Conclusion from the Jan. 15, 2015 Review of the Toronto District School Board worth a close read

I have discussed the Jan. 15, 2015 Review of the Toronto District School Board in previous posts.

You can access the review here:

Review of the Toronto District School Board

Previous posts include:

“Trustees mistrusted within schools”: TDSB governance review – Jan. 15, 2015 CBC article

Message from Trustee Pamela Gough regarding Jan. 15, 2015 Review of the Toronto District School Board

Community self-organizing

My engagement with local politics began with the sale of Parkview School by the Toronto District School Board some years ago.

View of Parkview School, photographed from top of Aquaview Condominiums, November 2012. Click on image to enlarge it. Click again to enlarge it further. Jaan Pill photo

Aerial view looking east along Lake Shore Blvd West from near Long Branch Loop, Ontario Archives Acc 16215, ES1-814, Northway Gestalt Collection. Click on image to enlarge it. Click again to enlarge it further.

I have been involved with community self-organizing for many years. By that I mean working with people in a community to get things done, that otherwise would not get done.

Previously, my involvement had been at the Greater Toronto Area, national, and international levels. Until the Parkview story came along, and a clearly defined threat became apparent to the local community where I live, I had no interest in local matters. Who cared? I would have cared less.

Since that time, I’ve learned many new things, have developed quite a wide circle of contacts and have learned, from people wiser and more experienced than I am, the value of strategic thinking as it relates to community self-organization.

This serves as a preamble to the following text, from the above-mentioned TDSB review by Margaret Wilson. I share the text as a way to bring attention to the contents of the full report, which I encourage you to read in its entirety.

Conclusion and recommendations of the Jan. 15, 2015 Review of the Toronto District School Board by Margaret Wilson:

In conclusion, I wish to thank all those who willingly assisted me in this review. The road to 5050 Yonge Street is paved with good intentions on the part of those who work there. But in conducting the review, I was deeply disturbed by the acute level of distress which was apparent among many of the professionals who spoke with me. I have not included in this report all the evidence I found of the culture of fear: It would be too easy to identify some of the individuals who gave me information. Many staff members feared that they would be fired if they could be identified through what I wrote. Some were in tears.

Several senior staff, in mid-career, were concerned that their professional reputations would be damaged because of their association with the TDSB. Yet invariably, they were proud of the work they were doing in support of the Board’s students. They deserve better than a culture of fear. It remains questionable whether the trustees and senior administration can pull together as a whole. The present level of cooperation is so poor, and so hampered by institutional habits and structures, that the effects go beyond undermining public confidence: They also undermine the Board’s focus on student achievement and well-being. The Minister’s concerns were justified.

Recommendations from Jan. 15, 2015 Review of the Toronto District School Board

I recommend that the Minister immediately direct the Board to:

1. Reform its promotion procedures and policies for all levels of staff (with the exception of the Director of Education) so as to remove individual trustees from decision making. The reformed policies should be consistent with the ministry’s Operational Review Guide for Ontario District School Boards, 4th edition (September 2010).

2. Develop and implement a professionally sound policy for the performance appraisal of the Director of Education.

3. Develop and implement a policy clearly delineating the governance role of the Board of Trustees, the responsibilities of the Chair and committees and the day- to-day operational role of the staff.

4. Revise the terms of reference of all committees, including advisory committees, to be consistent with the governance role of the Board. The terms of reference should ensure that the roles and limits of committees are clear and that any staff supporting them are assigned by, and report to, appropriate Board staff.

5. Bring its trustee perquisites and privileges and costs thereof into conformity with those of the other large boards in the Greater Toronto Area.

6. Develop procedures which ensure better Audit Committee oversight of international and non-core projects and partnerships with outside organizations, and direct the current TDSB Audit Committee to review, and provide to the Board of Trustees, the contracts, transactions and documents related to the Confucius Institute, the relationship with the school in Vietnam, the Neo City Café litigation and contract and the Central Tech litigation and legal costs.

7. Limit trustee participation in the Audit Committee to members of the committee and those trustees invited to the committee for specific agenda items.

8. Present a three-year plan for the effective and responsible stewardship of the Board’s capital assets to support the delivery of appropriate education programs to students. This must include a detailed work plan on how to significantly reduce unused spaces and address the condition of existing school facilities.

