Q&A: On Accountability, Special Education, Indigenous Education, Sex Ed Curriculum

Over the last few weeks I received several questions from Bay Ward residents and from various groups (e.g., Uniting for Children and Youth) regarding my stance on a range of policy issues. Here are brief responses to some of the key questions.

Q and A

ON PERFORMANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

Q: “More accountability and better performance for school programs: if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it! Please elaborate. Where do you stand on standardized testing? The EQAO?”

A: I believe that all publicly-funded organizations can benefit from establishing a meaningful strategic plan, outlining a clear set of expected results, and monitoring their performance against their stated goals. Most organizations, including school boards, are far from having established a mature performance and accountability culture.

Ottawa students, parents and communities need to see the impact of each OCDSB program; have to be confident that taxpayer dollars are spent as effectively and efficiently as possible and that students’ needs are the core decision-making driver; and they should be directly involved – working closely with the Trustees – in keeping Board staff accountable for program results.

To qualify this statement: my primary interest is not in identifying “financial efficiencies” (which is usually code for cuts to programs and services) but rather in making sure that the Board meets its obligations, which includes providing appropriate programs and services for all students and communities, and supporting children’s development as effective learners and good citizens. Performance metrics should be much more widely used, and results reported publicly on a regular basis. This process should be based on the principles of full transparency and openness.

As a concrete proposal, OCDSB should consider proven practices that get things done in other public sector organizations. One of these approaches, pioneered in the United Kingdom, called “deliverology,” has had significant impact in a number of countries around the globe, including Canada. The starting point for this model is a set of clear measurable goals which are prioritized. It goes without saying that planning for the delivery of such goals is essential.

The approach requires a small but strong “delivery unit” (to keep the system on track even when distractions arise) as well as a focus on results monitoring and performance data. Coherent governance – including a strong and involved Board of Trustees – and regular reporting to senior management and stakeholders (i.e., students, parents and communities) should also be key components of this proposal. And any decision should be made following adequate and extensive consultations with all individuals and groups potentially impacted.

If EQAO should be kept and improved, or rather scrapped and replaced with something else, is a matter of heated debate. I see EQAO as a somewhat flawed assessment, capturing just one narrow slice of what children are expected to learn in school, and a test that generates misleading results (as it’s a known “secret” that some teachers focus specifically on EQAO-type questions, particularly in math, for most of the school year, to boost their class / school scores).

I support a more reliable and more comprehensive standardized testing strategy – of course, one that is supported by teachers, school boards, ministry officials and educational experts. Finding that appropriate approach requires broad provincial consultations.

ON SPECIAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS

Q: “The OCDSB has a number of Alternative Schools (Regina, Churchill, Lady Evelyn, Riverside and Summit). What are your thoughts regarding Alternative Schools in OCDSB?”

A: I am a strong supporter of programs and services that meet students’ and parents’ needs. As a member of the OCDSB Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) I have seen numerous cases where parents were denied access to the programs they needed (e.g., Gifted, Learning Disabilities, etc.) and/or access to programs in the format they required for their children (e.g., congregated setting vs. inclusion in the regular, neighbourhood school).

I think we have a fundamental duty as Board employees, school staff, and Trustees to do all we can to meet people’s needs in the public system. We know that when we fail to do so students leave the public system and switch to a different board, move to a private school or, in the no-so-rare case, drop out of school entirety. I cannot in good conscience be a Trustee and not try to support each student and their families in finding good options in our system.

The fundamental problem is that the Board does not appear committed to the success of the Alternative Program, which has been diluted to the point where its usefulness is being publicly questioned. This is unfortunately the case with other OCDSB special education programs (e.g., Gifted, which has been scaled down by the Board to such a large extent that it effectively disappeared in grades 1 through 4). This is unacceptable, in my view – the new Board of Trustees should work closely and extensively with parents and communities, and re-launch all these programs, which are essential for a sub-set of our student population.

Regarding the Gifted Program specifically, the many options identified and articulated in detail by parents, community representatives and the non-staff members of a Gifted Advisory Group were largely rejected by Board staff. This creates a real and unacceptable risk that gifted students are not receiving the services they need, and that access to the Gifted Program for under-represented groups (such as Indigenous students, girls, and low socio-economic status children and youth) is obstructed.

I will continue to monitor how the Board meets its obligations to deliver special education programs, and I will assist in creating effective and equitable programs as a member of OCDSB’s Special Education Advisory Committee, and – if elected – as a Trustee.

ON INDIGENOUS EDUCATION

Q: “What do you see as the role of schools in making sure that all Canadian students understand Canada’s history with regards to Indigenous peoples? What would you do to support the Calls to Action of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?”

A: I would like to note that I am supported in my campaign by representatives of Indigenous communities – and I’m truly honoured for that! I see it as our role to help children become informed and critical citizens, who use their judgement to carve a path for themselves in the world, based on understanding and positive relations with all groups in society.

We also owe it to Indigenous students and communities to tell their stories as accurately as we can, while actively working to tackle the dark legacy of sad chapters in Canadian history, such as the Indian Residential Schools. In my many trips around the country, as an academic and private citizen – from Quebec City to Alberta to Terrace, BC – I have met with Indigenous leaders and listened to their concerns and plans for the future. I was left with a great deal of respect for their struggle, resilience and wisdom; and a vivid sense of living in a critically important time in our history, where we have the opportunity to redefine our Canadian society in a positive manner for all individuals and groups involved.

My engagement with Indigenous communities, but also other groups in the Canadian society (such as Canadians of African or Asian descent), has made me aware of inequity issues and our responsibility to address those in a meaningful and timely manner. If elected to a Trustee position, equity and quality education for all will be front and centre to everything I’ll be doing for the next four years.

ON THE SEX ED CURRICULUM

Q: “In order to assist me to decide how to vote in the upcoming school board election, I would appreciate knowing your views on the Ontario government’s decision to change the ‘sex-ed’ curriculum.”

A: Students’ access to evidence-based information and meaningful engagement with the curriculum are critically important to their education and overall development as young people and responsible citizens.

It is very disappointing and unfortunate that the conversation relating to the health curriculum, Indigenous education, math scores or standardized testing has become highly politicized.

I am hopeful that the upcoming consultations on the education system in Ontario will be comprehensive and conducted in good faith, and allow all key stakeholders (including students, parents, and educational experts) to provide their views and influence the final outcome.

Regarding the health and physical education curriculum specifically, I support a return to the 2015 content, and I am also supportive of an updated version that builds on the latest research and evidence-based approaches in the field (regarding sexual health education, mental health, and substance use).

And once the new health and physical education curriculum is finalized we need to make sure that the content is taught properly and consistently across the district. I’ve heard it many times, that some health teachers were uncomfortable teaching some of the subjects – which made the curriculum itself irrelevant, unfortunately.

Personally I promote no-nonsense solutions, which are evidence-based and free of ideological agendas. I encourage everyone to participate actively in the new provincial consultations, share their perspectives, and help identify appropriate approaches to our educational system. Above all, I am interested in hearing people’s views on the subject, and I commit to being their strong voice at the school board.

 

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