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

Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Education

December 14, 2006

I am going to take this opportunity folks just to say a few words and I know that lunch is next on the agenda so they will be very few words I won't take a lot of your time. I am hoping that once I have been able to make a few remarks that we will have a chance to have a bit of a dialogue because the reason that we wanted to have you here today was to give you an opportunity to talk to us and for us to be able to respond in our, in the best way possible. I know that you have had a session with Avis, you are going to have an opportunity to talk with some of the other folks who are doing the work in the Ministry. I know that there are Trustee training sessions happening and I am hearing that they are very good but I really wanted to have a chance to bring the Chairs together because you are performing a leadership role and I wanted you to be able to talk to each other because often my experience has been that the political and the administrative mix and sometimes the political leadership doesn't get a chance to take it's place and have it's voice so I wanted to make sure that you had that chance today because you see all the issues that we deal with differently than your Chair then staff do. I know that I was Parliamentary Assistant a few weeks ago, things look different from the Minister's Chair. It depends on the chair you are sitting in what your perspective is. I know that your chair is different than those of your staff because your name is on the ballet and you are the people who are accountable directly to your constituents so the discussion between you and me is different than the discussion between the folks that work in our Ministry and the folks that work in your boards. They just are different conversations and that is why I wanted to have the opportunity to connect with you. From my perspective I need to connect with you in that political framework that we work in because we are in a political framework. One of the things that I wanted to say to you is that I know that this year we are moving into a very political year. One of the things that we have done as a government is we have put in place fixed election dates so we know when the election is. It is October 4, 2007. Everybody knows when the election is. The opposition knows when the election is. The, all the agencies in the province know when the election is. The hospitals know when the election is so everybody is organizing and is making their case about what should and shouldn't happen over this next year as we go into a budget round and then as we build our platform and we go into the next election. That makes it a very special year. It is your first year back into your new term. It is your first year of a four year term and I know that some of you are going to a four year term reluctantly and it was imposed upon you but others of you think that was a good idea and we can have a conversation about that but it's a fed comply year. You are in your first year of a four year term and so all of those factors play into what the conversation is going to be between you and me over the next year and so I thought that it was important for us to start that off. Some you I have met, some of you I now very well, some of you I don't know at all. I wanted you to have a chance to meet me personally and have an opportunity to put the face to the name and the name to the voice and to be able to get a sense of how I was going to deal with issues as they come up. I will just tell you that what I try to do when an issue arises is I try to hear the concerns in the best way that I can. Now sometimes that means that my staff hear the concern first and then we get a phone call, or in the best situations we have a face to face meeting. That isn't always possible just because of the number of hours in the day but it is always my attempt to hear the issues in as first a hand way as I can. I believe that there are very few irresolvable problems in life, I mean that is kind of how the way I approach life. That suggests to me and that informs my politics and my politics is that there are very few completely irresolvable contractible problems in politics. I think that the more we know about an issue, the more perspectives we bring to bare, the more we can resolve the issues that confront us. I know that in a lot of our conversations we will come at some point to, "well there has to be more money". I know that that's a theme that runs through all these dialogues. I am not being naive. I am not Pollyanna suggesting that there isn't an issue around money in a lot of our situations. Remember that I was a School Board Trustee in Toronto , but before that I was a parent advocate. My first child started school in 1984 and we started talking about staffing issues and prep time long before that. I am really keenly aware of those discussions around funding that run through of all of our debates. Our government has attempted, over the last three (3) years, to put resources into the system that start to address the concerns, particularly the concerns that took on a lot of political heat in the previous eight (8) years. So when I was a school Trustee in Toronto and then when we came into the campaign in 2003, public confidence in education, in the public education system was really at a low. We were not seeing an increase in confidence we were seeing a serious decrease. That was something that really had been intentionally begun with the previous regime and we had to have a conversation in the sector about how to combat that. I am not attempting to be partisan in that I am just saying that that was a reality that we were confronting. We were dealing with a lot of political issue, political heat around class size. I know that if I look back over the last twenty (20) years that's been a discussion that has been ongoing, to cap class size, not to cap class size, how to deal with the