Meeting Notes - September 17, 2017

Welcome to the 2017/18 school year!

We began the meeting by welcoming our two new student trustees, Mikayla Bondy from Belle River DHS, and Liam Bannon from Kennedy Collegiate. We also presented Essex District High School with an award from EQAO for showing great improvements over five years!

Tonight’s meeting agenda primarily involved housekeeping of several policies which were up for review. We also debated a motion from a trustee regarding open concept space in GECDSB schools.

Essentially, the motion was to have administration report on the options and the costs to convert all of the remaining open concept schools in the board to closed space. The scope was concerning because we have recently built new schools that have open concept areas for students and/or teachers to collaborate. The motion was eventually amended to include only Roseville and Sandwich West public schools as administration explained that these are the last remaining truly open concept schools. Fortunately, this narrowed the motion.

The major reasons from the trustee for bringing the motion were the following: that there appeared to be support from parents for closing old schools and building new ones during the accommodation review in Forest Glade in the spring because the new schools would be built without open concept classrooms. Further, the stated position was that open concept space was “failing our students” and causing stress for teachers who create their own barriers with school materials. To my knowledge, they are not spending money out of their pockets to do this.

There was a lively debate and I asked several questions for clarification. First, I asked administration if there was reason to believe that these schools were in fact “failing” our students. Do they have lower graduation rates and poorer learning outcomes (e.g., EQAO) than other schools? They do not. Second, we learned that an outside consultant is needed to perform the evaluation work and this alone would cost over $40,000. The cost to convert the spaces, if we choose to do so, would then be in addition to this. Third, we learned that barriers and sound-mitigating measures have been implemented in schools by the board without requiring the costs of permanent construction. Finally, I asked administration whether the money for the consultant and then for the construction would come out of the same pot of money that we use to repair schools which is one of the factors in an accommodation (school closure) review. The answer was yes, the money for the consultant and any subsequent construction would come out of our maintenance and renewal funding.

Given this information, I do not see this as a priority for a board that very recently had a large deficit and has some of the oldest schools in the province, many in need of millions in repairs. I believe we should be using this money to repair schools at risk of closure. Furthermore, I believe that this could have been part of efforts to find community partners to use space in our schools which would have been paid through the retrofitting funding I was arguing for in the spring. Therefore, in taking a longer range and broader view on the issues our board is facing, I did not support the motion. The majority of trustees did support the motion. I respect their decision and I look forward to the report.

Our next meeting is on October 3 and this will be the first Education Committee of this school year. I am looking forward to once again chairing these meetings. Before then I will be attending the Meet the Teacher night at Southwood Public School – hope to see many of you there!

Jessica

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Jessica Sartori