Meeting Notes - May 3, 2016

Tonight was the public meeting of the Standing Committees: Education, and Operations & Finance. I am going to focus on the Education Committee because we had a very busy agenda.

Presentations

We began with a great presentation about “Norcan”. Norcan is a project of Norway and Canada coming together to learn about math education. On the Canadian side, there is one GECDSB school, one school in Oshawa, and four schools in Alberta. There are three schools from Norway involved. Norcan is a partnership of teachers and students working closely together to develop best practices for teaching and learning math, supported by research along the way. Here is some additional information from OTF. Teachers and students from Norway were here visiting Tecumseh Vista Academy over the last few days. They came in for the board meeting to thank the board for the opportunity to visit TVA. In turn, we thanked them for their visit with small tokens of appreciation. I am looking forward to future reports about Norcan’s findings.

Next, Lorraine Goddard and Liam Giles-Hayes from United Way presented about “On Track to Success”. I had requested that we invite United Way to come and present about this program because I did not have a lot of information about it but what I had heard sounded really great!

On Track to Success is a partnership including United Way, GECDSB, and the Catholic board that is designed to help improve school outcomes for kids, increase their well-being and sense of belonging, facilitate entrance to post-secondary education, and ultimately lift them out of poverty. Here is some background information from the 2015 Cost of Poverty report published by United Way which presented some startling statistics: 18.3% of people in our community live in low income compared to 13.9% provincially; about 24% of children in our community are living below the poverty line compared to 17% in Ontario. In addition, Lorraine and Liam cited several studies indicating that students living in low income households tend to have poorer educational outcomes than those living in higher income households. Think about this for a moment: if we apply that 24% directly to our board - we have about 35,000 students in our board right now - a crude estimation would be that 8400 of our students are living in low income (and there may be reasons for the percentage to be higher or lower than the broader community stats). I find this deeply disturbing. Poverty is associated with poorer health, poorer learning, and poorer life outcomes overall.

Our guests described On Track to Success as a true wrap-around program ensuring that the students get to school on time, complete their homework, understand the material, study for exams, ensure their physical and mental health needs are met, ensure they have nutritious food, glasses, etc.

The program was piloted last year with 20 grade 9 students in the county. The success rate is high with a retention rate of 100% and 75% of the students achieving at least a B- average. The program will expand to west Windsor next year and another grade 9 cohort from Leamington will also begin.

I asked administration to provide trustees information about what the board is doing to address the impact of poverty on students in our board. We discussed it during the Math Task Force, but I believe the issue goes beyond math and we need to have a broader conversation.

Accommodation Review

Finally, we discussed the recommendation from administration that we conduct another accommodation process, otherwise known as a PARC:

That the Board approve the immediate commencement of a modified program accommodation review that includes Dougall Avenue PS, Begley PS, Hugh Beaton PS, John Campbell PS, King Edward PS, Prince Edward PS, and Queen Victoria PS, as set out in the program accommodation review – initial staff report, dated May 3, 2016.

If this recommendation passed, administration had also recommended that the item be moved to the public Board Meeting agenda for debate and final approval the same night. I did vote in favour at this stage for two reasons: 1) to acknowledge that we have major pressure points right now including declining enrolment and aging infrastructure and 2) because I want to hear the full debate. I do have some concerns and I will bring them forward at the next board meeting. Please feel free to contact me with your questions and concerns, too.

The recommendation did pass unanimously at Education but with the change from a modified (shortened) process ending in October to a regular full process ending December. This was an important change because the regular process allows for more public engagement and more time for creative solutions to be proposed. In addition, trustees requested that the full debate occur at the next meeting on May 17 rather than on May 3 because we did not have a lot of time to review the agenda package.

Here is the agenda package for the Education Committee that was posted on our website in advance of the meeting. This package contains details about the rationale for the PARC including Census statistics, student enrolment, and the Facility Condition Index (FCI) of schools in our board. Please see handwritten pages 27 to 152 for information about this PARC.

Please also see handwritten pages 153 to 160 for administration's Long-Term Accommodation Priority Report. These are the priority geographic areas identified by administration as potentially requiring PARCs:

  • Central Area Windsor Elementary Schools (the May 3 PARC recommendation)
  • Leamington Elementary Schools
  • Riverside Elementary Schools
  • Review of French Immersion Boundaries, specific English Boundaries and needs

I am pleased that the priorities have been made transparent in advance of actually undertaking additional PARCs, however, it is disconcerting to have these issues laid out before us in their entirety. Nevertheless, I do believe it is necessary to view these issues from a board-wide perspective. I am somewhat relieved that schools in the 3 wards I am a trustee for: 1, 2, and 9 are not identified, however, this clearly is not a good situation for the board to be in from a community and board-wide perspective. While I represent constituents in three specific wards believe trustees must make responsible decisions for the entire system, just like city councillors. More to come.

The next Board meeting is on May 17. Before then I will be attending the South Asian Dinner on May 6. Hope to see you there!

Jessica

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Jessica Sartori