Role of the School Board Trustee
The history of public school board trustee in the Province of Ontario Canada is quite significant as it was the first democratically elected public position dating back to 1816.
Ontario’s English and French public district school boards provide universally accessible education for all students, regardless of ethnic, racial, or cultural backgrounds; social or economic status; gender; individual exceptionality; or religious preference.
The provinces publicly funded district boards are further divided into four divisions; namely, English public, Catholic public, French language public and French Catholic.
District school boards and most school authorities are governed by locally elected trustees. Trustees play a key leadership role in ensuring that schools operate within the standards established by the province, and that programs and services remain responsive to the communities they serve.
Public school boards also act as a buffer between the government, community and parents.
The Role of School Boards
School boards are responsible for student achievement and well-being, for ensuring effective stewardship of the board’s resources and for delivering effective and appropriate education programs for their students. In Ontario, Canada, the Education Act and its regulations set out the services that district school boards and school authorities must offer. The responsibilities of a school board include a key governance role with respect to:
– Operating schools according to provincial legislation;
– Having a vision statement that reflects the board’s philosophy and local needs and priorities;
– The development of a multi-year strategic plan;
– Setting the board’s budget within the provincial grants and accompanying regulations;
– Making provision for resources and for the hiring of teachers, other staff;
– Accountability to the public for implementing curriculum according to ministry curriculum policy;
– Developing and delivering other programs that reflect provincial policies and local priorities;
– Providing for the hiring of teachers and other staff required in their schools;
– Providing for the maintenance of school buildings and property with regard to student safety and in accordance with provincial legislation;
– Monitoring the policies of the schools and the achievement of students and, through the director of education, holding the entire system accountable for meeting provincial and board standards;
– Hiring and performance appraisal of the director of education.
The Role of the Trustee
A clear understanding of a school board trustee’s role and responsibilities is fundamental to good governance. A school trustee is a member of a board, not a member of a parliament, and it is important for both trustees and the general public to understand that school board trustees hold no individual authority. The school board, as a corporate body, is the legislative source of all decisions, and individual trustees are granted no authority through the Education Act. Unlike provincial and federal parliaments, school board members do not vote according to an official “affiliation”, nor are there “governing” trustees and “opposition” trustees.
The Education Act in Ontario provides clarity about the responsibility of individual trustees to bring to the board the concerns of parents, students and supporters of the board and to consult with them on the board’s multi-year plan. It is through the process of collaborating and engaging in joint decision making as members of the board that trustees work with the values, priorities, and expectations of the community to translate them into policy. The emphasis is on working together as a team.
Once the board of trustees has voted, individual trustee members are legally bound by the majority decision, regardless of whether they supported it during debate or voted in opposition. They are required to uphold the implementation of resolutions passed by the board. Although they may not agree with the decision, trustees should be able to explain the rationale for the policy and ensure that it is understood, implemented, and monitored. Trustees who wish to explain a school board decision should do so in this context and express any divergence in their personal views in a manner that respects the decision-making authority of the collective board.
It is clear that trustees carry a dual responsibility.
As a member of the board, individual trustees are expected to act within the board’s by-laws and be loyal to the board’s decisions. However, as elected persons, trustees are also expected to advocate for the interests of their constituencies.
The personal gratification of being a trustee is knowing that you are making a difference in the lives and future of thousands of young students. As an elected trustee you also have the ability to advocate for a publicly funded education system that is open to all students.
Although the duties of the elected school board trustee have been reduced in recent years, the responsibilities and liabilities have actually increased. In the past school boards have had the ability to raise taxes in order to satisfy the local needs of their respective communities. Today, trustees are responsible for student achievement and well-being which is a very real and critical responsibility.
In Canada, most provinces have elected trustees. However, there are provinces such as Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick that do not.
Special Education Advisory Committees: Every School Board Should Have One!
School boards around the world have a variety of methods created to insure children with challenges receive educational opportunities.
In Ontario Canada every publicly funded school board is required to establish a Special Education Advisory Committee. The parameters of the committees are enshrined in Ministry of Education legislation.
