Local school boards: Thanks for joining today's regular education forum, featuring Sheila Ward, chair of the Toronto District School Board as well as representatives from other Greater Toronto boards including the Peel District School Board (thanks to Brian Woodland and Sylvia Link) the York Region District School Board (thanks to Ross Virgo) and the York Catholic District School Board (thanks to Kimberly Hicks).
Q: I would like to know what your school board does to combat bullying? It is a big problem.
Toronto District: We have a number of excellent anti-bullying programs including peace circles, peer mediation, Tribes, Lions-Quest, Second Step, VIP and Future Aces. One of my favorites is called Roots of Empathy, a program started by Mary Gordon, a former staff member of the Toronto Board of Education. Mary’s program is in a number of the schools in my Ward (Toronto Centre Rosedale) and I am so supportive because it changes attitudes of children. It helps them internalize empathetic attitudes and an awareness of the pain that can be caused by rejecting or bullying someone.
Is it a big problem? I don’t know how you define big but from my perspective bullying is not tolerable anywhere anytime so, anytime it happens it is a big problem as far as I am concerned. I know that view is shared universally throughout the board.
York Catholic: York Catholic District School Board implemented anti-bullying initiatives into our elementary curriculum in January 2003. The curriculum has five to seven lessons for each grade from kindergarten through to Grade 8. Units make use of everything from sing-songs in kindergarten to role-playing, case studies, language and drama in the senior grades. In the primary grades, the focus is on feelings, identifying feelings and emotions of the people. In junior grades students learn how to deal with bullying, with a focus on telling somebody when you have been bullied. In the intermediate grades, students learn about gang and riot mentality.
The focus of our anti-bullying initiative is on empowering students, changing behaviours, offering more logical consequences to bullying, and living the gospel values. Teachers receive anti-bullying training, schools work proactively with the bully and the bullied and students are involved in leadership conferences where they learn proactive anti-bullying measures.
At the secondary level, many schools are active in trying to stamp out bullying in their schools. At Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, students have started their own bullying hotline and at Cardinal Carter CHS in Aurora, students have started an anti-bullying committee. We know that bullying goes beyond the school playground. That’s why we value our partnerships with the Community Alliance for York Region Education (CAYRE), York Regional Police, York Region Public Health and the York Region District School Board. Tackling bullying needs to be in partnership with parents and the entire community.
York District: Bullying is a big problem in schools, as it is throughout our communities. Through our board's character education initiative, Character Matters, we are seeking to embed universal values like respect, responsibility and empathy throughout the curriculum and all aspects of life in the community.
Our Safe and Supportive Schools Committee provides guidance and information to schools in delivering comprehensive bullying prevention programs like peer-mediation, 'Roots of Empathy' and the Board's highly acclaimed ongoing multiple workshops for students 'Put The Brakes on Bullying' program for elementary students.
We work with York Regional Police Service to deliver programs like Values, Influences & Peers (VIP) program and the 'Empowered Student Partnerships' (ESP) program aimed at building responsible citizenship. Detailed 'appropriate use of technology' agreements signed by students and their parents help prevent and address the incidence of internet bullying. Our Safe Schools Policy and school codes of conduct and Respectful Workplace and Learning Environment Policy set out clear expectations of behaviour, not only for students, but for every member of our school community.
Naturally, policies require effective, consistent application and enforcement. Continuing professional development in all facets of bullying prevention is ongoing.
Peel District: Bullying is always a concern — but it is not necessarily a "big problem." In fact, the vast majority of Peel students deserve to, and do, attend schools where they feel safe in a comfortable and secure learning environment.
The Peel board introduces anti-bullying programs to students as early as kindergarten. Roots of Empathy, for example, is a program where students interact with, watch and learn a how a baby develops. Studies show that this type of interaction with babies helps increase empathy in children which reduces bullying as children grow older. More than 27 schools at the Peel board run this program.
The health and physical education program at the Peel board includes a personal injury and safety component that teaches students about the effects of bullying as early as Grade 2. Students are taught how bullying affects others, and are taught anger management strategies to help them cope with their anger.
Schools do a great job at helping students understand about treating others with respect. Students are also taught how to act in the playground so they can interact with their peers in an appropriate and respectful way. Senior students are given leadership opportunities to monitor behaviour in the playground so bullying can be observed and addressed. Special assemblies and school-based initiatives support the creation of a safe learning environment for all students.
These anti-bullying programs are only a few that the Peel board teaches to students up until Grade 12.
Q: How do we create engaging schools - schools in which teachers, students, parents and communities are totally engaged in the business of developing the full potential of every student?
