Direction from the provincial government and the hiring of a new Director of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) will affect the business of trustees during the new term. Some of the issues I feel it will be important for the new Board of Trustees to address and others that I have been asked about are outlined below along with my positions on them.
You have probably heard about the rollback of the 2015 Health Curriculum (the sex-ed curriculum) to the 1998 curriculum. It is not the only provincial change impacting schools and school boards this September with very little warning. Other changes affect or may affect the development of an Indigenous Curriculum; anti-racism initiatives; and, building upgrades for energy efficiency purposes. At the time of writing, school boards have not received detailed direction or support on how to respond to these changes.
I am concerned about the loss of components on consent and respect for gender diversity from the Health Curriculum. These two components are in much of the teaching that the OCDSB does, so I can only imagine the confusion for staff. The rescinded curriculum also deals with issues such as the internet and texting that are not part of the 1998 curriculum. The province has given vague assurances that these components can still be addressed, but there is no clarity for educators or parents. My Position on the Health (sex ed) Curriculum
The provincial government cancelled the Indigenous curriculum writing sessions scheduled to take place this past July. Cancellation raises the question whether school boards will be supported as they roll out the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Call to Actions. For example, in June 2018, the OCDSB created the Indigenous Education Advisory Council to advise us on, among other things, how to implement the TRC Calls to Action specifically dealing with education.
The former provincial government created an Anti-Racism Directorate with a mandate to address systemic and institutional racism and barriers. One of the first steps in understanding how systemic racism sets up barriers to learning is to collect data disaggregated by race and ethnicity and the government had indicated that school boards would need to collect this data in the future. The OCDSB was one of a few school boards to receive a small amount of funding to figure out how to appropriately collect, use and secure the needed data. I am concerned that the funding and emphasis to address this serious issue may be put on the back burner since the current government appears to be lowering the profile of the Anti-Racism Directorate.
The cancellation of cap and trade affects school boards. The OCDSB's current budget includes 5 million dollars for window replacements, lighting upgrades and other renovations to reduce our carbon footprint and make our buildings more efficient, freeing up dollars. These necessary upgrades were to be financed through the cap and trade program. Now, we need to address the shortfall.
School boards are also waiting for further direction on accommodation reviews (reviews of school enrolments, programs, facilities and boundaries). If, as seems likely, the provincial government lifts the province-wide moratorium on accommodation reviews imposed by the former government, a previously scheduled review of schools in the Alta Vista and Hunt Club area will probably go ahead.
Alta Vista/Hunt Club accommodation review:
Alta Vista is a diverse ward and its schools are diverse. Some schools are overcrowded and use portables while others are under-enrolled. There are many options for the community and the school board to consider - including no school closures - but certainly boundary changes at both Elementary and Secondary levels will be needed. One of the issues to address is the disparities among English-only and French Immersion schools due to the high uptake of Early French Immersion. I have worked with the community and, if re-elected, will continue to do so to ensure all sides are heard and that different interests have the opportunity to reach a solution together.
The current Director of the OCDSB is leaving at the end of December 2018 and it's expected that a new Director will be hired in time for a smooth transition. I believe that a change of Director brings an opportunity for culture change including an emphasis on better consultation and more innovation at school level and through all levels of the school board.
I have long advocated for good public consultation. The OCDSB conducts public consultations on a variety of proposed policies, initiatives and program changes. In the last four years, it consulted, for example, on the introduction of 50% English, 50% French teaching to junior and senior kindergarten; on school accommodation reviews; and, on a policy for secondary schools. To be more effective, I believe the OCDSB consultations need to start earlier in the planning process, provide more time for school councils and others to respond (3 months), be better publicized (in community newspapers, for example) and offer a variety of options for input (not rely too heavily on online surveys).
Innovation with evaluation
I would like to see the OCDSB offer and test more innovative programs like the Storefront School, year-round schooling and student-directed learning to mention a few. I believe that trying new programs, initiatives and tools must also go hand in hand with continuous evaluation, so schools and the School Board can make decisions on what to expand, adjust or cancel based on solid evidence.
Building on what I learned in my first term, if re-elected, I will work hard to develop and promote better analysis and more evidence for decision-making at both operational and political levels. Priorities for me include:
Analysis of 50/50 kindergarten
50% English/50% French teaching in all junior and senior kindergarten classrooms is entering its third year. I believe it is time to evaluate how it is working and, if indicated, what can be done to make it better. Among other questions, we should ask:
- Are more newcomers choosing Early French Immersion at grade one, as hoped?
- Were concerns among some parents and teachers about the number of different teachers and educational assistants who would be interacting with the students justified?
- Are learning outcomes improving in French and in math, which is now taught only in English?
Data collection disaggregated by race and ethnicity
As noted above, collecting and analysing data disaggregated by race and ethnicity will enable the OCDSB to identify or confirm, address and track the effects of systemic racism on students of colour. I believe this should be a priority to help the OCDSB understand differentiation in the overall data it collects on student outcomes at the end of high school.
School Learning Plans (SLPs) are not, in my experience, being used as well as they could be. I plan to engage school councils and school administrations to develop SLPs that articulate school-specific goals and expectations, then measure whether expectations are being met. If not, then it will be important to figure out where things haven't been working as hoped and make adjustments. The SLP should support continual refining of school operations to improve student and school outcomes.
Individual Education Plans (IEPs)
The OCDSB supports students with special needs by developing IEPs in consultation with their parents/guardians. I hear very often that these plans fail to result in the level of student success the parents were expecting. I will be introducing a motion to evaluate the effectiveness of IEPs and then how to improve them so the IEP is a relevant tool for student success. It will be important to engage teachers when designing how to measure the effectiveness of IEPs as they are tasked with delivering the learning set out in the IEP.
With so many students going into Early French Immersion, the English program have a disproportionately high number of students with special education needs, students from low income families and newcomers. I will continue to work to ensure the English program and their students have the additional supports and resources they need. This may need a policy that sets out parameters for resource differentiation beyond what is now in place.
Like other school boards across the province, the OCDSB has been experiencing growing teacher absentee rates, which affects the student learning environment and can be particularly hard on students struggling to follow the program. It also affects how flexible the Board can be in allocating occasional teachers and covering other staff absences, including Educational Assistants and Early Childhood Educators. It has financial implications, as well, as the need for occasional teachers (OTs) due to teacher illness is not funded by the province and the Board must look to other sources, forcing trade-offs.
Until some of the underlying issues can be dealt with – and, in my opinion, that means looking at student/adult ratios in kindergarten and the real cost of meaningful Spec Ed delivery in an integrated (“regular classroom”) model to mention two big issues – the Board, District and Schools will be seeking ways to minimize the loss of learning continuity due to staff absence. In my view, it is time for discussions about issues arising from the use of OTs to be brought into the public realm so that the community at large can understand the challenges and effects and weigh in on solutions.
Professional Development for Teachers:
There are students with many different learning needs in a typical classroom and budgetary pressures mean that additional support from Educational Assistants, psychologists and social workers is at a premium. I believe it is therefore critical that teachers can get training to help them deal with the complex issues within their classrooms. I am concerned that opportunities for professional development are being reduced by a lack of OT availability. Professional development for teachers was suspended for about 2 months during the 2017-18 school year for this reason.