to trustees Tuesday, Wubben attempts to dispel several myths about Catholic education.
On the assumption that Catholic schools are a duplication of public schools and it would be more efficient to have one system, Wubben said the current system of four publicly funded school systems (English public, English Catholic and French public and French Catholic) is working.
Noting that 2.5 million ratepayers support the education of 670,000 Catholic students in English and French schools, Wubben said education funding in Ontario is calculated on a per-pupil basis, regardless of which school a student attends.
"Attempting to amalgamate the four school systems would cause massive upheaval; and based on past experience, would lead to higher costs," he said in the report.
I'm intrigued by the timing of this. No doubt the St. Clair board's challenge for relevancy is a very different situation than it might be in Toronto (more on this below) or, say, Ottawa. Though quite Christian, I wouldn't describe the St. Clair board's catchment area as very Catholic at all. Not having an ear to the ground there, I'm unaware of whether any specific calls for a single system have been coming out of Chatham-Kent.
I don't know what the fear is. Certainly, the province isn't interested in abolishing the publicly funded Catholic boards, if today's reinstatement of the Toronto Catholic District School Board is any indication. The minister's statement here, with coverage in the Star, the Sun, the Globe and Mail -- nothing up on the National Post site as I write this.
From the minister's statement:
The board has also improved ties with the community. This commitment to ensure good governance has positioned it to meet its mandate for student success and promote confidence in publicly-funded education.
Effective school board governance is a prerequisite to student success. It is a public expectation and it is the law. I place a great deal of importance on the role of locally elected trustees in serving their students and communities.
Given some of the questionable trustees from the last term were returned and, overall, the board of trustees doesn't look that different from the one spinning its wheels before the Oct. 25, 2010 election, I'm curious whether the minister's words will ring hollow this term. I would be paying closer attention to the board as it deals with its 2011-12 budget in the April - June time frame. I would expect this board to be facing declining enrolment and other cost pressures, let's see if the appetite for balancing a budget (or at least refusing to do so without leaving the board littered with conflict-of-interest allegations and court proceedings).
These TCDSB trustees are the current defenders of the faith-based system in Toronto. Unless they want to give others, like Wubben, cause for concern one would hope we don't see a repeat of 2008.

Low-income solution?

There has been a smorgasbord of media coverage on this over the past week.
Led by the St. Catharines Standard, who published an article before District School Board of Niagara trustees were scheduled to discuss the concept, being the first to publish on the decision and having a few other pieces in the mix (see articles here, here, editorial here).
The Star has also thrown its coverage into the mix (article, editorial) and though I thought I had seen something in the Globe and Mail a search of their site doesn't immediately pull it up.
My curiosities-- what is the DSBN going to gain through setting up this school, which for all intents and purposes is an alternative school? Do administrators have a plan for how they might extend any successful best practices from this school to the other elementary schools in their board? How does it help the largest number of students possible?
If the school doesn't address those questions in the medium to long term, I don't understand the rationale. I say this as someone who worked at a recreational summer camp explicitly for children from low-income families, one that was created and continues to exist because that opportunity is largely not available for these families. Whereas there are no barriers to entry for publicly funded elementary schools in Ontario.
If the academy allows the DSBN to teach us all a few things about practices that all teachers, all schools can adopt to better address the needs of students from low-income families, we're all better for it. If not, I somewhat share the concerns argued to-date in the editorials from St. Catharines and The Star.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A smorgasbord of capital coverage

