Ministry seeks advice from Island educators on bettering the system

M’CHIGEENG—The Ontario Ministry of Education is holding province-wide consultations with parents and teachers during the months of September through November with the aim of seeking views on how to bring the education system of this province ‘from great to excellent.’

Professor Michael Fullan, special advisor to the Premier of Ontario, explains in a special handout for the consultations that according to international measures and independent expert assessment, Ontario is recognized, as and is proven to be, the best school system in the English-speaking world—right up at the top with Finland, Singapore and South Korea. But the Ontario government wants to make the educational system in this province even better.

The consultations for the Island were held October 29 at the Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) in M’Chigeeng. Chaired by MSS principal Laurie Zahnow, the educators in attendance included Tracey Chapman, principal of Central Manitoulin Public School (CMPS), Judy Land, teacher representative from CMPS, Jamie Mohammed, principal of Little Current Public School (LCPS), Christy Case, principal of Gore Bay Public School (GBPS) and teacher Ray Scott of Assiginack Public School. As well, parent Carrie Spry, who heads the CMPS Parent Council, was in attendance at the meeting along with three other parents.

The Ministry of Education has set up a list of seven questions for teachers and parents to respond to in order to bring Ontario’s education system to the next level, rather than staying in the same spot or dropping behind. As Ms. Zahnow explained, any idea is a good idea and the purpose of the consultations was for gathering input, rather than necessarily getting the right answer. The responses will then be given to an administrative assistant and then on to the Ministry of Education.

One of the questions asked was about the skills, knowledge and characteristics that students need to succeed after they have completed school and how do teachers and parents better support all learners in their development. Ms. Spry spoke of the need for students to have high self esteem and also noted that there is a Code of Conduct and that respectful behaviour is also important, whether in the schools or at an education meeting. Ms. Spry also thought that it was necessary to teach kids to love learning and also that there should be a better way of communicating between teachers and parents. Mr. Scott’s belief was that it was very important for children to have perseverance. “I’m not sure if we talk about that a lot,” he said at the meeting. “I think that should be one of the biggies.”

Other questions that the ministry would like answered include student well-being, what further opportunities exist to close gaps and increase equity to support all children and students in reaching their full potential, how the school system can use technology more effectively in teaching and learning and what can parents and teachers do to keep students engaged and to foster their curiosity. A full list of the seven questions can be found on the ministry’s website at www.edu.gov.on.ca where the educational consultations are in the spotlight. Parents who cannot attend the meetings are asked to answer the seven questions online or to send in a written response.

Manitoulin Island Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) member Larry Killens, in a letter sent to the RDSB Chair Dewar as well as Director of Education Norm Blaseg and copied to the Minister of Education Liz Sandals as well as fellow trustees stated that, “obviously our staff is in support of the ministry initiative.” However, he bemoans the fact that stakeholders only heard about the meeting a mere six days before the scheduled date or not at all. Consequently, Mr. Killens contacted the Parental Association for home schooled parents as well as First Nations stakeholders to ensure even more participation in the from great to excellent initiative provided the short notice did not place a handicap on getting good numbers out to the consultations.

Betty Bardswich