Toronto’s publicly funded Africentric “high school” has 6 students!

What is it about the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) that they consider a total of 6 students enough to keep a new high school open? Yet, that is exactly what is happening. As Moira MacDonald wrote a couple of days ago, the Africentric High School will indeed stay open. Talk about misreading political correctness!

A little background: Last fall the TDSB decided to open an Africentric high school, eventually settling on space in Scarborough’s Winston Churchill Collegiate because of the community backlash to the initial plan to locate the school in Oakwood Collegiate.

To be called the Africentric Leonard Braithwaite Program, after Ontario’s first black MPP, the final location was hardly central and the public backlash hardly a good beginning to say the least.

Readers may remember a similar level of public debate went on when the Africentric elementary school was approved back in 2007. Although I can’t find my posts that far back, I can confirm I was both for and against the idea — albeit more against than in favour.
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Colorado’s Joshua School for autistics

Click for school’s website.

Politicians, educators and parents in Englewood (near Denver) and Boulder Colorado are miles ahead of those who live and work in most cities in the U.S. and Canada.

Why? Because they seem to recognize that not all children and youth should be thrown into regular classrooms in the “belief” that kids with special needs cannot be prepared for a successful life outside a regular classroom setting.

In Canada, we refer to that “ideology” as inclusiveness or integration, while in the U.S. it’s called “mainstreaming.” 

For example, check out this article about The Joshua School in Englewood — which has just announced another campus will be opened in Boulder. 

As the school’s About TJS page indicates, the school provides ABA therapy and a wide variety of programming options for kids aged 2 1/2 to 21. Plus, all decisions are based on the assessed learning and treatment needs of the children and youth in their care — what professionals are now referring to as evidence-based treatment (particularly in medicine).

Why is that type of decision-making relevant? Because it bases programming and therapy decisions, not on any particular philosophy, or saving money, but on exactly, or as close as possible, to what each child or youth in their care needs.

On the inclusive integration debate, check out what Paul Bennett wrote at EduChatter last spring, as well as what I wrote regarding Harold Doherty’s radio interview on the Province of New Brunswick’s near obsession for one-size fits all.  

However, change could be in the air in Canada, New Brunswick in particular, given we are “finally” starting to hear alternative points of view. As Doherty posted a couple of days ago at Facing Autism in NB,  Yude M. Henteleff made a presentation at the Atlantic Human Rights Conference on June 15th, 2012 about the necessity for a new special education placement “paradigm” that would widen the concept of inclusiveness.

What might such a new concept of inclusiveness look like? Well, it wouldn’t be based on the rigid ideology popular now that a regular classroom is the least restrictive environment. In actual fact, a single option like that is the very opposite of inclusion — rigid and inflexible. As this online definition of inclusive states, inclusive actually means comprehensive within a wide scope, such as the numbers from 1 to 10 are inclusive of all the numbers in between.

Anyway, my point for writing this post about The Joshua School is to provide a concrete example of what Henteleff’s new paradigm of inclusion might look like. It is inclusive because children with special needs are placed in a wide range of situations that are based on their age, their grade and their their special “diagnosed” needs. 

My congratulations to Doherty, Henteleff and Joshua’s Board of Directors, for being ahead of the curve and getting it right!

Grand opening of Bayfield’s Virtual High School June 1st at 6pm

Click for website.

Click for website.

Interested in alternative education and technological innovation AND can get to Bayfield, Ontario on the eastern shores of Lake Huron?

Well, there will be a grand opening ceremony tomorrow, June 1st, 2012 for Virtual High School’s (VHS) new community presence at 27 Main Street North in Bayfield.

Only available online or by telephone up to this point, VHS will now have an administration address. As readers can see in the photo image above, the office building is a restoration of what was once the Martha Ritz hotel.

The ribbon cutting will be tomorrow at 6pm sharp, with tours of the facility until 9pm.

