Public Education Symposium - January 29-31, 2015

School boards from across the province attended the 2015 Public Education Symposium this past weekend. Several trustees, including me, attended from GECDSB along with our Director of Education. The agenda was packed with many presenters and panelists. Here are some of my favourites.

The Minister of Education, The Honourable Liz Sandals, kicked off the event, highlighting the role of trustees in their local community context. She also reviewed the Ministry’s strategic direction: Achieving Excellence: A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario. A summary document can be found here which explains the Ministry’s renewed goals: achieving excellence, ensuring equity, promoting well-being, and enhancing public confidence. These goals will be foundational in school board strategic planning.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Jim Grieve, really spoke my language. He discussed the importance of the whole child and early learning with research support such as the Early Development Instrument. He took us through an exercise to find as many uses for a paper clip as possible. Did you know children typically generate three times as many uses as adults? He stressed that this divergent thinking needs to be nurtured. He also highlighted a strong belief of mine which is that education is a community pillar and municipal governments are partners in this.

Strategic planning is something I really love. The panelists spoke about the importance of governance and having a shared vision as well as evidence-based planning and goals. Many panelists also highlighted innovation. Amanda Lang and Michael Hines both indicated in their own way that, if you really want to be innovative you can’t always surround yourself with people who think exactly like you, as uncomfortable as it may feel at times. I have always believed this; I think we need to have people who challenge us because we easily get stuck in ruts and struggle to question or recognize our own assumptions. I think the fact that trustees are elected rather than appointed helps serve this purpose.

One presenter’s perspective really stood out for me: Dr. Bruce Ferguson, founding Director of the Community Health Systems Resource Group at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology at the University of Toronto. From the SickKids website (sickkids.ca): Dr. Ferguson is committed to promoting “success in children and youth by considering all factors essential to well-being including health, home life, school, community life and peer relationships”. He really drove the importance of public education home with this statement: “School is where children become healthy adults through interaction with human developers” and the vehicles are reading, writing, and arithmetic. School is not the only place of course, but it highlights that we really need to take care of kids’ learning and well-being because they are the future and teachers play a pivotal role.

As a new trustee, I was grateful at the opportunity to attend the conference and I just feel so energized. The next 4 years are going to be challenging but awesome! 

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Jessica Sartori