The open tabs in my browser relating to coverage of school-review committees, reports, board capital planning and other capital issues is slightly overwhelming. It's also fantastic, I think.
There are some large decisions ahead of some boards of trustees in Ontario and the coverage shows engaged communities, for the most part, stepping up to the plate to take part in the process. Some examples?
  • The Owen Sound Sun Times' coverage of a council urging participation in a Chesley/Hanover review;
  • Several Barrie Examiner items -- A neat discussion and some proposals surrounding Elmvale DSS (member of a tabled review) as well as a Barrie city council vote on Barrie Central, member of a separate review;
  • Several Peterborough Examiner items on a high school review that's in its initial stages, drawing a preview of a community meeting held Monday as well as extensive coverage of the meetings themselves here along with a separate article/video on each school here, here and here;
  • Two from the North Bay Nugget on a board-level capital review (one, two), coincidentally the first coverage I've seen since the start of the school year that references a ministry time line for submission of an annual capital plan; and,
  • Coverage out of Sarnia revolving around a decision before trustees on the future of French-immersion programming in Petrolia.
Was particularly impressed with the Peterborough coverage -- they pulled all the stops and assigned multiple reporters to a review that will quite definitely reshape the public high school experience in that city. [Disclosure: I interned at the Examiner in 1999 while completing my degree] Having lived briefly in Peterborough 10 years ago and knowing families who've attended all the schools in question, I'm even more impressed by the paper's commitment. I do hope they sustain it, and that it proceeds beyond the 'boosterism' that flavours everything posted today. There are 1,000 vacant pupil places among the schools in the review. That's on par or a tad larger than the student populations of the majority of high schools in the province. The status quo will not get rid of those unfunded spaces and take them off the board's inventory, though recommendations might point to options that shed the vacant space without massive closure and/or consolidation.
As I've mentioned in this space before, these are the things that school boards are dealing with across the province. It's great to see this selection of articles and coverage from the past week.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tell us about the funding formula

People for Education sent this out in its Jan. 12 newsletter, but it was the first mention of the subject I'd seen in quite some time. The parliamentary assistant to the minister of education, Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, is leading what PFE describes as a 2011-12 review of the funding formula.
Those with institutional memory will remember the education funding formula was created by the Harris government in the mid-1990s and implemented when the district school boards as they exist today were created in 1997-98. It was a dramatic shift in how we funded our elementary and secondary schools as taxation powers were taken away from local school boards, with the property tax amounts shuffled off to the province. The province then started providing all school funding based on a per-pupil calculation.
As PFE points out (which, really, is very old news since Rozasnki pointed it out in 2002-03), some of the benchmarks set in 1997 have not been updated. The Liberal government promised wide-scale reform of the funding formula, but over the years have instead opted to tweak various elements of it.
Many things were moved to school-based formulas in the Liberals' first years in office under Gerard Kennedy and Sandra Pupatello. Funding for principals, for full-time school office staff members changed from being based on student population to being allocated per school-- at least for elementary schools. Boards also received varying amounts for remote schools, though these came with no legislated requirement to spend those amounts in those specific facilities.
Special-education grants have been constantly tinkered with and continue to be a point of frustration for many board budgets.
To claim that many of the benchmarks haven't been updated mischaracterizes the situation slightly. The big-dollar ones certainly have as school boards have seen funding increases to accommodate the increases in wages and benefits given to their employees. In many boards this is the lion's share of board expenses. Benchmarks for utilities, capital construction, maintenance and transportation have also been increased on a yearly basis for the last several years, though some of those areas might remain underfunded compared to true costs.
Despite all this text on the deficiencies that forms the bulk of the PFE newsletter item, don't lose the two most important points.
Two of the key questions will be:
▪ In light of the Province’s fiscal challenges, what measures could be taken to reduce spending and/or make the system more efficient and effective?
▪ What areas of the funding formula that support student achievement should we focus on for further reforms?
The skeptics might say this is a harbinger of things to come given that throughout the Liberal mandates the dollar amount invested in education continues to grow while student populations have consistently declined. Every successive year of increases would bring commentary from inside and outside the system asking when the tap was going to be turned off. I would say the government is looking for some opinion on how/where/when it might start trimming the education budget, or launching a massive pre-election test balloon so that it can use any outrage over possible cuts as ammo in the pending campaign.
The other thing I can pull out of those key questions is that any suggestion, if it's to be taken with any seriousness, must be relatable to improving student achievement. So don't just tell us we shouldn't spend less but tell us how, in hopefully measurable terms, that cut might lead to dumber students (for lack of a more refined vernacular).
I did question timing, since this review, if it should extend into 2012, hasn't really begun in any serious way yet and the election is less than 10 months from today.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Keep those EQAO envelopes sealed

