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An Election Day Note
-- Jenn Hartley Boyce
More Wise Words from River Zone -- Endorsing Shirley Seward for Re-Election
A Week To Go! Words from All Around River . . .
“It has been my tremendous pleasure to have the opportunity to work with Shirley Seward. She thinks strategically and proactively regarding community and school growth opportunities beyond what is in her ward. I was pleased with her assistance in the implementation of the W.E. Gowling EFI program – not only did she look after her constituents but also the families and children who would be affected by this program implementation and its impact at eight other schools. Furthermore, I was pleased to interact with Shirley regarding the value of investing in school playgrounds and ‘school-greening’ opportunities. She’s at the meetings, she’s calling on the phone, and she’s getting things done.”
Shirley Seward Gets Results
Making Full Day Kindergarten Work
Parents at Bayview Public School in River Zone have been excited.
Finally, this fall, their school was getting full-day kindergarten for
But the anticipation has turned to
concern and worry. The Ontario government has short-changed financial
resources for new kindergarten classes in growing schools like Bayview,
and the result has been classrooms with too many children and not enough
Parents at Bayview have turned to me as their
Trustee for help, and we have been working hard to improve the
situation. We arranged for two groups of Bayview parents with children
in Junior Kindergarten and Senior Kindergarten to make presentations
about the problem at public meetings of the Board of Trustees on
September 16 and 23. And I am working with the Bayview Council to
implement an advocacy strategy to push the Ontario government to provide
the funding needed.
The provincial authorities have mandated introduction of full-day kindergarten, but they have not provided enough money to keep many classes at an effective size. As Trustees, we have voted extra money from our own resources to help, and this has been useful -- but we do not have enough local funds to solve the problem completely.
The Ontario Government must come through with
fair support for all schools, including expanding cases like Bayview
where student numbers are especially high.
This has not been the only problem in implementing full-day kindergarten. Our Board of Trustees respects and supports the
important role of existing child care organizations in extended day
programs and broader child care associated with our schools. But the
provincial government has not made this easy. One major part of my job
over the last four years has been working with child care centres, such
as St. Elias in River Zone and Andrew Fleck at Carleton Heights Public
School, to support an important ongoing role for them.
Full day kindergarten can be a huge plus for our children, but only if it is done well!
Toward Social Justice Schools
“Serious concerns about school performance of Somali children” -- that’s what the Canadian Somali Mothers Association reports to me as their Trustee. Led by Hawa Shafi, who lives in River Zone, the CSMA has been one of my main partners in working toward social justice schools, where no students feel excluded.
Hawa and I work together not just because she lives in my Zone, but because our partnership goes back before I was elected. My grandmother came to Canada as a young child from Lebanon, and she and my mother experienced painfully in Montreal how it felt to be marginalized and sometimes scorned. So Hawa and I are united by the commitment to end such exclusion and inequality, especially in our schools.
Hawa and the CSMA have made the education system one of their targets for change. They point to what they describe as “lack of diversity and representation in the schools” and they ask “why do schools that have high concentration of visible minority students, students of immigrant background, and low-income students report lowest scores on the EQAO tests?”
These are uncomfortable questions for some Canadians. But as a Trustee I have worked hard to have our schools confront them. The Somali Mothers point to “the perception that many boys were getting involved in criminal activities.” Our schools must be improved for the sake of social justice and safety in our city.
As we work together to counter poverty and exclusion, the CSMA and I know we must learn from others. Other cities have been working to improve inclusion for all with some success -- Toronto has experimented with reforming staff diversity and reaching out to the marginalized, and we have arranged detailed discussions with key leaders of these efforts; Boston has also seen dramatic improvements in inclusion, by working with Black activists and increasing financial support to schools in poorer communities.
But the crucial need is commitment.
That is what I have demonstrated over years of work with the Somali Mothers in River Zone. That is what I promise to stress in my next four years as your trustee. The schools of River Zone can be made models of social justice, where all students can achieve and exclusion is overcome.
We have already begun. Very recently the leaders of the Somali Mothers and I met with the receptive Director of Education, Jennifer Adams. It was a blunt discussion, serious and heartfelt. It concluded we must do more, fight poverty, counter unfairness.
My overall promise as your Trustee
is to listen and lead. With the Somali Mothers, I have
listened, and together we shall build social justice schools for
Student Safety Matters Most
Our schools have many important goals, but our number one priority must always be student safety. That’s why I have taken the lead in questioning new building plans beside Fielding Drive public school.
A developer wants zoning changes to allow extra dwellings and four new driveways right where students are dropped to attend school – and neither school officials nor parents were given the required notice of this proposal, despite the problems for student safety that this plan raises.
Concerned residents contacted me, and I went to the site personally to investigate and to talk with worried neighbours of the school. Their questions about the proposal were serious and led me to ask school board staff to probe what was happening. That staff study concluded there were safety concerns for our students, and residents complained that the developer had not informed everyone affected by his plan.
