Monday, 12 November 2012

Amendment 64 - Colorado

So one of the interesting pieces of last week's US election - although many people were tired of the back and forth of a bitter campaign - was Amendment 64 in Colorado.

Amendment 64 was passed narrowly 54% to 46% which was the request to legalize pot/marijuana or whatever you choose to call it.

It is an interesting dilemma as there is a lot of pressure to keep taxes down and spending up - how do governments do this as they need new sources of revenue?

Many cheers were heard when the amendment passed even though the state politicians and many mayors were against this as there are many concerns including how does a State work with putting in the rights to use when there are still Federal laws that say it is illegal?

An interesting dilemma for sure!

As a side note Washington State approved to vote on this issue in their next election.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

US Election from a Canadian Perspective

It was a pleasure to be in Denver CO on Election Day. The pundits said it would be TOO close to call - well the popular vote was close BUT the results were in early that Barack Obama remained as President.

Colorado was considered a swing state so it was exciting to be here. Everywhere you went last night people were glued to television sets and it wasn't because the Nuggets were playing - wow what a shock when politics beats sports in any town!

Staff in restaurants paused to catch the results - how was Colorado going to go and would the 2 hour time difference make a difference. Luckily here it was a warm sunny day so turn out was expected to be high.

The final results were close
Obama 1,091,234
Romney 1,021,983

Who was making the difference? Women who were Independent voters - no surprise - Romney just didn't connect with women in general - most women I talked to had a hesitation about Romney but couldn't explain why - they loved the way he was with his wife and his sons but there was a niggling reason as to why hey would vote for him.

Hispanics now make up 20% of the voting population in CO and so they will become a stronger and stronger vote here.

The next President of the United States will have to face this challenge - how to attract the female and Hispanic vote.

As an outsider what was fascinating was the engagement of everyone I met that day - the air was buzzing with excitement - people were engaged and talking about it and there were cheers in the town square when the results were announced. The advantage of a warm evening was the ability to congregate and listen collectively. It was such an interesting day as I can't remember an election that was so close and engaged a nation in a conversation.

I look forward to seeing how Obama can build on the engagement of young people, women and Hispanics in the next 4 years to encourage them to continue to be involved and engaged in politics for the betterment of all.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Focus on Youth Toronto

One of the programs that the Liberals addressed after the "Year of the Gun" was a program called Focus on Youth.
The program focuses on two factors -
1) Employing young people that may not have the opportunity to work for the summer and give them valuable work experience.
2) Working with Youth - young students who may not have opportunities to attend camps or have experiences that will keep them busy for the sumer but also develop them will skills that will help them in the future.

The program has worked!

Anyone that has a young person in the house, knows how difficult it is for them to find a summer job with the downtown in the economy there seem to be few summer jobs. The grants that are given allow many Toronto students the opportunity to work with young people and become role models. As well the work experience varies from art projects to sports camps ensuring that every student can feel empowered to work in a field they are interested.
Many students comment that they have enjoyed working with younger students and are now considering jobs that work with children..

For those young students they have the opportunity to participate in active organized activities often in local schools, providing structure and comfort. Parents receive a side benefit of free programs that keep their children happy and active.

I hope that the government sees this summer program as an investment and not a cost!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Sal Khan speaking at NSBA

I had the pleasure of hearing Sal Khan speak at the NSBA conference this past weekend. As you know already - I'm a BIG fan of the man that created Khan Academy!

What surprised me most about hearing Sal is that he has a great sense of humour and the time flew by when he spoke.

I was also reminded that many great ideas happen by accident - he was assisting his cousin long distance on learning math and created the shell for Khan Academy - and that people are willing to take risks to make good things happen - he quit his job to pursue this dream.