York District: Engaging schools start with a compelling vision centred on students and supporting their success. In York Region District School Board, our common vision is about student literacy, in all its forms. When trustees, administrators, teachers, parents, unions and students all set their sights on helping students read, write and learn effectively, they can begin to build mutual respect, trust and confidence in one another and develop a culture of shared leadership. That means involving everyone in learning and involving every viewpoint in decision-making. Engaging schools invite and welcome differing viewpoints and make sure every voice has a chance to be heard. They find ways to encourage and empower everyone to contribute constructively to decisions. Engaging schools have a steadfast commitment to open communication and learning for everyone. They recognize that everyone can learn but that not everyone learns in the same way or at the same pace. They encourage innovation and adopt practices based on hard data that's derived from careful assessment and evaluation and diligent research. Engaging schools pay particular attention to students whose success and connection to learning may be at risk because of their personal circumstances or special learning needs. Engaging schools are founded on respect, collaborative learning and unwavering devotion to planning and continuous improvement. They are transparent in their operations and demonstrate accountability to the communities they serve. Most importantly, engaging schools are not islands unto themselves. They are connected to and aligned with and supported by the broader vision of the boards to which they belong.
York Catholic: Over the past few years, everyone in our school system – teachers, administrators, staff, parish, parents and students (all the partners!) have worked very hard to collaborate as a team to make our schools the best place for student learning. We developed a new Shared Vision that is alive in all our schools:
"We are a Catholic Learning Community of collaborative partners called to serve one another by being committed to and accountable for quality learning by all, with Jesus as our inspiration."
What it really means to students is that everything we do is designed to make a difference in the classroom. It means that WE’RE NOT successful unless ALL our students are successful – and that means we understand that students learn and achieve at different levels and that they require different programs delivery models and strategies to ensure they’re successful. Besides programs for advanced learning (PACE, International Baccalaureate), we have specialty programs in Global Studies, the Arts (dance, drama, music and theatre), and programs for "at risk" students who, for various reasons, are unable to cope in a regular school setting.
Peel District: At the Peel District School Board, we have a commitment to public involvement in our schools. A child's first teacher is the family, and the family-school-child connection is absolutely critical to school success — the research is overwhelming to support that. But parents are also busy people and there is no single definition of "involvement" in a world where there are often two working and commuting parents.
We believe that involvement needs to start before the child even starts school, so when a parent comes in to the school to register for kindergarten we have an award-winning package of materials that welcomes the parent and the child, provides at-home activities and clearly delivers the message that parent involvement is encouraged. We try to reinforce that message at every point in the journey through school.
The level and kind of involvement is decided by the parents. Some parents choose to volunteer in the classroom at the school, others serve on school council or help out at lunchtime. Others, however, focus their work on their own child—reading each night, helping with homework, keeping informed about the child's progress and making sure they are in contact with the teacher or teachers.
As a board, we try to support that involvement with resources—like our Multilingual Welcome Poster—and by offering specific strategies parents can use to help children be successful. For example, at www.peelschools.org there are hundreds of parent tip sheets and parents can subscribe to a free monthly package of day-by-day tips to support learning at home. Plus, over 1200 Peel board parents attend our parent literacy conference — this year on April one — to help boost learning.
Finally, the very best way to encourage involvement is something we have in place—great principals and excellent teachers and staff committed to student success and open to parent involvement.
Toronto District: I think the vast majority of our schools already do this. For those that may not measure up to your definition of engaging schools, I would suggest that getting parents involved and active in the school makes a huge difference. When parents care and come out and are a force in the school, great things usually happen. Schools where parents are not involved are almost always less successful than we would like.
Q: If the government gave you $20 million tomorrow, what would you spend it on? What are your priorities?
York Catholic: Wow! In a growing school system like ours, this is an easy question to answer. What many people don’t realize is that while the government helps to pay for new school buildings and additions, it doesn’t cover the infrastructure costs associated with new schools – things like library books and other resources for the classroom, the gym and so on. We’d put more money into school resources to benefit students. We’d also put more money into technology. It’s hard to keep up with state of the art trends. Students today are very computer savvy and they need daily access to the new technologies in order to become competitive to today’s global marketplace. We’ve been having some great success with assistive technology for special need students and it would be wonderful to provide even more resources in this area.
Toronto District: What a great question. I’d use it for a number of things. First I would fund a nutrition program at the secondary level – you would be stunned to know how many teens go to school hungry every day because of difficult financial situations in their homes.
Secondly, I would use some of it for more safety monitors and lunchroom supervisors and educational assistants. These people do a fabulous job in our schools and are a very important part of helping kids feel safe and be cared for.
