The following thoughts reflect a sample of my views on various topics:

Letter to Columnist Randall Donley in Ottawa Citizen February 2, 2017
Dear Sir,
I wish to comment on your recent article in the Ottawa Citizen concerning school boards.
  1.  One issue you failed to raise was that of French Immersion which, one should note, differs from the regular French program only in the number of hours per program.  How about one robust French program with differentiated learning and a rich extra-curricular program which would complement the new FSL Guidelines?  Let's stop ghettoizing our communities and splitting residents into a faux class system.
  2. Secondly, why should French Public, French Catholic and English Catholic Boards not be forced to adhere to their mandate? Rather, what we see is overt poaching of English public students which is a travesty in smaller, rural communities resulting in much more serious results than in urban centers.
  3. I fail to see how re-gaining control of the local property tax base would alleviate strain or assist boards.  Let us not forget that the Harris regime took this position to ensure equality of funding and opportunity.  This move, in my opinion, has been successful. You note correctly that much of boards’ present budget and programming is dictated by the priorities of the Government of the day. That is true! Trustees would love to have control over a portion of funding for local priorities. This existed in the past funding formulae to a certain extent but those funds quickly were snagged by others for unintended goals.
  4. You are absolutely correct concerning the revised structure of boards which could still accommodate the mandates of each of the present boards.  Such a campus approach would indeed be valuable, eliminate  competition and maximize use of all our resources.
I foresee many opportunities ahead. We should take advantage of them for the sake of our students and taxpayers. These views are mine alone and do not reflect the official position of any board.
Best regards,
John McAllister
Trustee, Ward 4, Upper Canada District School Board

ROLE OF THE TRUSTEE

November 27, 2014

 

My response to an article in the Toronto Star by Reg Martin-Cohn

 

http://service.meltwaternews.com/mnews/redirect.html?docId=3735493642&userId=2754637&cId=420937&agentId=5933709&type=1&s=55069&url=http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2014/11/26/dump_our_trustees_dissolve_our_school_boards_cohn.html

 


Martin,


 


I am choosing to respond to you in person rather than by posting an anonymous comment at the end of a recent article.


 


Usually, I enjoy your creative and analytical writing; however, I think you have missed the mark in part, at least, on this one.


 


Firstly, the situation in the TDSB is not typical of boards in Ontario and the dysfunctional history of this Toronto Board is certainly not reflective of most other boards. While I agree with some of your thoughts,  I hope you will allow me to make a case for the contrary.


 


We as Trustees do feel somewhat emasculated by the loss of taxing power although this did provide equity in funding to all students in boards regardless of geography, economic status, size and so on.


 


Trustees also often feel that they are merely the messengers of the Government (legislation and regulations) prescribed by the government of the day often with insufficient warning, time and funding. The government also dictates curriculum though it is important to understand that any curriculum is the product of a great deal of collaboration and local input via writing teams comprised of experts and practicing teachers, educational assistants, professional student service staff, many of whom have been our valued employees.  Furthermore, it is the duty of local boards to choose how to implement this curriculum programming.


 


Trustees as phantom politicians in training?  Maybe so, but what better training ground?  On the other hand, it is only a small percentage who choose to advance and, in so doing, must get elected.  Is this not the essence of the democratic process?


 


Part-time job? I received an honorarium of $10,617.88 in year one of my term and $10,166.78 in this final year four of this term.  The decrease is due to the formula which in part is based on enrolment and, in the Upper Canada District School Board, we are experiencing declining enrolment.  So, given the number of hours I put in, it is almost a full-time job with part-time pay.  However, it is what it is and I am happy.  Though I will note that anyone other than a retiree would have difficulty balancing a full-time job and the responsibilities which I assume.


 


Have the boards become redundant bureaucracies which duplicate the provincial ministry of education “while replicating religious divisions”?  On the surface, one could make that argument.  But to dig deeper is to see the human face of parents and students in local communities each with distinctive issues and projects.  There is certainly a case to be made for one public system as witnessed, predictably, by the incredible comprise in principles which the Catholic system has had to endure for the sake of extended public funding.  The chickens are just now coming home to roost.


 


To put boards of education “in perpetual trusteeship” is one solution.  One would do so at the peril of defacing local representation and input.