Sal made some poignant points which demonstrate why Khan Academy works
1) In Mathematics - if you miss a point, you are more and more lost in the subject as our curriculum builds year after year - so Khan Academy helps as you can go back to the basics and pick up the skills you might have missed or need stregthened.
2) Not all kids learn at the same pace or level so having tools that allow kids to work at their pace allows them to catch up in time with the expected norms.
3) Some kids lose their way by having 9 weeks off every summer - having the Khan Academy available allows them to maintain their skills
4) Some kids learn differently - having different resources helps different kids in different ways.

The good part is that Khan Academy now has some results that show that they are making a difference with all kids - which means this is a tool that every teacher and parent should know about.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Technology in the Classroom - what's next?

Students have fully embraced technology - I don't know a student in high school that doesn't bring their smart phone and other devices to school!

So how are we moving forward with assisting them to use technology in the classroom?

It's frustrating as we aren't tapping into the resources in the classroom.

We still are using OLD and OUTDATED models which needs to be blown up and re-thought. Why are we still buying devices and trying to roll them out in an equitable way?

Why are we not looking at NEW and INNOVATIVE models. Why don't we see what students are bringing to school anyway and see how we can incorporate it.

How do we make the transition to College and Universities where students are expected to bring their own laptops?

Do we have the classroom teacher prepared to work in a technological way? Are we letting students lead? Collaborate? Try new ways of working/participating?

What skills have we given them to be prepared for the workforce or more education?

Thursday, 22 March 2012

So Are the Proposed Cuts a Bloodbath?

Whenever budget arises there are some truths that I now accept as "norms".

First, cuts of any kind are not fun - someone is affected either directly - through job loss or indirectly through learning to do more with less resources.

Second, unions need to represent their members so they won't like job cuts or changes or re-alignments.

Third, parents don't get involved until they see how it affects them and in most cases this is post-implementation and so TOO late.

Fourth, somehow it's never been enough and the next year there is more cuts!

Fifth, how do we measure impact on students to know what the right decisions are?

Sixth, it was hard when we controlled our own budget and tax increases and IMPOSSIBLE when we control neither!

Seven, how can one work within a pre-set formula when our students are NOT widgets. How do we advocate for more flexibility?

Eight, why is this the most stressful thing I do? and yet I barely get more than a few parents to attend sessions about budget or potential cuts. How do I get good feedback?

Nine, why is the sky always falling? Somehow we are doing better with less! I think this is a testament that we hire better and better and the people in the schools are making significant contributions without any more recognition.

So we over spend on a LOT of budget lines - my view points on the proposed cuts will be in future comments.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Expulsions and Lessons Learned - Part 2

So FINALLY we are looking at the expulsion process at the TDSB. I'm glad to see that we are evaluating it as I see it as TOO expensive for a board that is in dire financial straights and it doesn't benefit our students in the current format.
(NB you will hear a lot more of what I'm prepared to cut based on how I think students benefit).

Most families do not attend these sessions with a lawyer so I really question why the Trustees have a lawyer (I've done enough of these along with several of my colleagues that we don't need that support - and the 1 time I wasn't sure - a quick phone call would have resolved the issue anyway).

Secondly the Principal has a lawyer - and really it's just a re-bundling of their information. So again another unnecessary expense.

I look forward to the review and get the perspective of staff to see what they think they need.

No other board brings all the lawyers to the table like we do and so it's time to make change.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Budget Update March 2012

So it almost seems like deja vu - here we have a different government (Liberals) but it's as if we are back in the Tory land in 1997 - so how did that happen?

Well we TDSB - have never balanced our books - when the Tory's put us under a supervisor - he couldn't balance our books.

Do we overspend? Sure but a lot of things we overspend on is because we are trying to help kids - not because we're trying to line someone's pocket!

We overspend on paraprofessionals so what does that mean? Almost every week I talk to parents who are frustrated that our process for Special Needs identification is LONG and onerous - and yet we are already overspending. The longer these students are not identified and dealt with the less chance they have for success. So this is a hard line not to over spend on this line for me.

