Larry Hope, Director of Education
There have been a number of announcements lately that are causing anxiety and uncertainty for all of us, including staff and parents with students in our system. I thought I would take a moment to provide an update with what we know at this point in time. I think it’s fair to say that it is common for a new government to make sweeping changes before settling into a new norm and we are seeing this unfold as we make our way through the school year.
Many of the announcements that have been made are financially motivated, as expected. It is important to note that Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) has and continues to be a very fiscally responsible board. We have managed our budgets and expenditures for years in a highly efficient manner, which has typically resulted in us generating a small surplus each year. This is a very good position to be in, and we are proud of our track record. On an annual basis, we have deliberately attempted to draw from our surplus funds to provide staffing, programs and other supports for students across the district. Moving forward, we will work with the Ministry of Education to ensure our students continue to have access to the supports we have all become accustomed to as a result of the careful management of our resources.
I would like to address some of the recent announcements and changes to funding that are receiving a great deal of media and other attention. It is important to note that we currently still have fairly limited information about these changes and we’re working our way through the specifications of each announcement as it arrives.
First of all, class size. As you may know, the government has chosen not to make any significant changes to elementary class sizes at this time. There is, however, a significant change proposed to secondary classes. We know the impact of these changes will create enormous challenges and that we will find ourselves in a position where we have to make difficult decisions about what courses we can deliver in our secondary schools. Like many, we are concerned about the viability of some of our programs and supports as we increase class size and have to meet higher averages. In the short term, we have confirmed with the Ministry of Education that we will proceed using class size language from our current collective agreements as we staff our schools for the 2019-2020 school year.
We are proud of the exceptional E-Learning platform we have built over the years in TLDSB. We know that our programming is rigorous and is of the highest quality in the province. As you are likely aware, the Ministry has announced that all secondary students will be required to take one E-Learning course per year beginning in the 2020-2021 school year. We are aware that there is a significant difference between voluntary and mandatory participation in E-Learning courses, and we will bring our concerns forward over the coming weeks. In the meantime, we will proceed with our current E-Learning service delivery model. Since our platform is so well respected and successful, we anticipate having an opportunity to share our model with the province as further developments are made.
Many of us are concerned about the changes to how services and funding is provided to students with autism. We know that there may be new registrations in TLDSB of students with autism beginning soon. The Ministry of Education has assured us that funding will be available to provide supports for these students. We will be prepared and ready to make adjustments as needed once we know the full picture of what this might look like.
I want our system to know that we will manage the changes in the best way we can, as we always do. I know that our teaching staff, our administrators, our department staff, everyone will continue to focus on what we do best—supporting our students to be the best they can be. Let’s not be distracted by commentary around things like cell phones in classrooms—we’ve always trusted our educators to make the best decisions about to how use technology appropriately, and we will continue to do so. Our commitment to high levels of student achievement is evident throughout our district. Through our implementation of new technology such as the Edwin digital ecosystem now in many of our schools, to the renewed focus on math in both elementary and secondary classrooms, we continue to have high expectations for all—students and staff alike.
And high expectations are not just for academic achievement. A recent report to the board about our suspension and expulsion rates has garnered a great deal of media and parent attention. I have taken the opportunity to publicly state that we should expect behaviour that meets a standard of respect in our schools and classrooms. We need to be clear that we cannot accept aggression towards staff. Our schools and classrooms need to be safe spaces for students and staff alike. And we need to work in partnership with parents to get this message across. It is clear that we need help from parents and guardians when student behaviour becomes a problem.
In closing, I want to thank TLDSB staff for their patience and dedication as we work through some of these transitions. There will be more to come, and we will keep you informed as we learn more. I know we have the strength and commitment to manage and adapt to change. It’s just one of the high expectations I have of our system and it’s one I know we can achieve and exceed.