Meeting Notes - June 6, 2017

Tonight was a good news evening! 

At the Education Committee meeting we started by presenting awards to Scholarship and Bursary recipients as they enter post-secondary education. There are several different awards and we are grateful to the individuals and families in the community who provide them to our students. I had the pleasure of being on the committee this year and I must say we had to make some difficult decisions about which student would receive each award. We have some dedicated, talented, and exceptional students in our board. Congratulations to all of the award winners and good luck in the fall!

Superintendent Lynn McLaughlin presented her Operational Plan focusing on Special Education. We learned that our areas of greatest need are for children with Learning Disabilities and Autism. Indeed, we are seeing more and more children with Autism being diagnosed with other needs as well, but also a general trend in increasing numbers of children with multiple needs. Professional Development has been a priority and we have done more PD around math teaching and learning for kids with special education needs. This was a priority area identified in the Math Task Force. We are happy to be seeing early positive results in literacy through our Lexia and Empower programs. Finally, we are one of few boards in the province using the Insight Cognitive Test in grade 2 which helps us identify strengths and needs in early learners. We also use the Canadian Achievement Test in grade 7 which was particularly helpful a couple of years ago when EQAO testing was not conducted due to job action during negotiations.

In addition, Superintendent Sharon Pyke presented about the board’s work in the area of Well-Being which tied into our School Climate Survey results. Ontario's Ministry of Education has been prioritizing well-being for years. The Ontario Well-Being Strategy has 4 components: Equity and Inclusivity, Safe and Accepting Schools, Healthy Schools, and Positive Mental Health. School boards need to consider well-being in 4 big areas of students’ lives: cognitive, emotional, physical, and social. Thus, well-being is related to mental health, but is not just mental health.

She also presented the results of the 2017 School Climate Survey. Every other year, we seek feedback from students, parents, and staff about various aspects of school life. These include healthy living and well-being, feeling safe at school, parents feeling informed, diversity, accommodating requests based on religious traditions, and preparation for high school and post-secondary. Our results are good overall, but there were some areas identified as needing some work including students feeling prepared for the future, students getting enough sleep, and students’ use of digital devices in their free time. I was pleased to hear that we are working on accommodating students who have final exams falling on Eid. As well, some schools have provided areas for students who are fasting during Ramadan that is away from the cafeteria and people eating lunch, should they choose. Administration is working on action plans in the areas identified as needing attention. The next survey will be done in 2019.

As this was the last Education Committee meeting until the fall, I thanked Superintendent Clara Howitt and her staff for being the backbone of the Education Committee. I also thanked everyone that has given presentations about the hard work they do all year to provide quality education for our students. Their passion is evident. Lastly, I thanked all the staff and volunteers in GECDSB for another great school year. Trustees are grateful and we hope you have a restful and enjoyable summer.

At the Operations and Finance Committee meeting we learned that we are projecting a balanced budget at the end of the 2016/17 year. This is very exciting because last year at this time we were projecting a $1.5 million deficit. Indeed, we have hired teachers because enrolment was 131 students above projections. The final budget meeting is June 13th at 2:30 at the board office. This is a public meeting and all are welcome to attend.

We also received some additional information about community partnerships that I hope can help with developing proposals for retrofitting existing schools for community hubs. I want to be clear that there are separate but related processes in developing partnerships. Every year, school boards are mandated to contact and hold information sessions with specified types of organizations called “preferred entities” in order to get the word out about available space in schools. This list includes other school boards and education institutions, municipal governments, and other select public sector organizations. For our board, there are about 40 organizations on this list. In addition, the board sets criteria for schools that will be included based on capacity levels. Our criteria are that a school has, for at least two years, been operating at 60% or less of on-the-ground capacity, and/or has had 200 or more empty student spaces. Administration has held information sessions under this mandate, however, they have not been well attended. Moreover, the board criteria places just 7 schools on the list, but we have many more schools in our board that have empty student spaces. While the list of schools shows the number of empty student spaces, I asked if the square footage would be more meaningful. I learned that square footage is not counted in a consistent manner, so this would not be possible. We did decide to include what the number of empty student spaces would mean in relative terms of the approximate number of classrooms. I hope this helps potential partners understand a bit more what the space available is like.

Unfortunately, while we do already have partnerships with some of the preferred entities explained above, we have not had success in finding partners for using the $856,000 for retrofitting space in existing schools for hubs.This is a different process that is much more open. The $856,000 for retrofitting empty student spaces does not have the same criteria as these mandated sessions and Administration clarified that under the retrofitting funding any school that has empty space can be considered. Furthermore, the funding is not limited to only the list of 40 "preferred entities". The main criteria for the retrofitting funding are: it cannot be a daycare (as this funding comes under a different pot of money) and it must be open during weekdays, not just evenings and weekends. The full memo about the funding is here.  I am still keen on developing a proposal with another organization so that we can apply for the $856,000 in retrofitting dollars before the opportunity expires in June of 2018. If you are with a group or organization that is looking for space, please contact me or the board office.

Our next meeting is on Thursday, June 8 for the final vote on recommendations from the Accommodation Reviews in Forest Glade and Leamington. These are public meetings and if you have not had an opportunity to make a presentation or provide feedback yet, you are welcome to do so then. The Forest Glade decision will start at 6pm at the board office. The Leamington decision will begin at 8:30pm at Leamington District Secondary School. Please contact the board office to make sure you get onto the list.


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Jessica Sartori