 


Who would put a local policy slant on edicts from the provincial government?  Who would deal with sincerity, care and knowledge about the following:  local transportation issues, local boundary questions, local student-teacher-parent problems, advocacy of local programs, local plans to address bullying, local methodologies to improve student achievement and success, accommodation for developmentally-challenged students, promotion of the arts in a local way, local collective bargaining, innovative ways to deliver curriculum in small high schools, local use of schools...I am only half-way through my “problem” file.


 


If there is one word that permeates this missive, it is the word “local”.  As a Trustee, I view each and every decision through the prism of all things local:  students, schools, School councils, communities, people.


 


Martin, call me naïve but consolidation as you advocate is, in my mind, tantamount to disrespect.


 


And that is inappropriate and unacceptable in my books.


 


Thank you for enduring my diatribe.


 


John


 


John.mcalliister@ucdsb.on.ca


613-213-4094


Www.jjmcallister.com


www.jjmcallister.com


Twitter: @TrusteeJohn


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/john.mcallister.3158?fref=ts&ref=br_tf

 


  • Anti-bullying programs:  This societal issue is being addressed directly by the Board and each of its schools.  Please refer to the "Anit-bullying" navigation button on the right for a more comprehensive list of tips and resources.

 

  • Music:  At the most recent meeting of the Board on December 5, 2012, Jim Palmer and Ewen McIntosh, at the request of Trustees, presented the following update on the work of the Arts Charter:

  Arts Charter Review:  Trustees at the May, 2012 meeting had requested the Director to draft a precise action plan to address the four recommendations in the Arts Charter Review Report. Motion by John McAllister, second by Jeff McMillan.  This report presented the four previous recommendations below:

 

 1. Maintaining our commitment to students through the provincial arts curriculum,

2. Continuing our focus on integrating the arts with effective teaching and learning across all subject areas to promote critical thinking and the creative process,

3. Continuing to staff schools with the teacher qualifications currently required for the Ontario arts curriculum, and

4. Maintaining a balanced delivery of the arts curriculum across all four areas of dance, music, visual arts and drama.

 

The Charter Working Group continues to meet the above goals through a focus on:

a) Building teacher capacity through a variety of professional development opportunities

b) Supporting infrastructure investments that focus on long-term grown in the Arts

c) Providing opportunities for students to participate in Arts activities as both artist and audience/observer.

 

In support of the above recommendations, it is likely that the Upper Canada District School Board will continue to support the Arts Charter, including a budget allocation of $300,000 per year.

  

 A follow-up progress report was requested for May, 2013.

 

***************************

 

Music is one of four strands of the Arts curriculum (dance, drama and visual arts) which is being taught in all elementary schools in Ontario.   Firstly, this curriculum is being taught in our schools in Upper Canada.  Secondly, the Board is  promoting music through the implementation of its Arts Charter.  Can we do better?  Of course!

 

 The problem is greater than just music. Schools are being asked and mandated to do so much today. You can imagine the list which might include such topics as: diet, sexual education, mental health literacy, daily quality physical education, smoking cessation, learning exceptionalities, new curriculum, embedded and adaptive technology, French and French Immersion, Coop Education, e-learning, Full-time Kindergarten, anxiety, eating disorders, suicide prevention, discipline… the list goes on. The challenge is to incorporate these new items into the existing curriculum without just the "piling it on" effect. In our recent experience, our administrators and teaching staffs are doing a wonderful, caring job.

 

I do not say this lightly nor because I am a Trustee. Rather, it is based on my recent experiences in the past year during visits and consultations with staffs, Principals, School Councils, parents and students in each of the schools in Ward 4. Also, I come to this conclusion based a total of 43 years as an active teacher when, frankly, some of these challenges were not issues.

 

Back to music! No one is more committed to the development of musical awareness than I am given my extra-curricular experiences with the Brockville Concert Association, church choirs and community involvement.  The matter of music in our schools has been rightfully raised by the delegation which appeared before the Board several weeks ago. The Trustees have referred it to the Director and senior administration who reported back to the Board on November 7, 2011. As a result, an intensive review of the Arts charter is underway with the view of examining strategies to improve our instruction. Let’s wait and see what exactly is reported and listen to the action plan which will be proposed.