Third, I would use some of it to add itinerant musicians and art teachers and physical education teachers to our schools. And if I had money left over, I would replace textbooks and library books in as many schools as I could.
York District: English-as-a Second-Language training (ESL) is a primary concern for all GTA boards. With tens of thousands of immigrants from all around the world settling in southern Ontario every year, bringing new students up to learning speed in English is an enormous task requiring highly skilled teachers dedicated to the task. Current funding for ESL learning does not adequately cover current needs. Federal support guidelines for ESL learning leave out large segments of our student population with moderate to high ESL needs.
Literacy is an overarching priority requiring continuous funding attention. The Ontario Government's annual Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) and Grade 3, 6 and 9 (EQAO) province-wide test results clearly show that literacy learning needs to be improved. More resources dedicated to literacy are needed both in the schools and to support pre-school programs that focus on early learning and school readiness.
The only way to improve literacy is through professional and leadership development of teachers, support staff, administrators, trustees, and school council representatives. The cost of keeping up with new knowledge, technological development and advances in learning theory is of concern to every school board.
Peel District: The first priority of the Peel District School Board would be to cover the $7 million funding shortfall for busing. After that, the Peel board has made a commitment to strategically invest any new funding it receives in ways that will make the most difference for children and families.
We have a Pathway Schools project that identifies the social risk factors for the community served by each school. We know from extensive research that social risk factors in the community have an impact on children's ability to succeed in school. However, with the right resources, schools can make a difference for children, to make sure all students have a fair opportunity to succeed in school. We already have early years "hubs" and early learning readiness centres in 15 of our Pathway Schools. Any additional funding from the government would be used to expand the services in our Pathways Schools.
Q: A number of the GTA boards have filed deficits this year, citing transportation as one of its cost drivers. For these areas, public transit services almost 100 per cent of this area (at least in Toronto). Wouldn't it make sense for these boards to eliminate transportation service to secondary students? Busing supports education, but there are already tons of buses in the GTA.
York Catholic: York Region is a huge geographical area that requires student busing. Some schools have almost 100 per cent of their students bused, and some of our areas are remote and not served by public transportation.
York Public: York Region District School Board is committed to maintaining a balanced budget. Secondary school students living outside of a local municipal transit service area, and within 3.2 kms of the nearest York Region District School Board secondary school are not entitled to school bus transportation. Students living within a local municipal transit service area and within 4.8 kms of the nearest York Region District School Board secondary school are also required to make their own way to school. More than 80 per cent of York Region's public secondary students make their own way to school each day. Public transit in York Region has recently expanded with the new VIVA Rapid Transit System. Our transportation policy and procedures are currently being reviewed.
Peel District: Public transportation does not cover 100 per cent of many regions in the GTA — including Peel. There is no public bus service, for example, in Caledon. Boards already set distances under which students need to provide their own transportation —and may students do make good use of public transit. In Peel, secondary students will be eligible for busing only if they live more than 4.8 kilometres away from the school.
The busing that is provided is done so very efficiently. In 1997, the Peel board formed a partnership with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic board to operate a joint busing system. This integrated system is managed by a single office. This partnership saves the Peel board $1 million annually, and bus companies have indicated that it is among the most efficient systems in the province.
Of the 41,671 secondary students in Peel, only about 5,877 are provided with busing.
Toronto District: There are many buses and bus routes in the GTA but we know several things about transportation issues: first, TTC bus routes do not always go to where we need them to go and they often have lengthy intervals between buses because the demand during afternoon or mid morning hours doesn’t justify having more frequent buses; secondly, where students have to travel lengthy distances and change buses they opt out in significant numbers; third, busing at the secondary level is primarily used for transporting students to special events, or to a secondary school out of their home area because of space problems, or to accommodate special needs.
Q: My question is for the York Region board. My son is having trouble socially adjusting to a new school (Grade 1) in the York Region after transferring from Peel Region in January 2006. I have spoken to his teacher but receive more complaints about his behaviour than support on how to help him.
Is there any support available at the school level where he is helped to integrate into the school and that I can receive proper feedback about his behaviour and performance?
York District: Support is available in all York Region schools for students facing difficulties adjusting to a new environment. Parents are encouraged to meet with staff to discuss their concerns. Most teachers are sensitive to the needs of newly arriving students and can recommend services, either within the board or in the community, to help with adjustment issues. If parents feel their concerns are not being recognized by the teacher, the principal of the school may be contacted at any time.
Q: My question is for the Peel District School Board. Can you please comment on the increased concerns that parents have over ESL students integrated with regular students. The regular students are being held back and not receiving enough attention due to the number of non-English speaking students in classes. I believe in helping everyone, however, the majority of students are falling behind. Can we not have separate classes for the ESL, and start to integrate them when they are up to speed on the language?