I wrote about Bayfield Ontario’s Virtual High School in 2010 as an example of an alternative high school. Well, it seems a lot has happened in just two years.

Here, for example, is VHS’s main page.  It now has 64 high school credit courses, all approved by the Ontario Ministry of Education, an administrative staff of 14 and 60 teachers (all accredited members of the Ontario College of Teachers).  Unlike most high schools, however, the teachers are located all over Ontario.

Of course, most important of all, there are some 4,600 active students — a phenomenal number by any standard!

Congratulations to Principal Steve Baker and his team at VHS, not only for being such technological innovators, but for providing an alternative choice to students who are self-directed and/or prefer to learn in a virtual way!

For further information or to contact the school for a later tour of the new facility, the telephone numbers are at this link.

Message to TDSB’s Grove School — Holistic education is “NOT” indoctrination

Click on image for SNN video on TDSB Grove School Protest

Yesterday and today the Sun New Network has been covering a mini-protest outside the Toronto Public Library in Parkdale by students, teachers and parents connected to a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) alternative “holistic” school called Grove Community School.

Above is a video with SNN’s David Menzies, as well as this one with Joe Warmington.

According to teacher Lee Hicks, the purpose for the “protest” was to allow the Grade 3 children to express their views about the “unfairness” of the B.C. Enbridge Gateway pipeline. As well, you will hear a parent expressing her view that both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Sun News are biased because they are pro-oil.

Hicks also said one of the main purposes for the school was to train children to become activists, particularly about the environment.Yet, interestingly, when I first checked out the website for the school, at least the one on the TDSB site, I did not find a single word, phrase or sentence about activism or the environment or that protests would be one-sided. However, later in the day I did. The school’s site is here.

On the TDSB main site it read that:

Collaboration is also modeled through democratic decision-making. Teachers encourage all students to share their ideas, opinions and feelings,and to explore different points of view.”  

Then, at the main website under Core Values it states that:

“We are committed to creating a school that challenges individual and systemic biases that cause inequality, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, and other forms of discrimination.” 

So how is teaching children about the “unfairness” of the proposed Gateway Pipeline project exploring different points of view? And, how is it that the parent in the video can consider the PM and SNN biased when the focus of the entire Grove protest theme is about bias — the school’s systematic bias?

Plus, as a former curriculum specialist, I would suggest it is pure hogwash for Hicks to suggest that the students chose the topics themselves — given how complex the issues were. Look, I have taught Grade 3. I have also tested and worked with Grade 3’s in my private practice.

Even the brightest eight and nine-year olds don’t choose such complex abstract concepts without the help of the adults in their lives — an idea that is consistent with developmental theory

However, perhaps saddest of all, is that what happened yesterday is the antithesis of holistic education. For that you need to read  about A.S. Neill’s Summerhill in the UK. True holistic education provides ample opportunities for freedom of expression, differences of opinions and freedom to learn, create and play.

Whereas yesterday, there was only brainwashing and indoctrination against a legitimate energy sector and a legitimately elected federal government which has to look out for the economic interests of the whole country, not just downtown Toronto.

In my opinion, then, the Grove Community School protest we witnessed on the Menzies video was a form of child abuse because children were being used as tools to represent their parents’ views — the opposite to what might have occurred had the children been presented with both sides of this issue.

[…]

Update 1 @ 8:30pm: I have updated the text because when I wrote the original post, the only website that was available was the main TDSB site with no indication of a school site. Yet, when I went back this evening, the link to the school site was not only there, but live. So, the minor revisions include information from the Core Values of the school.

Update 2 @ 10pm: I just did some research as to where Grove Community School is located and there is a certain amount of irony. Dufferin Grove includes the Dovercourt, Bloor and Ossington neighbourhood where I grew up. In fact, I attended the old Dewson Street Elementary School building (which was demolished and rebuilt in the mid 1960s) for a few years before my family moved to Quebec and then Ottawa where I attended high school.