What is unique about these committees is the role and the membership.
The role of the committee (referred to as SEAC)is “advisory”. They are tasked with providing local school boards with input and advice on all programs and services related to special education students.
Membership of each committee includes up to twelve representatives from local associations dedicated to furthering the interests and well-being of exceptional children such as cerebral palsy, deaf and hard of hearing, blind and low vision, bright and intellectual children to name a few. Associations must have a provincial or federal charter in order to qualify.
Committees also include several organizations directly involved with children with a variety of challenges and families in the community. Examples would be mental health, family and children’s services and associations without provincial or federal charters.
Each association would have a voting member as well as an alternate, although the alternate isn’t a voting member.
The school board appoints at least one trustee who serves on the committee for the full electoral term of the board. In addition wherever possible, a member of the first nations community. The board also provides staff support such as the superintendent responsible for special education programs and services as well as consultants and secretarial support.
School boards with effective SEAC’s, are in a position to provide significantly better educational opportunities for those students within their responsibility.
In my thirty-plus years as a sitting member of the committee I have seen special education committees evolve from a committee of parents that received information on a variety of subjects and issues, to a very critical and effective extension of the board. Today, SEAC’s provide input on any and all programs and services that impact students with special needs.
As an example, a short list of topics discussed in monthly meetings includes, transitions, report cards, bussing and other transportation issues, budgets, inclusion, bullying, accommodations, teachers, and support in the classroom to name a few.
SEAC’s can play a vital role in assisting school boards making critical decisions that have an impact on students with special needs. The “advice” and recommendations coming to the board from parents with first-hand knowledge of the needs of their child. Since the make-up is comprised of a cross section of diverse interests and needs, there is a natural filtering and fairness to the deliberations and outcomes.
Sitting on the special education committee for so many years has allowed me to personally witness the amazing work they do. The benefits to the special children are countless.
My personal goal as a member of SEAC has always been the same. Making every child feel they belong, and have the same, equal opportunity to succeed is paramount in education.
The whole topic of inclusion takes on a strong focus. Creating a change in attitude that sees teachers considering the needs of children with challenges during the initial planning process of special events, day trips and field trips, and not as an afterthought or an accommodation. It is imperative that all students are transported to these events with their peers wherever possible.
I highly recommend every school board throughout the world consider establishing special education advisory committees. In addition to the limitless direct benefit to students with special needs, the committees significantly increase parental engagement.
At the end of the day, special education committees work toward removing the moniker “students with special needs” ……to students.
Is Full Accessibility Possible or Just A Myth?
Despite all the advances and government intervention to make the world accessible to all, the efforts have fallen short. For millions of persons with a disability and seniors, accessibility is an overwhelming, frustrating issue.
As an example, in Canada, the Province of Ontario has set an aggressive goal of full accessibility by the year 2025. If this goal becomes a reality, it would be the only jurisdiction in the world to achieve such a lofty goal.
People most affected by the barriers they face every day are appreciative of any enhancement to make their world more accessible. There is no doubt there have been giant steps made in the last few years with reference to employment, transportation and communication, but not nearly enough.
The reality is, despite very positive government initiatives, both in Ontario and around the world, the dream of full accessibility for all is falling short. With respect to the Ontario model, updated building codes apply to only new buildings, or buildings that are to be renovated, existing buildings are excluded from any accessibility requirements. In the area of employment standards, persons with a disability too often are hired and placed in entry level jobs in order for the company to portray the appearance of diversity and inclusion. However despite their ability, education or performance, they are unfairly denied advancement for a variety of reasons.
Unfortunately, in my view, the most significant barrier to accessibility today – is still pervasive public complacency. If individuals do not personally have a disability, or face a barrier, or if they don’t know anyone with a disability, they usually are not concerned, nor are they motivated to support, or advocate for change. What is needed is a paradigm shift in the public domain. Everyone must realize equal access is the right thing to do.
What must happen before true accessibility can become a reality? Is it even possible, or is it a myth?