Peel District: Provincial testing clearly shows that "non-ESL" students score well above the provincial average — this is a clear indication that they are not being "held back" by ESL students. In the Peel board, about one in every two new students we register speaks English as a second language. The ESL funding we receive from the government would not enable us to segregate them in separate classrooms — but even if it did, that would be detrimental to their learning. ESL students learn a great deal from hearing other students speaking in English in their regular class. ESL students spend some time working in small groups with ESL teachers and some time in the regular class. In that way, they get the benefit from both types of learning environment. Classroom teachers are also trained and highly skilled in balancing the varying learning needs of all the students in their class.
Q: I would like to know how tax dollars are spent - ie. $7,000 for each of 30 students or $210,000 per classroom. Where do those education dollars go? Clearly they are not being spent in the classroom. Why not?
Toronto District: In answer to the first part of your question, all money spent by the TDSB is either spent directly on the classroom or on supports for the classroom. This is required by law and our budget, which is $2.3 billion is reviewed in detail and annually by the Ministry to make sure we comply.
The second part of your questions is: Is $7,000 enough to provide free lunch, snacks, band lessons, extracurricular sports for all? The answer is no. Most private schools, which are not-for-profit organizations, charge fees ranging from $12,000 to more than $20,000 per year for each student. Why? Because that is what it costs to properly educate a child. We get economies of scale at the TDSB but the real cost per pupil is closer to $9,000 or $10,000.
York Catholic: School boards are very labour intensive organizations; 80 per cent of our school board budget goes to pay salaries and benefits. A major problem for the vast majority of school boards in Ontario is the fact that there is a gap between what we pay teachers and what the government funds. While it’s true that the government has provided more funding to support education, most (if not all) of this new investment is to pay for government prescriptive programs – and NOT to cover this widening salary gap. This gap has to be funded from our other budget areas, and results in less dollars for other necessities.
York District: In York Region District School Board, more than 75 cents of every education dollar allocated by the provincial government is spent on classroom learning and school administration. Other major areas of expenditure include building operation and maintenance, constructing new classrooms and school bus transportation. General administration costs just a fraction of one percent of our total budget. All of our budget information is published on our website.
Peel District: First of all, lots of classes do not have 30 students! Some special education classes may have only 5 0r 6 students, primary class sizes are capped. But even if there is a class of 30, the amount of funding needs to cover all the costs — not just the costs of that class. Obviously, the funding needs to pay for the teacher, classroom materials desks and chairs and the other practical items. The funding also needs to cover, however, the cost of the school — heat, lights, water, maintenance for example.
The funding must also cover all those who support learning inside the school. This would include in-school staff such as the principal and vice-principal, school secretaries, custodians and teaching assistants, for example, but also others who support learning like the psychologist, speech-language pathologist, social workers and others who help children be successful.
There are other costs too - we need to transport students to and from school. There are travel assistants for those children with special needs. There are also staff who make sure people get their pay on time, that bills get dealt with, construction happens on time, resources are available to help staff and communication is supported. But we can never forget that the vast majority of the budget goes directly to support the student in the classroom.
In terms of lunch and extracurricular's and band lessons and snacks — these are never things schools could cover, nor should they be expected to. If, however, a parent cannot afford the basic requirements a child needs to be successful, than the school will step in with the help of partners to make sure there are things like free breakfast programs, snack programs etc. Schools also work very hard, and discretely, to ensure that all students have equity of access to what is offered at the school — no matter what the financial situation is of the child and family.
Q: I want to know who the heck decided that physical education class should be a twice a week or that event. This was by far the worst thing our education system could have done. We need physical activity for our body & mind, especially for young children who may not have the opportunity to participate in after school sports (eg soccer, swimming, hockey etc) We have these so called ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder syndromes) and I don't recall ever hearing these things when I was growing up. Can you please implement this program back to our schools?
Toronto District: I agree on the importance of physical education and physical activity for all children and adults. The TDSB follows the Ministry of Education guidelines and requirements for all parts of the curriculum, including physical education.
York Catholic: The Ministry of Education determines the amount of time allotted for every subject, including in York Catholic DSB’s case for religious education. Depending on whether the student is in primary, junior or intermediate there is a requirement to fulfill 20-40 minutes of physical education twice weekly. The number one issue that makes it difficult for many of our schools to offer daily physical education is gym space limitations. In our larger schools there aren’t enough periods in the day to allow every class to have physical education class, even if we split the gym in half and have two classes in there at once. However, many of our schools have taken on their own initiatives to encourage students to make physical activity a regular component in their lives. For example, St. Charles Garnier in Richmond Hill received 400 free pedometers to calculate walking steps last year. Classes began walking in a greenbelt behind the school. This is an excellent example of schools promoting fitness and healthy lifestyles by encouraging students to walk more. Last fall, the province passed legislation that will require mandatory daily physical activity beginning in the 2006/2007 school year. We are currently working on how we will implement this.