averages, how to do those comparisons between boards and across boards. We were dealing with a reality because of a literacy test that was onerous because of curriculum that had been in some cases very inappropriate. We had been dealing with an unacceptable drop out rate, an unacceptably low graduation rate. Those issues were things that we have put resources in. We have put money into literacy and numeracy to increase our graduation rate and I am going to link the work that Avis is doing with our graduation rate because the work that Avis is doing is ultimately what is going to help us get to 85% graduation in 2010, 2011 because it is those kids in those early years that we need to capture and make sure their literacy skills are where they need to be and then they will be able to graduate from high school. Putting programs in place like the Lighthouse programs, like the alternative programs, the pilots that we have initiated through the Learning to 18 student success strategy, putting student success teachers in place, those are all strategies to increase the graduation rate and to keep those kids in school. And you know that Bill 52 passed this week and you also know that there is a lot of discussion around some of the political irritants in that legislation, so the drivers license provision which is a last resort provision as we have amended the bill. Some of the concerns that we have had around exactly what do dual credits mean? Exactly what do we mean by these alternative programs? And we are in conversation with our federations about those. At the end of the day what we are trying to do is we are trying to, by putting student success teachers in place, by having projects in place that began with teachers on the ground saying, "you know what we know how to keep kids in school, here is a bright idea!" We have put money into those projects and we are getting results. So last year six (6) thousand students more graduated than the previous year. So we are seeing the results of those investments. The primary class size we are seeing across the province, around 64% of those kindergarten to grade three (3) classes are a twenty (20) student or fewer and that is the political sound byte. Underneath that what we know is that those classroom teachers have more access to those little people because there are fewer of the little people in the classrooms and that is exactly what we need to have happen, that those little kids have more time with their teachers and the teachers have more time with them so that they get off to a good start. I know, and I am sure we can talk about this, I know that there are still issues that remain around implementing the primary class size and in some of the submissions from boards and from other organizations we have gotten some feedback about some of the hurdles that people are confronting reaching compliance, reaching 90% across the province. We can continue to talk about that but whether we reach compliance this year or next year or exactly what the trajectory is; the point is that having fewer kids in those classes is a good thing. When I go into schools and I have tried to visit as many boards as I can in the nine weeks that I have been in office. I think that I have either met with, been in schools of, or talk to thirty-five (35) or thirty-six (36) of the seventy-two (72) boards since I came into office in September 18 th. I will continue to do that. When I go into schools what I am hearing teachers say is the tone has changed, they are happy with the resources that they have been given, they are happy with the professional development opportunities that they have. I am feeling that we are not under siege in the way that we were in terms of public education, that we have a different conversation going and my purpose in having you here today is to consolidate that conversation. I am a new Minister and I want to make sure that you know that you will have access to me to the greatest degree possible, that we will problem solve together, that this is not going to be a completely issue free year. It is going to be a year with challenges but we all, and I particularly I know, but all of us need to keep our eye on that ball. The ball for me is those kids doing better, making sure that we have more kids graduating next year, making sure that the kids who need resources, and I was talking on the radio this morning to some folks in Windsor and in Kitchener-Waterloo. The point I made when we were talking about Bill 52, the point I made was that this is about making sure that the students who we know are at risk, and we know when those kids are at risk, we know that they are at risk early. Teachers can tell us early early on that kids are struggling, that they come from circumstances that is going to dictate that they need some support. We need to capture those kids as early as we can. That is why we are streamlining our special education processes so we can get services to kids quickly and not have administrative processes stand in the way of getting services to kids. We are trying to get to those early and make sure they get the right resources. That is where you and I have to work together because I cannot possibly know, Ben Levin cannot possibly know, George Zegarac cannot possibly know the intricacies of what is going on in your boards and so our conversation, which is obviously always going to be tinged with the political, has to be about making sure that your information and your best intelligence gets to these folks so that we can do what we need to do from the Ministry to make sure that you get the resources that you need. Thank you very much for being here and I look forward to talking with you.

Male Speaker: Minister certainly from my perspective and from our boards perspective we are encouraged by the initiatives pertaining to primary class sizes, and certainly the initiatives that we see at the opposite end at the secondary level with all of the initiatives to keep students in school and all (abruptly ends)