On Wednesday, Sept. 17, I met with the Fielding Drive School Parents’ Council, where everyone agreed to circulate information to all parents and allow full input on these safety issues.
After my intervention, the city’s Committee of Adjustment agreed that correct information had not been given, and postponed their consideration of the zoning changes until Oct. 15. That gives us all the chance to question such a significant increase in driveways in an area of student congestion. As trustee for the area, I shall be at that meeting to talk about the priority that must be placed on student safety. And I shall assure that school board officials keep working to protect our students in this and other planning decisions.
This is the sort of hands-on, responsive work that must come from your public school trustee to contribute to building excellent education for our children.
New sign for committee of adjustment hearings, right beside Fielding Drive Public School.
Seniors, Schools, and the Right to Vote
If you visit the Embassy West Senior Living Centre in River Ward you will find dozens of older residents who have the right to vote in the October municipal election in Ottawa. But if you look at the voter list for Poll 2.1 which consists of this Centre (and only this Centre) there are ZERO voters on that list, according to Ottawa’s Election Office.
There are various reasons we have been told for this blank out of seniors.
But the shocking result is that people like my father, one of the last surviving veterans of World War Two, at the age of 97, and my mother who is 93, would not be included in the municipal voting list, if they lived in that seniors home. I find this outrageous.
My Father, Gordon Seward, as an airman in World War 2
As far as we have been able to determine, part of the problem is at the provincial level where the agency that prepares the voting list (MPAC -- the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) decided in March that it would no longer enumerate senior nursing homes. The Election Office in Ottawa has tried to fill this gap, but has no staff to do its own enumeration; instead it requests managers of senior homes to provide lists. With many other responsibilities, including the care for their residents, some managers have not been able to complete this task.
Whatever the excuses, the result is a huge insult to senior voters.
As a public school trustee, and candidate for re-election, I know that seniors care about our schools. Many have grandchildren in the classroom, and all are paying provincial taxes (through the HST, for instance) to finance our schools. There are also important inputs that some seniors provide as volunteers in our schools. Various seniors in River Ward, for instance, have had experience in the armed forces that helps make more vivid such events as Remembrance Day in our schools. Other volunteers, on a regular basis, read to children.
Seniors will not be stopped from voting because they are left off the voter list. It is still possible to vote by signing a document at the polling station. But that is an unfair burden to be imposing on seniors when most of us are put on the vote list without such special effort.
This blank out of seniors must stop. All senior residences and homes must be enumerated -- so that seniors are part of the debates about our schools and our city because they are fully part of the voting list.
Everyone is Welcome Here -- Zero Tolerance for Bullying
The OCDSB believes that bullying is a serious issue that has far reaching consequences for both the school community and the community at large. Providing students with an opportunity to learn and develop in a safe and respectful society is a responsibility in which schools play an important role and as such, the OCDSB has developed a Bullying Prevention and Intervention policy and procedure. In addition, the OCDSB provides numerous training courses and sessions in order to better equip staff to deal with bullying in their schools.
These are good, proactive steps by our public school board, and these steps are already helping many students. But problems remain. As a Trustee, I receive heartbreaking calls from parents about their child being bullied inside or outside of the school. Part of the solution, I strongly believe, lies in greater awareness, appreciation and understanding of the diversity that makes Ottawa a welcoming city and Canada a strong and tolerant country.
Trustee Shirley Seward chats with organizers at the first Ottawa Palestinian Festival on August 31, 2014
Diversity in our public schools comes in many forms. We have a rich multicultural and multi-ethnic student population. Students and their parents come from different countries, have different customs and have different religious beliefs and values. Many students have special needs. And, students have different sexual orientations.
Trustee Shirley Seward (second from right), marches with other Trustees and senior staff at Pride Parade on August 24, 2014
Our job, as educators, parents and community leaders, is to instill in the children we nurture, a better awareness and understanding of the differences that exist among us. As your Trustee, I will continue to advocate for Zero Tolerance for Bullying. Our children deserve a safe and inclusive environment in which to learn.
Students with Special Needs
One of the greatest challenges our public education system faces is providing adequate help to our many students with special needs and behavioural issues. These students may be autistic, developmentally delayed, gifted or have learning disabilities. Compared with most other school boards in Ontario, the Ottawa Carleton District School Board has a wider range of creative and effective programs and initiatives that help these students. However, as long as one child falls between the cracks, our work is not done.
Every year as the Board develops its $800 million OCDSB Budget, I hold meetings to consult with school councils, parents and community members to get their input on education and budget priorities. And every year, the most important priority raised is the need for greater support for students with special needs. In the last budget debate in June 2014, I was able to convince my Trustee colleagues to increase the budget to hire an additional 8 educational assistants (EAs) to work with teachers in providing extra help for these students. These additional itinerant emergency EAs and in-school EAs will be at work in our schools this year.
Our work in this area is never done. As long as I am Trustee, I will advocate for these students, so they are able to get the educational supports they need to live their lives fully.