Sunday, December 20, 2009

Year in review

I did this on my other blog already, but wanted to put a little more time and thought into the one here, looking at the year and trying to pick out the significant issues that touched on K-12 education in Ontario. It's been an interesting year and one where, looking back, I'm happy to have started and kept up with blogging about. This venue has given me so many opportunities to delve into issues, some provincial in scope, some very local, that I never would have learned about or written about within the bounds of the job I'm paid to do within my newsroom.
So, here are a few significant events from the past year that stand out, in no particular order.
  • Settling the latest round of four-year collective agreements with all employee groups. This year marked the first time all school-board employees settled agreements with their employers and brought their contracts into the same four-year cycle. It was a hugely instructive experience showing which unions could work within the provincial discussion table format and achieve success for their membership, and the few who dug in their heels and may some day feel the wrath of their members when they realize they've fallen behind their peers.
  • Reports, reports, reports. There were a few that will forever change the face of education in this province -- some are broken out into individual items below -- and there are some still underway (curriculum, municipal partnership, education funding formula review) that are due in 2010-11.
  • "Planning and possibilities: The report of the declining enrolment working group," lays out recommendations and a vision for how the province should both encourage the modernization of its schools while respecting a need for local decision-making within the acknowledgment the status quo cannot continue. The draft shared-use policy circulated this summer was in partial response to one of the first things Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said she would take on from this report.
  • "Our best future: Early learning in Ontario," affectionately called simply the 'Pascal report.' This report, and the ensuing implementation of its recommendations -- starting with full-day kindergarten -- will reshape how the government delivers education and a myriad of other supports to families with young children in this province. Its ripple-effect will, whether you support the program or not, be felt for a long, long time. If I were to rank this list, this report and the ensuing developments would be at or very near the top.
  • Bill 177: The Student Achievement and School Board Governance Act, passed and given royal assent in December of this year. The bill, combined with the regulations from 2006's Bill 78, is going to change how K-12 education is governed in Ontario, particularly for those trustees and boards who've not yet adapted to realize their role is one of corporate governance, not middling and meddling with individual issues. A hastily circulated and drafted set of provincial-interest regulations caused a kerfuffle in the summer, however the minister continues to say these regulations will be passed, but in a more consultative fashion. 
  • The formation of the Community Schools Alliance, earlier this summer, provided an outlet for disillusioned, angry, mostly rural municipalities to vent over the school-closure process in place at school boards and the province's own guidelines. The group made headlines as it asked Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne to impose a 'smart' moratorium on school closures where the local municipality and community disputed the closure. She rightfully rejected the request. A subsequent letter-writing campaign seems to have fallen flat and I'm personally still waiting for the alliance to post a list of its member municipalities.
  • ARCs, ARCs, ARCs: Dozens of these school-closure reviews -- the first round for many boards since new guidelines were adopted in 2006, the second for others -- completed their work this past calendar year, foisting recommendations on trustees across Ontario. Some of these committees came up with truly unique and inspired recommendations for the future of schooling in their communities. Too many dug in their heels and adopted a status-quo attitude or a belief everything that's open should stay open forever, just the way it is today or modernized. Revised guidelines were released in June, which many boards have now adopted as they launch the next round of reviews.
  • Oliver Carroll, the Toronto District Catholic School Board trustees ousted after a successful court challenge under the provincial conflict of interest legislation. Ripple effects are still being felt across every other school board, as well as within the TDCSB with two more trustees now under the spotlight.
  • The Bluewater District School Board: It deserves its own mention here, because if boards haven't been paying attention to this group of trustees this past year, it's at their own peril. The BDSB saw resignations, public complaints and the appointment of Mr. Fix-its in an attempt to quell concerns surrounding improper decision making -- some of which still haven't been resolved.
  • Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Niagara District Secondary School. For a decision made in June 2008, its impact stretched into the fall of 2009 as a result of the vote taken over a year earlier. Enrolment remains stubbornly below the arbitrary 350-student level the school was to reach by Oct. 31 to remain open. The fight continues for those unwilling to let this one go, which includes a council determined to use any measure, no matter how legitimate, to cause the school board difficulty.
 As the year has gone on, this has become a place for a handful of people to regularly post their thoughts on my thoughts, and I thank you for dipping your toes into my sandbox and contributing to the discussion. I've received numerous e-mails, some of which have been exciting. Several posts have elicited e-mails with more information that may pop out in future posts as I read, digest and analyze the info. To give an idea of what's bringing people here, I also include my top-10 posts since I started tracking them in April-May. There are a few caveats by definition here as these are the specific URLs that have drawn traffic-- the bulk of you reading this are just reading it on the front page, were I can't track which post necessarily brought you here.
  1. Bill 177 
  2. EQAO and conflicts 
  3. NOTL shenanigans (later updated)
  4. The board, the OMB, the town... and the lawsuit? 
  5. ETFO and EQAO 
  6. The Community Schools Alliance 
  7. Refocusing the sunshine 
  8. Toronto ARC coverage ramps up 
  9. Toronto ARCs it up, finally 
  10. TorSun backs TDSB ARCs 
 As I write this, the blog has attracted over 6,000 visits -- which includes over 2,500 unique visitors -- and over 10,000 page views since I started publishing in March. It's on the radar for those who are interested in education in Ontario, be they trustees, parents, Ministry of Education folk or other journalists. Far better than I ever could have anticipated, so thanks.


Anonymous said...

Many thanks for your efforts ER. I think you blog stands above many others because of the respectful tone and the balance you try to achieve in your writing.

I would only wish that the discussions we showcase here could be had at local school level between all "partners"(I use that term very loosely)whether they be parents, directors, educators, or students.

2010 is going to be a VERY interesting year in education what with the regs. for 177, the finer points of the ELP still to be put in place and municipal elections.

Best Wishes ER for 2010!