The short answer is – “Yes”!
Let me tell you how!
Sex Education in Public Schools
The debate regarding the teaching of sex education in public schools has once again dominated headlines in various jurisdictions. Some religious groups and parents oppose it for a variety of reasons including, but not restricted to family values, morals, and the belief that teaching youngsters about sex is the parents’ role, not the schools. However, part of the problem is, most families do not, in fact, discuss the sometimes embarrassing issues such as sex, consent, the potential dangers of social media, respecting the intellectual or physical differences of others or homophobia.
My hope is that when conducting public consultations, the government does not yield to the pressure applied by special interest groups and ignore valuable research and information presented by professionals in social work and education.
Health and sex education can provide students with valuable life lessons such as tolerance, respecting the uniqueness of everyone, respecting differences whether visible or invisible, religion or culture and gender identity. They would learn how to respond and change assumptions and stereotypes regarding topics such as homophobia and gender roles. Students would learn about the potential dangers associated with social media, the impact of violent behaviour with respect to dating, racially-based violence and the very important topic of the concept of consent. Teachers are on the front line dealing with these issues every day.
Sex education curriculum is usually age appropriate for every age group and would not conflict with family values, religious or cultural beliefs. Parents would always be permitted to withdraw their child if necessary. Teachers express the value of sex education curriculum and the impact it could have on intolerance and bullying, as well as helping students understand their journey to adulthood and the responsibility associated with it.
Valuable life lessons such as tolerance, respecting the uniqueness of everyone, respecting differences whether visible or invisible, religion or culture and gender identity would be learned. Students would learn how to respond and change assumptions and stereotypes regarding topics such as homophobia and gender roles. Students would learn about the potential dangers associated with social media, the impact of violent behaviour with respect to dating, racially-based violence and the very important topic of the concept of consent. There is always a positive advantage for students to learn about these issues in a controlled environment
See keynotes with John Hendry
Interview with John Hendry
How did you begin your speaking career?
My love of public speaking actually started when I won a public speaking contest in my first year of high school. My more serious aspirations began shortly after I became an elected public school board trustee. I had the opportunity to give twenty or more speeches and presentations a year to groups ranging from twenty to more than a thousand.
When I served as Chairperson of the Board that number increased considerably, including several opportunities on television. I joined the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers to enhance my career and opportunities. I must say I love speaking to groups more with each opportunity.
What would you like to achieve in the next five years?
During the next five years I would like to become one of the top keynote speakers in the area inclusion/disabilities advocacy, and education special education and governance. I would like my bookings to expand internationally and average between twenty and thirty appearances per year. Increasing the opportunity to participate in international disability and education conferences is definitely a career goal.
Who or what inspires you the most?
I would have to say there are many things that inspire me. Being so closely involved with children with special needs has given me many inspirational moments watching them achieve a personal success. My youngest son, born with cerebral palsy has been the most positive inspiration in my life. His unbelievable courage and attitude has taught me to always stretch beyond my limits and never give up.
As a result I have dedicated my speaking career to making the world a better place for everyone, regardless of their physical or intellectual challenge. Making a difference is definitely a motivator for me.
How should clients use you for their next event?
Clients should use me in venues that call for inspirational/motivational addresses that support calls for improving the lives of children (or adults) that struggle in a “normal” world.
With respect to my addresses in education school boards, and school board associations could benefit from my thirty plus years as an elected, award-winning advocate of public education. Specifically in the areas of inclusion, special education and governance. How trustees perform as an elected board directly have an impact on the success of the school system. I can assist helping boards work better together as a team.
How much does humour factor into your keynotes and other speaking engagements?
I believe humour can appropriately be part of every presentation. However, that being said, I emphasize “appropriately”. There are situations where humour is simply not appropriate. I research every engagement before I begin writing a speech.
Humour is one of the best ways of engaging the audience, making them feel relaxed, and increasing their level of participation. Humour also breaks down any perceived barriers between the speaker and the audience.
Describe yourself in three words.