 

There is no doubt, however, that music can and should play a prominent role in the education of our young people for a whole host of reasons.  Let’s work together to improve our performance.

 

  • Transition in the Athens and Brockville Families of Schools:

The consultation process is over at this time (August 2012) and the implementations have begun.  I will be following the outcome of this process as the implementation occurs.  It is my hope that the parents and students who were involved in the consultation process will be kept current as to progress as we ready the various high schools: Athens DHS, TISS and BCI for the arrival of these new students. There will be some tweaking to be done but by working together the final product will be as good as it can be.

  • Student Mental Health and Wellness: There are gaps in service to our youth in this area.  A coordination of services is needed.  The UCDSB is exploring ways to improve through its "Livng Well Focus Group".

 

  • Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC):  I have been appointed as the second alternate Trustee on this Committee.  Having attended all but one of the meetings, I am truly impressed with the direction of this Board and staff in assisting and serving students with learning exceptionalities.  The range of learning exceptionalities is very wide ranging from visual impairment to ADDS.  One of the roles of this Committee to is advise the Board on its special education programs and "to make recommendations with respect to any matter affecting the establishment, development and delivery of special education programs and services for exceptional pupils of the board".  I have learned new terms such as "embedded technology, adaptive learning, special education equipment and inclusionary learning".  I am particularly interested in the advisory role of this Committee and hope that it will do just that, "advise" the Board and make recommendations.  There exists a wealth of knowledge from the members-at-large and the representatives of various organizations and agencies who comprise the membership of this Committee.

 

  • Building 2020:  Declining enrolment has caused the UCDSB to review programs, school closures, and the re-alignment of boundaries for families of schools.  The major result was the recommendation that various Grades 7 & 8 students attend local high schools.  This has been carried out successfully in other wards.  In Ward 4, after a year of transition planning, Linklater and TIES students in Grades 7 & 8 will be attending Gananoque Secondary School.  The transition planning in the Athens Family of Schools begins in earnest this September.  It has been my experience that a successful transition depends on good communication, parent involvement and the building of partnerships. I understand the concerns on the part of some parents sending their younger children to high schools.  These fears are being diminished with the various planning and orientation sessions.  This unique experience will benefit both the 7 & 8 students as well as the existing 9-12 crowd.

    

  • Adults in schools – teachers, educational assistants, clerical and office workers, custodians and support staff – in their own roles and ways, contribute to better learning and safer schools for students.

 

  • Trustees’ expenses, transparency and accountability:  I have posted my expenses (see navigation button on the right) and work towards a plan for all trustees and senior administrators to do likewise.

 

  • Educational Assistants:  Students with exceptionalities deserve all the help they need to succeed whether it be an Educational Assistant, equipment or additional help.  The Board’s mission statement (CREW) and its goal of a 90% graduation rate are commendable.  I support the provision of the most appropriate resources for the individual student.

 

  • Small School Summit:  I am pleased to announce that this year's SSS will be held at the NAVCAN Training Institute in Cornwall.  Furthermore, this year's theme is devoted to well being and mental health. This one of the top projects in the implementation of the Board's strategic plan.   Investigating strategies for dealing with declining enrolment and small schools is a fine goal.  It is my hope that some serious consolidation, discussion and reflection  by Trustees about the recommendations will occur for discussion.    I believe there should be a moratorium on the Summit to allow all parties to review the recommendations which, hopefully, do lead to critical improvements to the viability of all schools.

 

  • Gr. 7 & 8 students moving to Gananoque SS, Rideau SS and North Dundas DHS:  The refurbishment of facilities and infrastructure  have been completed at this time.  Students are now fully integrated into Ganaoque Intermediate High School. Many parents to whom I have spoken had serious reservations about this transition.  However, the transition planning has been well done and most of those concerns have been allayed.  This is a unique opportunity for what is essentially a new school for Gananoque.  A new school with a brand new administrative team holds great promise.

 

  • Contracting out of services:  Agreed, some contracting out is necessary in certain areas.  There appears to be an ambiguous trend to rely on outside services in the areas of support staff.  This is not the way to promote and foster employee commitment to students and the goals of the system.

