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.