There are other lines like Principals and Vice Principals that we overspend on - according to the government BUT in an urban and low income setting this is hard not to have as well as the issues are different than rural and middle and high income earners.

We still have MANY kids come to school hungry and we feed almost half of our student population which is telling of the local struggles which does not fit into a static out of date funding model.

When will a government learn and listen that a one size fits all funding model does not work?

We need real dialogue - it's been too long living in a false economy and now that we are facing an $85 million pitfall what do we do?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Inconsequential Consequences - Healthy Food for Healthy Schools

As someone who has advocated that we have healthy, active kids you may be surprised that I am discussing the downside to the April 27, 2008 Bill8 which forever how we serve food in schools in Ontario.

Well no one will argue that we need to have students make good choices when it comes to eating habits this Bill 8 has had many casualties.

First, many of the food providers are struggling to be profitable or even to break even as students have stopped purchasing in their school cafeteria. For some schools, the local stores have been the benefactors as students flock their instead of purchasing the healthy choices presented to them in school.

Many of the food providers are now questioning whether they can remain in schools - so soon the school cafeteria may be a thing of the past.

Second, and more significantly is the impact to schools and school boards. Many schools used the profits made in their food programs to support the arts and extra-curricular activities - now with little or no profit this is no longer a source of funds. School Boards have lost a funding source which paid for extra things that the funding model did not cover.

So are we really benefitting students when they simply go down the street and make the purchases that we are preventing them from doing in school?
How many programs and extra-curricular events will no longer occur since there are no funds to support these programs and opportunities?

Well I agree that we need students to make good choices when we enforce draconian measures - they simply bypass the system and obtain the 'contraband' somewhere else and so the only ones losing are those kids that benefitted from the profits of our cafeterias and food programs.

And are we teaching them the skills in they go into the workforce or higher education and can make poor food choices - we have all heard of the "freshman 15" brought on by bad food choices.

Sometimes best intentions have inconsequential consequences which don't help kids.

DECA Competition

It was my pleasure to be a judge at this year's Ontario finals for the DECA high school students. As a former coach at the University level, it is interesting to see the High School students and what they bring to the table.

The students were from all over - I was judging the fast food category. The 2nd case was a very difficult case that dealt with hiring older, experienced but unemployed workers over high school students. I was very impressed with the answers that they gave and their depth of wisdom.

If one ever questions the quality of education in Ontario, I would highly recommend becoming a judge as the students were well spoken and poised and gave answers well beyond their age and experience.

I wish those well that go on to Salt Lake, Utah.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

"We're bargaining for students - It's about time"

So one of the challenges whenever it's bargaining time is that management represents management rights and unions are to protect their members' rights.
Who are we bargaining for - we are bargaining for our students and hence the new tag line
"We're bargaining for students - It's about time"

This will be a challenging year as I have never bargained before where really the provincial government is acting on management's behalf and we are a party - not the driver.

We know there probably won't be any monies for raises so what will the issues be? too soon to tell.

The standard asks are more money - less work.

We need to stay focused on our goal which is ensuring every student in Toronto gets the best we can give them.

2012 will be an interesting year!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Budget 2012

Well here I go again. It is interesting to see that even though I stepped away from the TDSB for 7 years - they have yet to balance their books!

We were under supervision when I left and the Tory supervisors were not able or were unwilling to make the cuts or changes required.

Then the last 7 years has been about blowing through reserves which some of the previous boards were careful to keep for a rainy day - well it's still raining BUT there are no more reserves.

So is Toronto unique? Is the funding model inadequate? Has the Provincial government downloaded more work and more programs without giving us the supports and monies required? Do we have kids coming to school everyday hungry? Do we have urban issues that are not being addressed in the static funding model?
The answer is YES to all.

So as we try to find $85 million in our budget what direction do we go? Do we put children first or budgeting the books first? This is a moment that I'm not sure Solomon would know what to do.