 

  • EQAO testing:  Our staff has worked very diligently in preparing students for success and, as a result, the UCDSB has a success rate of around 80%.   The ideal is success for ALL students.  I am concerned about these tests, the reporting of results, their cost and the time allocated to the tests for a snapshot in time.  The longer term remedial strategies to support schools and students are critical. This article published recently outlines a few flaws:

 

Caution to Canadians: Why Chinese educators worry about high PISA scores

Erika Tucker, Global News : Thursday, September 06, 2012 5:10 PM

 

TORONTO – When students in Shanghai earned the highest ranking on a well-respected international assessment, not all Chinese educators were happy.

Instead of being proud of the top scores, some were concerned that it came at too high a cost.

Fifteen-year-olds in Shanghai beat out students from 65 other countries in reading, math and science in a test called the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) that was developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Dr. Yong Zhao, an education professor at the University of Oregon and director of the US-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence, says that the stereotype of Asian children studying all the time is often true.

Music, art and sometimes physical education have been removed from student timetables because they aren’t covered in public exams.

Instead of extracurricular activities, students in Shanghai were working long hours and studying into the weekends, mainly for exam preparation. About four out of five Shanghai children attend after-school tutorial groups to help prepare, according to the OECD.

But when asked if there’s any value in comparing the Chinese system to Canada to see what may be applicable, professor of the sociology of education at the University of British Columbia Charles Ungerleiderdoesn’t seem to think so.

“You want performance outcomes like Shanghai? Have a Chinese kid and live in Shanghai,” he says. “It’s a different cultural context. We want our kids to play soccer or do stuff after school, when they’re adolescents they need to have a job…If all you do is go to school all the time, all other things being equal, you should be outperforming those who both go to school and do other things.”

Zhao says there’s a dark side to Shanghai’s achievement.

“China itself did not celebrate the great achievement on the PISA test,” said Zhao. “They were actually more worried about what this means: we can do tests but we cannot do anything else.”

Zhao, who grew up in China and moved to North America at 27, says focusing all student energy on tests puts them at risk to lose the ability to ask questions, use curiosity and develop creative talent. He worries that people with aptitude in other areas are left out of the Chinese system.

He links the narrow focus on written exams to a recent Chinese physical health report out of the health ministry that said more than 80 per cent of Chinese people never participate in any kind of physical activity.

One reason for all the studying could be that the Chinese have long considered academic achievement the only way to advance socially, but Zhao and others say things are changing.

Andrew Parkin, director of the Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC) says his exposure to the Chinese system leads him to believe it’s very much in development.

“They have their traditional approaches to schools and to education, but they are rapidly incorporating what they see as best practices from western systems, not to westernize necessarily, but to develop a hybrid that they feel is best suited,” says Parkin.

Zhao adds that since the 1990s, the government in countries including China, Japan and Korea have been trying to get away from the system.

“They recognize the damages of their traditional way of overly centralized, standardized curriculum and over-emphasis on test results, and they’re trying to move away because they want more creative talent and they recognize their test scores do not translate to real abilities in work,” says Zhao.

Take a look at one of Shanghai’s recent initiatives—that focuses on teachers rather than tests—that has already earned positive results and international attention here.

© Global News. A division of Shaw Media Inc., 2012.

Read it on Global News: Global News | Caution to Canadians: Why Chinese educators worry about high PISA scores

 

 

  • Champions For Kids Foundation:  This volunteer Foundation is an arms-length project of the staff and they are to be commended for the success of this charitable cause.  Last June, I participated in the annual golf tournament to raise funds for need students.  I was impressed by the effort and success of the program.  Kudos to everyone.

 

  • Full Day Learning:  This government initiative is particularly attractive for working parents.  It does come at a cost.  I know the UCDSB is easing into the program.  I am very familiar with full day learning as three of my grand children attend such a school in Kanata.  The family atmosphere of this community school is remarkable.  I would be pleased to promote this initiative in our Board.

 

  • Meeting agendae:  The business of the Board should be transparent, open and collaborative as stipulated in the Education Act and its regulations.  I am working to ensure that this occurs especially in the day-to-day operation of the Board.   
  • More recorded votes?  A good idea!