9. Amend the director’s contract to comply with the Broader Public Sector Accountability Act, 2010 and respect the advice provided by the Minister in January 2014 and December 2014.

I also recommend that the Minister:

10. Assign a committee of three to five advisors to make recommendations on governance and electoral representation options for the Board. The consultation should examine the possibility of structural and procedural changes to address the culture of fear, and governance structures to enable trustees to focus on broader policy issues in balance with responsiveness to local concerns.

The committee should consult at a high level with representatives of the Board, the senior staff, the employee unions, parent organizations, the City of Toronto, Toronto-based universities and colleges and representatives of the business community. The committee should consult a cross-section of public school supporters to assess their support for the current governance and electoral structure of the Board and any alternative structures which might better support student achievement and well-being.

[End of excerpt]

Climate of fear

You can access the full review here:

Review of the Toronto District School Board

You can access part of a previous TDSB report, the Falconer Report on School Safety, here.

The Falconer report warrants a close read in the context of the “climate of fear” narrative as it relates to trustees and senior management in the Jan. 15, 2015 review.

Much has been written.

Much documentation has been published.

Much depends upon the decisions that are made over the next few weeks.

I for one will be following this story with much interest.

Comment and Updates

Based on decades of experience as a volunteer working smaller, non-profit organizations involving volunteer boards of directors, I believe a basic point is worth underlining. Key decisions need to be made through a Board resolution and a recorded vote of Board members.

Otherwise, the key decisions end up being made on the fly. It’s a convenient way to go but in the long run you get situations like what has occurred with trustees at the Toronto District School Board.

Many decisions have been made that in the end have created many headaches. If TDSB trustees lack the capacity to follow procedures involving resolutions and recorded votes, they should not be involved in decision making on behalf of the Toronto District School Board.

Theories of education are of interest to many people. On that theme, a most interesting and relevant Jan. 15, 2015 Wired article is entitled: “The Real-Life Teachers of Spare Parts on What’s Wrong With US Schools.”

Also of interest is: Introducing Vygotsky: A guide for practitioners and students in early years education (2009).

Research about full-day kindergarten is similarly of relevance:

Full-day kindergarten children score highest in vocabulary, self-regulation (Global News, March 28, 2014)

A Feb. 8, 2015 Metro News article is entitled: “Majority of schools slated for closure are in Toronto’s poorer neighbourhoods.”

A Feb. 9, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Majority of elementary schools on TDSB closure list serve vulnerable students: 22 of 48 elementary schools part of program targeted at city’s poorest neighbourhoods.”

A Feb. 11, 2015 CBC Metro Morning podcast featuring Margaret Wilson is entitled: “TDSB Vote.” The background text notes:

“Last night, with a crowd of angry parents and teachers outside, Toronto District School Board trustees voted to consider what to do with 48 under-utilized schools over the next three years. Matt Galloway spoke with Margaret Wilson. She was the author of a report on problems at the TDSB, which was released last month. Among the report’s recommendations was for the board to close schools.”

A March 16, 2015 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Ontario orders sweeping panel review of beleaguered TDSB.”

The article notes:

“Ms. Sandals said the option of appointing a supervisor is still “open” to her, but that is not what’s needed at this time. A supervisor, she said, would strip trustees of their powers but leave the structure of the board intact while doing nothing to address management problems identified in Ms. Wilson’s report.

“The panel, by contrast, has a wider mandate to examine the structure of the board and to recommend governance changes, including possibly breaking it into smaller entities, Ms. Sandals said.

“ ‘Certainly, one of the things that Ms. Wilson identified was a very top-heavy [organization] where there seemed to be a distance between administrative structure and actual focus on student achievement,” Ms. Sandals said. “That might involve [breaking up the TDSB]. I’m not presuming that outcome.’ ”

[End of excerpt]

An April 1, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “Toronto school board dividing into ‘learning centres’: Too big, too unwieldy, too impersonal — criticisms of Canada’s largest school board lead to plan to break it up into smaller centres.”

An Oct. 17, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Vancouver School Board fired by B.C. education minister: Education Minister Mike Bernier has fired all 9 elected Vancouver School Board trustees.”


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