Mind you, the demographics in Dufferin Grove would have been very different back in the 1950s.  But I can certainly visualize the area. I remember two teachers’ names : Miss Moore in Grade 5 (who I didn’t like because she used a ruler across my knuckles in front of the whole class for asking the student in the desk next to me for help) and Mr. Nicholson in Grade 6 (who I liked very much because he encouraged me to excel which I did).

Implications for growth in public “alternative” schools

Every year we hear about one or more “alternative or independent” publicly funded schools opening up somewhere in Canada. The latest, of course, is in my neck of the woods in Niagara. To be called the DSBN Academy, it is scheduled to open in September 2011 and will be geared towards college and university preparation for economically disadvantaged children and youth — students who would be the first in their extended families for such an opportunity.

Now, we can agree or disagree about the DSBN Academy or other similar schools, such as the Africentric school in Toronto, but that ignores ‘why” they are cropping up in huge numbers and the implications for the future of “traditional” public education.  Is it because parents simply want choice and advocate for alternative schools as a way to get it? Is it because the phenomenon goes even deeper than that and reflects a public dissatisfaction with the current “one-size-fits-all” provincial public school systems we already have? Or is it a combination of those reasons?

So, what exactly are alternative or independent schools? Well, according to Wikipedia, they are schools that: “have a special curriculum offering a more flexible program of study than a traditional school,” as well as a wide range of philosophies and teaching methods…

Need proof that the notion of alternative schools is growing faster than policy makers seem to realize? Well, in less than five minutes, a Google search turned up information that the Toronto public board already had 41 alternative schools by 2010, 267,000 results related to other Ontario alternative schools, 270,000 results related to the Province of B.C., 177,000 to Alberta , 64,800 to Saskatchewan, 76,000 to Manitoba, 164,000 to Quebec,  and 134,000 related to New Brunswick.

Now, I am all for choice because it gives parents and their children some options and competition among schools is good for everyone (in spite of what the teachers’ unions believe) as far as I am concerned. My son had severe learning disabilities, so schools that specialized in special education techniques and methods were necessary for him to be able to graduate with a high school diploma.  

However, as I suggested earlier in this post, does having too many alternative schools pose a very real danger to traditional schools, particularly high schools, that do their best to accommodate all students? Specifically, will traditional schools eventually become obsolete and close because so many students leave to go elsewhere?

Something to think about.

Update: While some visitors will wonder what is meant by “traditional” education versus “progressive” education, what most think of traditional are the academic subjects, the quantitative/experimental scientific method, desks in rows, standardized tests, and the teacher lecturing to the students, as well as the kind of rigor associated with them. Here is a good comparison. It’s rather long but it is thorough nonetheless.  The crux of the matter is, of course, that parents might actually start calling for alternative schools that are based on such traditional methods.

Criticisms about the DSBN “Poor” Academy well founded.

Well, the DSBN went ahead and voted to continue funding and readying the new school for “poor” kids in Welland. Called the DSBN Academy (District School Board of Niagara), there are a growing number of voices that are angry about this decision. And, they are angry for a variety of well-founded reasons. Here, for example, are some links to letters to the editor in local Niagara papers.  

  • Parent Blair Cowan asks why the same types of programs to be offered at the DSBN Academy are not offered in every Niagara school.
  • Don MacDougall on why Niagara taxpayers and voters did not know about this school before and during the October 2010 municipal election.
  • Barbara and Ed McCarthy on why all the incumbent DSBN trustees who were re-elected should resign for misleading the electorate.
  • C. R. Dunton writes that, in spite of the DSBN now claiming that the school was public knowledge,  it was not known by most of those running in the Welland municipal election campaign last October — even though the school is to be located in that community.
  • A former local trustee candidate, Paulo Miele (but not elected) expressed outrage that the DSBN assumes anyone who doesn’t have a college or university degree “is a loser” — the rationale the board gave for changing the emphasis from “poor” children to children “where no one in the family graduated from college or university.”
  • Pat Cusack, of Port Colborne on whether or not anyone thought to ask the children where they might prefer to go to school.