Somewhat of a conclusion to an investigation in the London-based Thames Valley District School Board regarding inappropriate handling of last year's elementary Education Quality and Accountability Office tests at a London French immersion school. The London Free Press' former education reporter Kate Dubinski tackled the meeting Wednesday evening where some parents from the school were informed of the results of the school board investigation and the consequences.
Results for last year’s standardized tests at Huron Heights French Immersion public school will be invalidated after an investigation confirmed the principal opened the exams improperly.
Parents learned Wednesday night the principal’s actions may have given teachers a sneak peek at the tests.
The principal has been permanently removed for her role in the scandal, which has rocked the tight-knit northeast London school.
“There is no excuse or tolerance for professional misconduct,” said Karen Wilkinson, superintendent of education for the Thames Valley District school board. Wilkinson outlined the results of an investigation into cheating during annual Education Quality Accountability Office (EQAO) tests at the school. 
A blogger / tweeter I follow was in the audience and has children at the school. Her post about the meeting and the consequence -- principal Francine Rheault has been removed from the school and any further consequence(s) will be dealt with through the board's human resources services department -- is here.
Some discrepancy with rules of how the tests are opened, they said. It was an anonymous tip from some clearly courageous (read: cowardly) individual who decided they needed to stir things up a bit at a school where the children are some of the brightest I've ever met and the teachers are some of the hardest-working. Karen Wilkinson of EQAO (ed. note: she's a TVDSB superintendent) noted that there was no evidence suggesting that the kid's test results were compromised. And yet we lost our beloved principal Francine Rheault.
It's unfortunate that some people make poor choices when it comes to how the EQAO tests are administered. The rules are very clear, and the options available to a school board or the EQAO when it becomes aware of someone breaking the rules leave little room for flexibility. The integrity and independence of the tests must be upheld if the data produced by the tests is to maintain its integrity. That data -- to those who wish to and know how to use it to inform instruction -- is so valuable because the EQAO takes the steps it does to ensure the integrity of the only mass, independently administered evaluation of key skills in literacy and numeracy. I empathize, deeply, for the school community that has lost a leader it trusted and valued. A leader who made a poor choice and decided to show teachers the test before it was opened and given to the students. If this sort of choice is allowed to stand without repercussion then it will happen elsewhere (it likely does) and then how independent is the test? I don't agree with the blogger's opinion in calling the whistleblower a coward. It takes courage to do what that person did.
Some will comment, as this mom has, about the stressful way in which the tests are administered and the way some schools continue to choose to prepare their students for it. It's unfortunate these choices continue to be made-- I've seen teachers successfully handle this preparation in a way that doesn't overly stress them out.
The school board has acted appropriately. It's a loss to the school community, but I wouldn't want a principal who cheats on rules doesn't follow the rules to be leading my kid's school. What lessons does that teach? Many schools integrate accountability for one's behaviour into their safe-school and behavioural expectations for students. If this principal had been left at that school, what accountability would there be?
The message here should be that this principal made a poor choice. Now others are affected by the consequence of that bad choice.
In a related note, the London District Catholic School Board (coterminous board to the TVDSB) launched an investigation into concerns over EQAO testing at one of its Tillsonburg schools last week-- another situation where the concerns centre on the school principal, a man honoured as one of Canada's best principals by The Learning Partnership last year.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The politics of safety

