By T.J. Goertz
OPSBA's Board of Directors welcomed the Minister of Education, Mitzie Hunter, on September 30, 2016. Hunter, appointed to the cabinet position on June 13, 2016, after serving as associate minister for the Ministry of Finance, addressed a number of key issues affecting the education sector.
She described the key leadership role of school trustees. "I see you as the bridge and a partner," Hunter said. "You have a role with our parents, you have a role with the school administration and you have an insight into the policies. You're also elected people so you understand the imperatives in communities and the local needs. I can't think of anyone on a system level who has the insights that you have into our local schools."
Speaking on the issue of accommodation reviews and resulting school closures, Hunter said trustees need to use their governance responsibility to open good communications channels with their local municipal counterparts so there is better understanding on both sides. "I believe that boards and municipalities should be working together on behalf of their communities and they each have an important voice. From a planning perspective, it's helpful for municipalities to be engaged with their boards," she said. "These are not easy conversations — they never are. There are some hard realities, particularly in our rural and northern schools, with regards to enrolment, and there are some really, really hard choices that need to be made."
Before the discussion at the Board of Directors' meeting, OPSBA asked Hunter several questions. Here is an edited version of her responses.
Congratulations on your new cabinet position as minister of education. What are the top two or three priorities for your ministry before the next provincial election in 2018? Improving math achievement is a priority for our government because in order for our graduates to tackle real-world issues outside of the classroom, they need to know the basics of math and how to apply that knowledge so they can succeed.
Another priority is our well-being framework to support all of our students and staff. We know that children who have a positive sense of well-being are more resilient and able to make positive and healthy choices to support their learning now and in the future.
Deepening collaborative professionalism is essential in our working relationships across the system, in order to continue making progress on a shared commitment to shift our culture and change how we work together to improve student success.
How is Ontario preparing young people for a prosperous future? What skills do you think are critical for our young people?
We know there is more work to do, which is why we are considering the recommendations from the Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel. Along with the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, we will be expanding the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) programs, experiential learning and career development opportunities, student exposure to the science, technology and mathematics fields, and professional development for teachers with a counselling role. The SHSM program is increasing access to 48,000 students who will be enrolled in 1,835 programs across the province. This innovative, high-demand program lets high school students focus on a career path that matches their skills and interests while meeting the requirements of their high school diploma.
How does the Ministry of Education plan to assist or take part in the implementation of the community hubs framework and action plan? Are schools the right places for a variety of types of community hubs? The Ministry of Education has taken steps to support the recommendations provided in Community Hubs in Ontario: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan and is making regulatory amendments to provide more opportunities for community organizations to purchase or lease surplus school properties. We have also committed $50 million to support community hubs in schools by renovating available school space to make it available for use by community partners and the public. While these services are important to the community, they need to be balanced with the school boards' education and health and safety responsibilities and evolving accommodation needs. The Community Planning and Partnership Guideline provides some examples of incompatible community uses, such as entities that provide competing private education services. Using available school space as a community resource is an important element in the creation of strong, vibrant and sustainable communities.
Why is it important for boards to provide before- and after-school care for children ages 6 to 12? Ontario is committed to ensuring Ontario's children and families are well supported by a system of responsive, high-quality, accessible and increasingly integrated early years programs and services that contribute to healthy child development as part of a seamless day. Beginning in September 2017, the province is expanding the current duty to require school boards to ensure the provision of before- and after-school programs for children 6 to 12 years old, in all publicly funded elementary schools serving students to grade 6, where there is sufficient demand.
How will the Ministry be assisting school boards in working towards successfully completing the actions recommended in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?
In collaboration with our Indigenous partners, Ontario is taking steps to ensure that mandatory learning about residential schools, treaties and the role of Indigenous peoples in our history and society is included in the curriculum, in an age- and grade-appropriate manner. We believe that all students, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are enriched by learning about the histories, cultures, perspectives and contributions of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada.
Ontario will host an Indigenous Languages Symposium with Indigenous partners and education stakeholders to review current programs, determine gaps and identify community priorities and supports needed to promote Indigenous languages. The symposium will provide partners with the opportunity to discuss the role and mandate of an Indigenous Languages Secretariat, which could lead to an Indigenous Languages Revitalization Strategy.
T.J. Goertz holds a degree in journalism from Carleton University and a graduate certificate in public relations and corporate communications from Centennial College. He has been with OPSBA since 2012, working in communications and policy.