Perhaps, however,  the most important letter to the editor is in this week’s Niagara Advance (February 24, 2011, page 7). Not yet available online, it is by Linda Crouch, a DSBN trustee candidate who I got to know during the municipal campaign via e-mail and our blogs. The irony is that had she won (and she came very close), she would not have been able to be so open given Premier Dalton McGuinty’s new rules that trustees cannot speak out against any motion school boards make, once a motion is passed by the board. She writes:

To quote the June 22, 2010 DSBN Minutes: Trustee [Dalton] Clark reminded the Board that $2.6 million was transferred from the general operating reserves to balance the 2010-2011 budget…and the Board will only be able to transfer funds out of the general operating reserves for another one or one-half years.”

Further, she reminds us what was in a DSBN press release at budget time:

‘Although Trustees were able to use funds from our reserves to largely offset the costs of the funding shortfall, this practice is not sustainable. Unless a more permanent solution can be found, the Board’s reserves will soon be depleted and Trustees will have to consider even more significant cuts,’ says Finance Committee Chair Dalton Clark.”

So, why on earth is this Ontario school board going to open an alternative school when” (1) they clearly can’t afford it as they are already using general operating reserve funds; and (2) the building where they are going to put it was previously scheduled to be shut down — with current cost estimates for upgrades just under $700,000?

Suggesting , to me at least, that it is long past time that the McGuinty government step in and, if nothing else, put the DSBN Academy decision on hold for a year.

Trustees vote to continue with DSBN Academy

Last night the trustees at the District School Board of Niagara voted to stick with their decision to open a segregated school for poor and disadvantaged children and youth in September 2011. To be located in the old Empire School site in Welland, Ontario, it will start with Grade 6, eventually offering all grades from 6 to 12. For those not familiar with the Niagara Region, Welland is a very long way for young people to have to commute by bus from St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Fort Erie in the south and Grimsby in the north. Here is what I wrote about this topic recently.

Of course, the politically correct thing was recently done when the DSBN tried to reframe admission criteria by saying it was not only for poor children but those who would be the first generation to attend post-secondary. The problem with that, of course, is that there are lots of very successful middle class and rich parents who did not graduate with a college or university diploma — such as those in any number of businesses and industries that depend on entrepreneurship abilities and other skills that were learned on the job. Yet, my bet is that students from those kinds of families will not be accepted.

In any event, if the DSBN Academy is modelled on the U.S. Kipp college prep approach, it might be successful. However, there is still a significant risk that graduates of the DSBN Academy could be stigmatized and labelled for life due to where they graduated — which will always be on their transcripts and readily available to post-secondary admission departments and employers. Unless, of course, parents move their children to a regular high school for Grade 12.

Yes, kids know when other kids are poor but they don’t broadcast that fact on their high school transcripts. Look, while teaching university, I simultaneously spent a decade operating a private practice assessing and working with children, youth and adults with severe learning disabilities. Believe me, it doesn’t take a lot to label a person. I always recommended to parents that they help their children the best they can without having their child identified as special needs, because that label follows them throughout life. If, however, children need extra help, then it goes with out saying of course, that parents should do whatever they have to ensure they get it.

Regarding the power of labels, two of my clients were attending university. I met with them regularly to help them learn and use compensation strategies and technical aids to research, prepare and write their papers, as well as how to study for exams. At that point, there was a special provincial program called “Vocational Rehabilitation,” who paid for my services. So, while I helped them throughout their entire undergraduate degree program, my time with them gradually decreased from once a week to once every two months — which of course is the ideal outcome.