The article here is more than a week old, but the Toronto Sun did several days' coverage of a six-year-old's injury sustained in a schoolyard mishap. In this one piece, they featured a lawyer willing to take on the school and the world, it seems, because the student didn't receive appropriate care after her injury.
Irene (Cao), a Grade 1 student at the Martin Grove Rd.-Eglinton Ave. W. area school, broke her leg in two places in November after colliding with another student. Irene needed to have a brace with four screws drilled into her shinbone so it will mend.
Cao’s parents accuse school staff of forcibly dragging a screaming Irene into the school, and then not calling an ambulance. Cao has since sought legal advice.
“It comes down to negligence,” said Dave Messam, a lawyer with the Cariati Law firm. “The younger (the kids) are, the more the onus is on the school to keep them safe. From the time children are dropped off, until they are picked up, (school staff) are responsible for their well-being.”
The Toronto District School Board response is that only one staff member per school is required to have standard first aid training.
There are separate issues at play here, which means the implied correlation between standard first aid training for all school employees and the way this girl was treated is not as strong as what the article suggests. First is the issue of standard first aid training and schools. Second is the way this particular student was treated.
As a first aid / CPR / AED instructor for 15 years, I think I can speak knowledgeably about at least one of these issues, if not both.
The TDSB spokesperson is entirely correct. Legally, schools are considered workplaces when it comes to staff members' requirements for first aid training. Under the WSIB legislation in Ontario, the number of people in any workplace who must have first aid training is regulated based on the number of employees. For schools, that's the number of school staff members, as students are not considered employees. In many schools, only one person in the building requires first aid training.
This, I don't agree with, but it requires legislative change. Given the work politics, it would also require serious cash as many current teachers (more likely their federations) would insist on completing this training during class time, requiring substitute teachers, and to be paid for it. Perhaps a solution lies in the Ontario College of Teachers making changes to its initial certification processes -- candidates requiring standard first aid training before being admitted for the first time as college members.
The other issue here is how this girl was treated. Many who've read or heard about this incident would easily say, using common sense, that dragging someone with a leg injury anywhere isn't the best thing to do in most circumstances. It may have aggravated her injury. Broken bones don't necessarily always require an ambulance response, but they don't make casts in school first aid rooms, so a hospital visit was also a common-sense decision.
All of which is my tepid way of stating that even if every adult in that school had a first aid certificate, that still may not have prevented the lack of common sense that appeared to be on display with this incident.

ARCs aplenty

Three different school-closure reviews, three different situations, three different articles.
The first, from the Orillia Packet & Times, repeats an oft-said concern about these reviews-- that they unfairly target rural schools. In this case, the schools in rural villages between Barrie and Orillia.
(Simcoe County District School Board trustee Jodie) Lloyd believes all schools, both urban and rural, are important, but like everything else, it comes down to finances. She said education is fighting against health care for every cent of provincial funding.
The SCDSC is a board that has a lot of smaller schools, many of which are facing aging infrastructure.
"We, as a board, have a very difficult time supporting these schools. It doesn't mean it's right, it doesn't mean it's the way we'd like to go. But it is a challenge we're having," Lloyd said.
Eileen Leishman, principal of Marchmont Public School, said she has seen both sides of the coin -- working in both rural and urban schools. Both are equally valuable, she said.
"I think every school has its own culture... That's the uniqueness of every building.''
Rural or not, every student, teacher, administrator, and parent loves their local school. Any school facing closure in any community would feel an impact, but it's all part of a process bigger than the individual school, she added.
I think Leishman's comment bears repeating often. I've been in many school-closure review committee meetings where rural communities (hello, Community Schools Alliance...) feel they have the monopoly on community.They don't. Every school is its own community and creates its own culture. Those cultures are different, but I've never accepted the statement that just because a school is in a rural setting its culture is automatically better.
Next up is Dunnville Chronicle coverage of the last meeting of a school-closure review in that region just beyond the Niagara Peninsula. The article reads somewhat like a blow-by-blow account of the meeting in chronological order, but the key point is that the meeting devolved into a shouting match. Rather unfortunate those in attendance were unable (or unwilling?) to discuss the issues at hand in a rational way. There's a claim the committee's vote on its report was swayed when one of the trustees on the committee announced her vote before the rest of the committee voted-- which without looking at the policies and procedures for that board wouldn't resolve whether such a practice is not allowed or simply discouraged. These reviews are important to all those involved, but no one gets anywhere, or anything, by allowing the process to be hijacked by shouting and yelling.
The third, courtesy of the Owen Sound Sun Times, is something I think every one of the over 440 municipalities in Ontario should be sent so councils could read it and consider their own actions. It's a review in the Chesley / Hanover area of the Bluewater District School Board (whose current term of trustees have promised to do better).
"Our job as the ARC is to look at those options, but we can also come up with more options of our own," (review committee co-chair Jason) Eke said. "As a committee, we need to receive public input, prepare and study the alternatives and then prepare a final report with recommendations to the Bluewater Board."
The first of at least four public meetings planned to discuss the future of Chesley's two schools, along with Hanover's three schools -- John Diefenbaker Secondary School, Dawnview Public School and Hanover Heights Community School -- will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Chesley Community Centre.
"I'll be there and I urge as many members of council as possible to be there as well," Mayor Paul Eagleson said. "This is a very important issue for Arran-Elderslie."
In other words, the municipalities should be at the table-- not just warming a chair, but bringing their own ideas, their own resources, their own recommendations. School boards must now meet with municipalities and other stakeholders annually to discuss partnership opportunities (how that looks like will differ from board to board) that might be available in schools that have excess capacity. Municipalities need to understand they have a role to play in providing recommendations, not just in complaining when the trustees don't choose the particular option(s) that either review committees or municipalities endorse.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Still misunderstood

