Fix board or be broken up, Toronto trustees, staff warned – Dec. 4, 2015 Toronto Star article

Updates:

A Dec. 7, 2015 CBC Metro Morning interview with Barbara Hall can be accessed here >

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.”

A Dec. 6, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “College of teachers finds Chris Spence guilty of professional misconduct: Former TDSB education director, accused of plagiarism, will now face penalty hearing.”

[end]

 

Previous posts have highlighted ongoing issues at the Toronto District School Board.

A Dec. 4, 2015 Toronto Star article by Kristin Rushowy is entitled: “Fix board or be broken up, Toronto trustees, staff warned: Advisory report by Barbara Hall recommends one year for the TDSB to get its act together.”

The opening paragraphs read:

“Canada’s largest school board is being warned to clean up its act or be torn apart, says a hard-hitting report by former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall.

“The report on the future of the Toronto District School Board, which was supposed to be released at the end of August, was obtained by the Star after being briefly posted online Friday.

“Among the 20 recommendations is that the ministry immediately send in a supervisor to work with trustees and staff to make improvements, but says that without significant progress within the next year, it should ‘expeditiously’ be broken into two or more ‘independent, smaller boards.’ ”

[End of excerpt]

‘Culture of fear’

A Dec. 5, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “TDSB needs supervisor to change ‘culture of fear,’ expert panel says Panel, appointed by education minister, says board should be broken up if progress isn’t made.”

The opening paragraphs of the article, which includes a link to the expert-panel report, read:

“‘A culture of fear’ exists at the Toronto District School Board, according to an expert advisory panel, which says that the TDSB should be placed under supervision so it can make the sweeping changes necessary to improve governance and restore public confidence.

“Expert panel to advise TDSB on how to fix its governance structure
The report also says that if ‘demonstrable progress’ is not made on the panel’s recommendations in one year, the TDSB should be broken up into smaller boards.

“‘The fundamental issues underlying the governance dysfunction at the TDSB are a culture of fear and lack of trust, especially at the top levels of the organization,’ the report’s executive summary reads.”

[End of excerpt]

Excerpts from recently release, August 2015 advisory report

The August 2015 advisory report makes for fascinating reading.

By way of illustration, here are a couple of excerpts from the Executive Summary:

Re: Unmanageable board priorities list

The TDSB’s current strategic plan does not fulfil this purpose. Rather, it sets out an overwhelming number of priorities and a list of actions the TDSB will take or targets it will reach, many of which relate to the ongoing administration of the board in meeting existing legal or provincial policy requirements, or board policy requirements. By its very definition, a priority is something that is more important than other things and that needs to be done or dealt with first. Hence, by its very nature, this board’s and this director’s list of 36 priorities overloads an already fraying organization.

School superintendents are experiencing exhaustion due to the demands from their executive team for paperwork to support the unmanageable board priorities list. Principals perceive that because of the unusually high number of board priorities – compared with five or six in other Ontario boards’ strategic plans – their school superintendents are losing focus on school needs. They also told us that with frequently changing senior personnel, they are experiencing frequently changing directions.

We also heard that as a result of this frantic activity to please the top end of the administration, projects are initiated constantly but never given long enough to run their course. Each September, new initiatives are launched with not enough regard for stewarding and monitoring their implementation.

We also noted that the Education Act clearly sets out that trustees are to entrust the day-to-day management of the organization to staff through the director of education.13 However, the Wilson Report, as well as previous audits and reviews of the TDSB, have noted the problematic practice of trustee involvement in the day-to-day operations of the board, despite the provision in the Education Act. During our consultations, we heard of many situations where trustees inserted themselves in operational matters, including participating in the floor plans of individual schools and directing which school would house a specialized education program. We heard that trustee involvement in operational issues has been a long-standing problem at the board and that some trustees have acted in ways that show a clear lack of understanding of the difference between governance and operations.

We also heard from some trustees and community members that trustee involvement in operational matters occurs in response to either the inability, or the unwillingness, of the operational side of the board to respond to pressing and urgent needs. One example of what we heard illustrates the point. The families in a chronically overcrowded school were increasingly frustrated by board staff’s inadequate responses to their ever-growing accommodation needs. It was incomprehensible to them that, approaching 160 per cent capacity, their school was not identified as a capital priority. The school trustee investigated the facts, reviewed the policies, obtained and analysed the utilization rates of nearby schools and concluded that the school belonged on the priority list. The trustee brought the “disconnect” to the board’s planning department to achieve a resolution. The amount of work was substantial, and the trustee is seen to have moved the operations of the board in line with the policy and, as a result, senior staff have this item on their priority list.

[End of excerpt]

Re: Bullying on the part of senior-level staff and trustees

The discussion concerns “an organization that is legally required to promote an inclusive, caring and safe environment for children and young adults and to promote anti-bullying initiatives in schools.”

The Executive Summary notes:

We heard disappointment, discouragement, and despair at the lack of integrity and accountability in the organization. Many strongly suggested that the culture of fear comes in equal parts from trustees and senior-level staff. Participants told us that leadership on both the elected side and senior administrative side of the board needs to develop and model a culture of openness and integrity. It is ironic that we heard of bullying and in-fighting between and among senior-level staff and trustees in an organization that is legally required to promote an inclusive, caring and safe environment for children and young adults and to promote anti-bullying initiatives in schools.

[End of excerpt]

Comment

During the 30-plus years that I worked as an educator prior to retirement, I came across a great book about curriculum development in public school systems; the book was a key part of an impressive initiative at the school board where I was teaching at the time. An image from the book has stayed in mind for me. The author speaks of past, large-scale curriculum initiatives that bring to mind the launch of an ocean liner.

The launch ceremony is held; the bottle of champagne is smashed across the bow in keeping with age-old cultural practices; impressive and inspiring speeches are held; the great ship moves slowly and majestically toward the open waters. People are waving goodbye as the ship disappears below the horizon. It is never heard from again; there is no further mention of it. Some years later, another launch, another disappearance below the horizon. Every few years, another impressive, all-new craft is launched with another bottle of champagne smashed across the bow.

The story serves as a metaphor for the challenges facing public education. As a society, we are I believe fully capable of addressing those challenges. The success of the Finnish educational system, by way of example, demonstrates that it’s possible to design and implement school reform that benefits all of the people involved with public education in a given society.

What impresses and inspires me no end, regarding the current Ministry of Education initiative, is that there is a clear indication that the dysfunctional culture that has been in place at the TDSB for decades will not be permitted to persist.

 

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