York District: Regular physical activity and exercise is considered by most educators to be important for receptiveness to learning. The Ontario Ministry of Education sets the standard for physical education through the Ontario Curriculum. The government has recently urged school boards to implement 20 minutes of daily vigorous physical activity for every elementary school student. Schools are now searching for ways to make this happen in the context of an already jam-packed school day. Many are adopting time-tabled activity periods or several brief school-wide activity breaks throughout the day. Some schools are involving intermediate students to help lead the activities. The Ministry has promised funding to teach educators how to implement programming successfully in all our schools.
Peel District: In 1998, legislation changed so that students in high school were able to graduate with only one physical education credit, as opposed to three. And elementary schools were not mandated to offer specific hours of physical education to their students.
There are also many ways that physical activity can happen outside of the "official" periods for physical education in schools. The provincial government is now introducing daily physical activity for all students – but that means integrating activities across the curriculum—much as we want children to incorporate physical activity into all aspects of their life. The Peel board is currently developing a plan to implement this new legislation in all of its schools.
Plans include providing schools with more funds to purchase equipment for physical activity and training for teachers. Resources from OPHEA (Ontario Physical Health and Education Association) such as teaching aids, will also be available to help teachers incorporate more physical activity into their students' day.
The Peel board is also interested in increasing the required physical education credits to two instead of one for graduation requirements.
Schools also have major activities to focus on exercise – such as the many Peel schools that participate in international walk to school day and the Terry Fox Run.
Q: I am currently waiting to see if I am accepted into one of the Ontario teacher colleges for September 2006. Should I not be accepted I am considering going to Buffalo to get my Ontario Certification but I am uncertain how a degree from a Buffalo University is regarded by Ontario school boards because I want to teach in Ontario. I was hoping you could advise me as to how do you regard potential teachers with teaching degrees from buffalo are they at any disadvantage? Many thanks, Melissa
Toronto District School Board responds: Melissa, The Ontario College of Teachers is the licensing body for teachers in Ontario. You should call them at 416-961-8800 and ask them to give you guidance as to whether they recognize a degree from Buffalo University. Tell them your plans and ask them to give you a clear answer with respect to becoming accepted as a fully qualified teacher licensed to teach in Ontario with a degree from Buffalo. If you have time, after you have talked by phone, you might send them a letter saying that your understanding of what is required is … (set out what they told you) … and ask them to confirm in writing whether your understanding is correct. Having stuff on paper is often crucial when questions arise about evaluating foreign universities and courses etc and Buffalo is “foreign” by definition, even though we think of them as neighbours.
York Catholic District School Board: We consider potential teachers with degrees from Buffalo and Niagara Falls, NY universities equally alongside those graduating from Ontario universities. Due to the limited number of spaces in Ontario universities it’s often difficult for students to get into these teaching programs. For that reason, Buffalo and Niagara universities took advantage several years ago and applied to the Ministry of Education for approval to offer certifications for Ontario teachers. These New York institutions cater to the Ontario market and they do their practice teaching in Ontario. The key is how well a student does in their program and in their practice teaching. We would suggest however, that you do your research WELL. Contact the Ontario College of Teachers to ensure you will meet Ontario standards. Also, research the universities in New York to ensure the programs meet the requirements and standards for teaching in Ontario. Remember that you also have meet New York state requirements to graduate - so do your research. In summary, there is no stigma attached to teaching certifications attained in New York. The key is how well you perform in these programs.
York Region District School Board: Graduates from teachers college in New York must first pass their New York State exams, then apply for certification by the Ontario College of Teachers. While waiting for their Ontario teaching certificate to be granted, qualified teachers are welcome to apply for employment with the York Region District School Board. Our online application process, found on our website allows applicants to update their applications periodically as their certification status changes.
Peel District School Board: The Peel board hires more than 1,000 permanent and casual teachers each year. Since we're growing rapidly, we recruit teachers from across Canada and part of the United States. All teachers we hire must be certified by the Ontario College of Teachers—where you received your teacher training is not a significant consideration. The Peel board does all of its teacher hiring online—go to the "Work in Peel" section of our website, to create your online resume and apply for teaching jobs online. Particularly in demand are teachers with French, ESL, special education and technology qualifications.