Meeting Notes - March 21, 2017

The meeting tonight was packed with policy reviews and Superintendent Vicki Houston’s Operational Plan.

But first - congratulations to our February Student of the Month, Ameen Fadel, a grade 11 student at Belle River High School. Ameen maintains high marks while staying involved in many school activities. He is active in the community, raising donations of 850 non-perishable food items and playing hockey. As Student Trustee Colton Allen remarked, his peers hold him in “high regard”. Congratulations, Ameen!

Superintendent Vicki Houston presented her Operational Plan focusing on Ontario’s Renewed Math Strategy and different pathways to student success. The funding from the Renewed Math Strategy has provided for a system lead in mathematics, with a focus on the applied stream. These were recognized by the Math Task Force and the timing was very fortunate with the new funding from the Ministry. This position provides leadership in improving math outcomes, for example, on the EQAO, for students in grade 9 applied math. We know that student outcomes in grade 7 and 8 are important for the grade 9 curriculum and therefore this position is facilitating collaboration among teachers from all three grades. Recently they have been working together to determine where students across the system are struggling most and planning how to better target these areas. This means more support for students and teachers. All of this work is done with input from everyone involved: students, teachers, and administrators. Many schools have also begun holding Parent/Family Math Nights to better support parents as well. I recently attended one at Roseland Public School.

For a variety of often unfortunate personal reasons, some students struggle to attend and succeed in secondary school. Superintendent Houston leads our Re-engagement Strategies. As of September 2016 GECDSB had 204 “early leavers”, meaning they did not graduate and stopped attending school. According to the stats she presented, they were missing between 1 and 5 credits, and may also have been missing their community volunteer hours. Her program has been able to re-engage 30% of these students and 12 of them have already received their OSSD as a result, which is fantastic. I have asked whether the 30% re-engagement rate is typical in comparison to previous years and will follow up. This is a challenging portfolio, however, it is a very important initiative because high school graduation is predictive of better life outcomes.

Next, we had several policies to review. Two of them were discussed at length including the Electronic Meetings and Naming and Re-Naming Schools policies. The Electronic Meetings policy recognizes that occasionally trustees cannot physically attend a board meeting due to injury, illness, inclement weather, or geography. I have been physically present at every scheduled board meeting, but I have needed to use the telephone for a couple of Special Meetings. These are not scheduled, and can be called with as little notice as 3 hours. It is necessary for the Chair, Vice Chair, and Director to be in the room. The practice is that the meeting is called with no input from trustees and it goes forward as long as there is quorum between those in the room and those on the phone. This policy was referred back to the Policy Committee tonight. I think they will have to consider the impact of meetings called within a few hours. I also think we need to strengthen the expectations about the number of meetings a trustee needs to be physically present for. The Education Act stipulates physical presence at 3 meetings, but these guidelines are intended to be fair to northern school boards with large geographies and challenging weather conditions. We should have higher standards than that.

The Naming and Re-Naming policy was reviewed at the request of a trustee who experienced a recent re-naming initiative as problematic, with more board representatives than community people. After several months and many drafts, the updated policy now ensures more community involvement and a better balance between school board representatives (meaning, trustees and administration) and individuals from the school community.

Our next meeting is on April 4. This will be the Standing Committee of Education, which I chair, and Operations & Finance, which is chaired by Trustee Dave Taves. The Education Committee will be continuing with our theme for the year: Educating the Whole Child. All are welcome! In the interim, drop into the First Robotics Regional Competition on March 31 and April 1 – all day at the University of Windsor St. Denis Centre. This is a free, family-friendly event and you will not believe the robots these kids build. It’s important to recognize that this would not be possible without teachers volunteering many hours of support. Come out and cheer them all on!

Jessica

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Jessica Sartori