To my fellow education reporters (or you folks out there having to write about ed):

I love school accommodation review committee (ARC) coverage in all shapes and sizes. Rarely do newsrooms have the resources or the interest to even cover the committee meetings that form a significant part of the process (though not necessarily the outcomes). It's my fervent belief media need to be in the room, reflecting, covering, analysing and reviewing the information that communities digest as part of the process. Given the importance of schools of all shapes and sizes to their communities, I consistently argue these committees deserve more coverage.
However, could we please stop saying these committees are going to make the decision on school closures? They're not going to 'solve the puzzle,' or 'come up with a solution' or any similarly worded thing.
These committees provide recommendations. Ideas. Options. Suggestions. Hopefully after having reviewed all the pertinent information committee members can get their hands on and wrap their heads around. They do not make decisions.
Trustees make decisions.
That's different, very different, than suggesting it's the committees that have this power. Sorry, but I also won't accept any excuses that this information gets left out for lack of space of ease of understanding. In the same number of words writers can just as easily say "make recommendations to trustees" rather than say "come to a decision on..."

This education reporter, tired of reading these inaccurate descriptions


Cathing up to this a month after it hit the airwaves, etc., but the conversation hasn't really progressed since the first day on this one. Those in the know would already be aware of the Ontario government's decision on the before- and after-school component of the full-day kindergarten program. The news release is there, but surprisingly, perhaps, I didn't find a B-memo. Previous FDK implementation items have come out as something less than a B-memo, so that didn't in and of itself surprise me.
Those following what school boards have been wanting from FDK would have found December's change to be no surprise. Those aware of the two-year window given to school boards on before- and after-school programs in the spring of 2010 also wouldn't be that surprised by the change. Boards have maintained since virtually the day after Pascal's report was released their concerns the program would be underfunded.
Once the government decided to put teachers and early childhood educators at the core of the program, but not require any changes to kindergarten teachers' working conditions, it put the burden of before- and after-school on the ECEs. That's not groundbreaking, as ECEs already lead these programs in the boards, non-profit, municipal and for-profit childcare agencies where they all worked prior to FDK implementation. But no board was allowed to hire ECEs at the rates they're paid in those other agencies (which, to be fair, is low). Running their own wraparound programs would cost school boards far more than what it costs non-board agencies.
Further, in the many boards and schools where external agencies were already running programs, boards were being initially told they had to kick those agencies out of the schools because the board had to run all the wraparound programming. Not to mention the whole fee element. Boards did not want to have to be responsible for collecting fees and working out fee subsidies -- things childcare agencies and municipalities already do quite well without school board involvement.
So now boards can maintain those relationships -- and broaden them to include more schools. The community agency can continue to exist within the walls of the school. Isn't that part of the school-as-community-hub vision? The childcare agencies have a proven record of running good programs that are cost-effective for the agency and the public dollar (though not always for the parent).
This (and more) context was absent from everything I've been able to read in reaction to the government's decision. People for Education expressed its disappointment the government was stepping back. I would argue the commitment to a seamless program isn't gone, what changed is the suggestion school boards be responsible for running all of it. Now, regardless of who runs it, the provincial curriculum must guide the program, which is no doubt a step in the general direction from where we are today -- a landscape with some fantastic wraparound curriculum and some not-so-fantastic.
Political opponents took the opportunity to immediately call the premier a flip-flopper. Sandy over at Crux of the Matter had perhaps the most rational explanation from this perspective.
So was it a flip flop?
One person saying 'flip flop' is another person saying 'adaptive to changing realities.'
To look at what Pascal said, he has been consistent in noting that implementation of this program would be messy. Mistakes were going to be made and lessons were going to be learnt along the way. I don't know that he agrees with every decision that's been made (haven't asked-- has anyone? Would he even answer that question?) but he also hasn't let these developments distract him from keeping his eye on the ball.
Nowhere in the announcement do I see a government saying the wraparound programs will be permanently removed from the full-day kindergarten program. Nowhere have I seen (yet?) changes that would extend the two-year reprieve given to boards in the spring on having to run programs where there wasn't enough demand (the before, after and holiday programs were always intended to be based on demand).
So school boards won't have to run this part of the program anymore. So what? Most boards didn't want to run these programs anyway. Most childcare agencies already do, and have done so for years. I don't see this as being the educational policy change that will give any opposition party significant leverage for the coming election when it comes to talking about education.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A caring adult makes the difference: Berlin trip