However, in third year, just before they would apply for fourth year and a master’s program (when my services would stop altogether), one student registered with the special needs office for accommodations, such as writing exams in a quiet space. The other asked me if they should do the same. I suggested to him, as I had to the other student, that he not do so as he was managing well with the strategies and accommodations he had learned.  Now, key here is to realize that both were equally intelligent and capable young men who just happened to have dyslexia.

Well, you guessed it. The student who had himself labelled as special needs did not get accepted into fourth year, which meant his dream of completing a graduate program ended. And, the tragic thing is that even if he applied to another university, the special needs information would have followed him. The reason he wasn’t accepted was, of course, because the professors didn’t think he could handle the workload. Fortunately, there was a happy ending as he became a teacher and the last I heard, he was doing an excellent job — probably because he taught his students the same compensation strategies he used himself — which are simply common sense techniques that can help anyone.

The other student, not only was accepted into his graduate program (different disciplines), he was “invited” to apply. And, that is the power of labels and what I worry about for graduates of the DSBN Academy!  Of coure, I hope I am wrong.

Then, there is the issue that the DSBN is a school board who gives every appearance of not being accountable to Niagara public school taxpayers. Yes, they worked with stakeholder groups in the lead-up to the decision to open the DSBN Academy, but those groups are other education and related professionals and parents who agree with their ideas. And, the fact that trustee candidates in the October 2010 municipal election hadn’t a clue about this pending decision (because it was referred to as Project Connect, not the DSBN Academy), says something too. 

In my opinion, then, it is long past time for the Ontario government to step in and check out what is going on in the DSBN. If Dalton McGuinty won’t do it, then that is something Tim Hudak’s PCs should be proposing.

Is the DSBN Academy going to be like a KIPP school?

A Google search indicates that a lot has been written about the recent decision by the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) to approve a Grade 6 – 12 school (to be called the DSBN Academy) for disadvantaged kids from families where no one has ever graduated from a post-secondary institution. Here also is what Hugo at The Education Reporter has written — as well as here and here. Now, while I haven’t read anywhere that it will be based on the U.S.  KIPP model  — Knowledge is Power — it sounds like that is the DSBN rationale.

KIPP schools are unapologetically post-secondary preparation schools for children and youth who would not likely make it otherwise. And, they apparently are very successful.  In fact, I have written very positively about KIPP schools before.  However, there are some major differences between KIPP schools and what will be the DSBN Academy.

For example, KIPP schools, as far as I understand them, are within specific communities.  So, the problem with the DSBN Academy is that it will be in Welland. Meaning, that kids will have to be bussed from Grimsby, Fort Erie, St. Catharines, Thorold, Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake — all huge distances from Welland. Like special education, that will mean a two to three-hour round trip by bus each and every single day — miles and miles from their own communities, friends and family.

Instead, then, why doesn’t the DSBN simply implement the proven Pathways program as suggested by Brock professor, Kevin Gosine, in this Standard article. What is especially positive about Pathways is that it can be implemented in each and every neighbourhood school. I mean, it is hardly fair to parents and taxpayers to provide special programs and services at only one school when there will be hundreds, if not thousands of kids, not able to participate.    

But, the major problem it seems is that the DSBN did not hold public consultations, and I mean public, not just with stakeholder groups that were in favour of the concept. As many regulars here know, I nearly ran for public school board trustee in the Ontario, October municipal election and even when I didn’t, I followed things very carefully. I heard nothing whatsoever about a possible DSBN Academy. The DSBN administration is now claiming that “Project Connect” was openly discussed at all-candidates nights. Well, who would ever connect “Project Connect” to a new school? No one who didn’t know anything about it, that is for sure.

Well, a newly elected Niagara-on-the-Lake trustee by the name of Jonathan Fast, has put forward a motion for the DSBN to cancel the DSBN Academy approval — and, according to this Niagara Advance editorial,  that vote will be this coming Tuesday. Will the decision be rescinded? I doubt it because far too many decisions have already been made and certain reputations are at stake. However, given the political pressure, one never knows. Stay tuned!