So for now I will listen and contemplate BUT I have a different perspective now - I won't bow down to anyone or any group - I will make my decisions on what I think is best for the students of Toronto.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Expulsions and Lessons Learned - 1 Year Back

One of the interesting things about being a returning Trustee is that you have the time to reflect about what's improved and what hasn't.

Expulsions are not a fun duty that one does as a Trustee as you are making a life decision for a student - it is one of the hardest decisions to make and I never take it lightly as I want the best for every student in front of me.

Things need to change though - the TDSB has raised the stakes for expulsions by having a Trustee lawyer and a Principal Lawyer - this practice is completely unnecessary and expensive - our monies are better spent elsewhere.

I started this Expulsion when Scarborough brought in ZERO Tolerance which over time was ridiculous as one needs to look at all the mitigating factors rather than simple black and white. Rarely do parents have a lawyer as it's expensive. In the early days the student was usually represented but this is NO longer covered by Legal Aid - so why is the School Board still spending needlessly on this?

We have talented staff and Trustees who have done this many times and in the many (I think I've done at least 20 in the last year) that rarely need legal help and the presence of lawyers just makes it seem more formal and daunting to poor parents and students.

Parents have remarked over and over how daunting it is to come into a room of 3 Trustees plus a the Registrar and 2 lawyers. I won't even ask what we are paying in legal fees but it is unnecessary and needs to stop! I'm sure a few staff positions can be invested in rather than paying legal fees.

It's time to put the student first and work in their best interest!

Khan Academy -

Often I get asked about new innovations that I see in the educational IT sector and Khan Academy is something I want highlighted.

There are many subjects that are covered in a way that today's student totally gets it! Look at some of the comments from students being appreciative of understanding concepts that they didn't understand in class.

All these resources are free and extensive!
I think it's best to copy what Khan Academy says about themselves -

"A free world-class education for anyone anywhere.

The Khan Academy is an organization on a mission. We're a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.
All of the site's resources are available to anyone. It doesn't matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. The Khan Academy's materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge."
As a teacher - great resource and possibly a different way to teach!
For a student - read the comments and from personal experience - WOW - some difficult concepts make sense. I've seen too many high school students struggle with Math - every student should be told to sign up!
For parents - relief - go here first to see if it will satisfy the needs of a tutor.
For School Boards - how to embrace free resources - always a challenge as we can save lots of $$.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Reflections on 2011 - The Good

One of the best things about returning to the board after a hiatus is having a new (and I hope) fresh perspective.
So coming back the good part is that the board is not divided by groups and trustees are voting from their personal perspective rather than voting in blocks.

It is nice to have discussions about your perspectives and have open conversations about each others thoughts and ideas and to influence each other.

I am enjoying this new way much better.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Is it time for TDSB to go with FREE office software?

Our school board is once again under tremendous pressure to cut costs - and once again it doesn't seem problem to make the cuts required without hurting kids!

So its time to look at options that don't hurt our students.

The first place to look is to seriously consider the offerings from Google.

Google outlines their value proposition - Free, Secure
FREE - well of course that is a huge benefit and the numbers are significant for TDSB.
The only question is do we move staff also to the free documents?

In my experience very few office workers use the full capabilities of Microsoft Office - and would be well served with many of the FREE Open Source Options. The only barrier I see - well change - certainly not capability or ease of use.

There are many other benefits to using Google Apps - we can save on servers and our storage costs - which again leads to more funds to save programs.

If we started moving over email - then every student, every parent can have access to our Academic Workspace which we can then make our investments in - so that parents, students and staff have secure places to post school related information.

So what are the downsides? Not lost jobs - there is too many great ideas in the IT department that we can re-focus on.
Would staff and students notice? Probably not - after a day or 2 of using Google apps - they wouldn't even remember that there was a change in software.

So it's time to move to open source where we can! We need to keep our corporate data secure but that can be handled through all sorts of options.