Meeting of Chairs of District School Boards with the Minister of Education and with Greetings from the Premier

Dr. Ben Levin, Deputy Minister of Education

December 14, 2006

The year ahead. The Minister spoke about 2007 of course as an election year for the government and therefore a political year. From our standpoint the key challenge is how we keep our focus on those critical challenges around improving student outcomes, reduced inequities in outcomes and improve public confidence, and around, particularly, our priorities around literacy, numeracy, higher high school graduation rates, and primary class size. At the same time, you all know that while we are trying to manage priorities you cannot ignore other things that are on the public agenda. When you are in elected office you are in the business of paying attention to whatever the public think is important and that you need to pay attention to. There is no getting around that by telling people you are busy with something else particularly. So it is a challenge of keeping the focus on a few key priorities but also realizing that we have to pay some attention to the whole range of things that your constituents and our constituents actually care about that. We have a big concern in the Ministry that we try and do this working together. I think that there has been a lot of progress in Ontario over the last few years in terms of building positive partnerships and findings ways to work out differences, as the Minister said, through continuing to talk about them until we can come to some kind of agreement, that wasn't always the political climate or the political landscape, so it requires some new habits and procedures for all of us. At a personal level I am quite pleased at how much that has happened and how strong that working relationship is at this staff level and as I see it, from my bureaucratic role, at the political level as well. There is a lot back and forth and a lot of joint problem solving and for purpose of public confidence of course, the less we can be finger pointing at each other in public the better it is for all of us in terms of people believing that publicly funded education is providing what they are paying for and what they want for the two (2) million children they are sending us every day. That brings me to the importance of good public communications. Of course all of you know this. I have had the chance to see almost all of the annual reports of the board, so for the last year or two. I think all of us with the Ministry and the Boards have work to do around how we report to the public. One of the commentaries earlier this morning was about, talking about the importance of celebrating our successes and talking publicly about our successes and that is absolutely the case. It is also the case though that we need to be honest with the public about our challenges because one result of a better educated population is they don't believe us if we say, "everything is going well, just trust us". People are better informed than that so the tricky thing is to find the balance between all of the things that we are doing well and there is a great deal for us to be proud of in education Ontario. But also talking to people about the things that remain to be done and the challenges that we face without somehow turning that into a kind of a negative exercise but in fact a positive moving the bar, advancing in what we need to do to get there. And all of that of course requires strong leadership so that is where you come in as Board Chairs. It is something that I have been talking with the Directors about, the important leadership role of the Directors not only within boards but I think across the province and with our S.O.'s and our Principles. You know, we all know that we are asking more of our leaders at every level then ever before. We are asking more of you, we the public is asking more of you as Board Chairs then ever before, and the same is true of your staff. The bar of leadership is going up and that means we have to pay a lot of attention to finding the right people but also providing the right development and learning opportunities for leaders at all levels of our system including, I would say, the people who are leaders in our unions and teacher federations who also have key leadership roles, and finding ways to help people do that work better in support of public education. So that is the challenge in the year ahead as I see it and really I am going to finish there and just invite, take a very few minutes to see if people have some commentary on any of those points of these questions or if you would like to give us some feedback on today as you have experienced it or anything else moving forward as to how we can ensure that the Ministry works well with you and your Board.

Male Speaker: I just wanted to say thank you for the opportunity you provided with, for us to have a meeting with our Chairs. This is a first and they all, we all wondered why are we here. In the end of the time we were together they were all saying, "when can we do this again? This is great!" It was an opportunity for us to have a discussion on various things of what, you know, of what was talked about here today, challenges that boards have in their own areas. I guess it just underlies a belief that I have is the importance of good communication is so paramount in the success of any area. Thank you so much for that opportunity.

Male Speaker 2: I want to thank you for this opportunity to come here and meet and I came here with a list of things. I am from a rural board and we have our issues and I hear issues from inner city boards, large growth boards, on thing and another. I think the message is, try to be fair and try to help us all with our issues. I see all your slides here, you are doing a lot of good things, you plan to do a lot of good things. I think we should have this again in a year and we can give you a report card on how well you did (laughing), you said you were going to do.

Female Speaker: In Northern boards when one industry towns the industry closes we not only face the demographic declining enrollment we face declining enrollment because of lack of job. I think if the government could recognize the challenges that communities in Northern Ontario are facing right now and provide additional funding not only for the children within our elementary and secondary schools but also for Adult Continuing Education it would enhance public confidence in my area.

Female Speaker 2: What you have done today and over the past year in starting to build relationships directly with boards and the recognition that boards are valuable. We see that in speaking with our colleagues that you are coming to us where we at least feel we are being valued. We have come along way in building public confidence and that comes from the stability that we have, we don't have animosity between federations and teachers. We don't have the push pull between the bureaucratic and the elected government and the elected trustees of always being at odds, and that in itself there is a lot more positive in many of the boards I know in our boards regardless of the struggles that each of us do have. We have a lot that is in place. Boards make good decisions when they have lots of information, and you have a lot of experience in this room that will continue for the next four (4) years. Thank you.

Dr. Ben Levin: That seems to me like a perfect, positive concluding wrap-up. I always want to end on an up note so unless there is anything else that is pressing I am going to thank all of you again for being here and extend our wishes again to continue the dialogue. I know that the Minister will be talking to many of you in the weeks and months ahead as well. Thank you very much. Merci beaucoup. Et tout le monde, merci pour votre attention. Thank you.