Monday, April 27, 2009

Day Two: CAPSLE

Today's lessons:

Opening Plenary- Current issues in Education Annie Kidder (People for Education) and Liz Sandals (Parl. Asst to Ont. Min of Education). Ms. Sandals spoke about the changes to the Ontario Education Act which added bullying to the list of suspenable offences and clearly articulated the adult responsibility to intervene. She spoke in particular about homophobic harassment. I was taking notes, thinking of the opening of the Alberta School Act and what lessons might be transferable.

Ms. Kidder's presentation on the work of People for Education was very exciting... a group of parent advocates who believe passionately in public education as a vehicle for public good rather than private (consumer-based) good. The group is 13 years old and now carries quite a bit of sway and has an independent operating budget of .5 million. The group conducts a yearly inventory of all the schools (counting things like how many librarians, how many art teachers, etc.) and develops an annual report. It follows trends and impacts of policy and then in turn empowers parents to see how they can influence those government policies. They translate "educational-eeze" and help parents navigate the system...and in the end, help them to see that public education is about everyone having a voice. Both presenters spoke about how Saskatchewan is leading the way in breaking down the silos and re-visioning schools as more than warehouses for kids, and education as more than test scores. Very compelling.

Next, I learned about how a Board in Montreal became the first in Canada to hire an independent ombudsman. He has just finished his first year and gave a report on the successes and challenges of the change. ( www.csdm.qc.ca/ombudsman) Also, very exciting. The ombudsman was set a clear mandate to improve relations between the District and anyone dealing with it, to facilitate functioning of the District, to be accessible, independent, neutral and impartial. The year involved a great deal of discussion, rapport development and explanation of his role. There were confidentiality and organizational considerations. There was publicity and media work to do... but the year one report card was pretty impressive. Stats and results were measurable and the recommendations he brought forward to improve District communication and decrease conflict were unanimously adopted by the Board. He was quite stunned to see this level of agreement.

In the afternoon, I attended a session Freedom of Expression (students) and various court cases were cited. I was very energized by this session and came away with a lot of questions. How do we encourage our students to understand their rights under the Charter and also to understand the limitations? How can we encourage responsible expression of opinion and protect minority views? How can we teach about appropriate and reasonable expression on the internet? These are critical areas of instruction for our students.

The last session was on Conflict Resolution in relation to special needs disputes. The Ontario Govt came out with A Special Education Transformation Report in 2006 recommending a number of changes, including that boards develop dispute resolution processes related to programs and services for students with special needs. The implementation of this recommendation is now being test-driven with various pilot projects. Of course, I was drawing parallels to our Alberta Setting the Direction. The Shared Solutions document on conflict resolution (available at www.edu.gov.on.ca) sounds like it would be excellent reading for all our District staff. Interesting, but I was getting tired towards the end, after a full day of active listening. (Interesting stat: apparently people can only actively listen for 17 seconds. I think I can manage a bit longer than that!)

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