Welcome to 2011!
While the fellowship program is pretty much an 'off-the-record' experience -- it's not apropos for me to be writing and quoting every moment we experience for public consumption -- I've been using this space to write about some of the highlights. Our December travels definitely count among these.
Principal Ulf Schroder / Neumark-Grundschule
We had an opportunity to travel to the Neumark-Grundschule during our fellowship trip to Berlin Dec. 5-12, 2010. The school, built at the turn of the last century, is now in a central Berlin neighbourhood, surrounded by high-density housing. According to the principal, pictured above behind three of my colleagues, there are approximately 240 students registered. Approximately 98% of the student population come from immigrant families and either accompanied their families to Berlin or are first-generation to their new country. It's a small, urban elementary school -- nothing earth-shattering in that concept as there are countless small, urban elementary schools in this country and elsewhere around the world.
What I was most impressed by -- again, as I am whenever I see this during a school visit -- is how much of a difference one person can make. Ulf Schroder did his teacher-training placement at this school, has taught here for the bulk of his career and now leads this school. His wife also teaches in the building. A musician, he brought his passion for musical education into the school and the pair run two instrumental student orchestras, the Blue Elephants and the Green Elephants.
The students appeared engaged, enthralled even. Student achievement results, Schroder said, are on the rise.
As the group reflected on the visit, we kept coming back to Schroder. That school has developed into what it is because of who he is. What he's brought to the school. It was a delight to meet him and he was very accommodating with his schedule -- even allowing us to witness one of the Elephant groups play some short Christmas carols (Jingle Bells, if memory serves).
That, I've found, is also pretty universal. Get the right, caring adult in front of a classroom (or school) and it makes all the difference in the world when it comes to touching every aspect of school life. A caring adult was one of five key things for the healthy development of children when it comes to recreation (see Parks and Recreation Ontario's High Five program), it's no different in education.
We're off to Finland and Denmark in April under similar fellowship-travel arrangements, where I also hope to have a similar visit-- or at least a chance to speak with people about elementary / secondary education.

This semester is off to a flying start.
Thanks to the welcoming flexibility of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, I have been shadowing the year-four cohort (the first ever for this program) of the concurrent education program at OISE/UT. I won't be auditing all their sessions, but have been appearing at the Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (for primary / junior) sessions as well as the Mentored Inquiry and Teaching (Victoria College cohort) sessions. With some of the other non-OISE courses I intend to audit and the leftovers from the Master's of Teaching Issues in Numeracy and Literacy from the fall term, January is going to be hopping. Given the OISE ConEd students are in a seven-week practicum starting in early Februrary (which I obviously don't do) the weeks ahead are going to be far more OISE heavy than the months following. The teacher candidates will just be flying though, as they complete about 30-35 hours of class a week and then go home and work on their homework assignments. It's intense, but then again, so is teaching.