Re-inventing the role of school boards and trustees

It is exceptional, significant and positive that school boards are the only body in which the voting public has the right and opportunity to elect representatives to act exclusively on their behalf in just one public policy area – education.

The challenge is to make this system of “political” representation and advocacy work for the good of the society as a whole.

While we cannot deny nor change the fact that the historical reasons for the creation of the system of school boards and trustees are no longer relevant to our needs, we have a responsibility to take advantage of the structural opportunity to exercise a significant influence in the operations of our education system.

Let us also face the fact that all is not well in the operations of the school boards and in the conduct of the trustees. Recent incidents in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) highlighted a series of allegations of insubordination, acrimonious working situations and physical confrontation, the latter leading in one case to criminal charges.

The reports of financial and administrative missteps in the TDSB keep surfacing over and over again. In fact, there was one instance in recent years when the Ministry of Education had to make a major intervention in the operations of the TDSB and took over certain aspects of the financial operations.

Last but not least, there is the constant embarrassment of low voter participation in the election of trustees which hovers as low as 10%, thus providing clear evidence of the public’s lack of interest, knowledge and confidence in this aspect of the system.

But, and this is a big but, we must not throw out the baby with the bath water.

The vast majority of citizens recognize that education is and deserves to be one of the major pillars of our existence as a society. Without it, there can be no personal development, no collective human resource development, and no economic development. Cultural expression would stagnate, political management would become impossible and, eventually, the society would collapse.

In today’s world, profound and structural change in the educational system is a dire necessity. That depth and breadth of change is not taking place because the majority of members of the public, of education administrators, of educators, of teachers’ trade unions, of political parties, and of the three levels government in Canada do not have the fortitude to rise to the challenge.

Our society has no excuse for not stepping up to the plate. A vast amount of valuable work for the required conceptual and practical change has already been amassed throughout Ontario and the other provinces and territories.

The Camera has regularly highlighted and praised some of the relevant successes of Ryerson University (the Digital Media Zone and the Magnet initiative), York University and the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).

The Caribbean Camera calls on the school boards and trustees to become the drivers of this change, to make this change happen.