Changes and Optimism

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Image source: teachervision.com

BY: KATHY MCDONALD

As we enter into the last month of the school year we are faced with the usual end of the year activities: exams, retirements, and graduations. However, at Peel District School Board (PDSB), we are embarking on a new journey. After weeks of consultations, screening and interviewing we finally announced to the Peel community the Board’s new Director of Education, Peter Joshua. Mr. Joshua hails from the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB). The fifty-three-year-old married father of two grown children is a graduate of the PDSB. Mr. Joshua understands the difference between equality and equity. He is a leader that has a full grasp of the priorities of the Board; parent engagement, modern learning, equity and inclusion, numeracy, special education and mental health. With a significant number of retirements from the senior administration team and a new Director of Education at the helm, the PDSB will be undergoing some exciting changes.

I am particularly enthusiastic about working to find effective strategies to effectively utilize our teaching assistants as we strive to make sure that all kids with special needs are appropriately served. At the PDSB we are transforming learning everywhere. The way we teach and the way we learn is changing at a rapid pace. We as a board are no longer focused on only the digital space. Developing our student’s critical thinking skills as well as their creative problem-solving abilities is non-negotiable. Learning for all is a philosophy that the PDSB trustees are committed to. Students, regardless of their abilities or learning styles, must be provided with the necessary tools and resources to equip them to learn. As trite as this may sound, the PDSB recognizes its moral imperative to make sure each student in our care reaches their full potential. Teachers have a duty to care. Collectively we have a duty to motivate and have high expectations for all students regardless of abilities, socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity or race.

Mr. Joshua is a leader who will model for his colleagues a learning and collaborative stance. He possesses an enthusiasm which is refreshing and is committed to developing strong relationships with all stakeholders especially the community. He values parent engagement and understands the importance of having you, the parent, and the community working alongside the PDSB to achieve the ultimate; student success for all and I do mean all.

On May 28th, 2017, I attended the unveiling of a memorial at Brampton Centennial Secondary School (BCSS). Forty-two years ago, the first mass shooting at a high school in North America happened right here in the PDSB. While I am not proud of this distinction I am extremely proud of how much we as a board have grown and transformed the way we deal with grief, trauma and mental health. As a member of the PDSB Mental Health Advisory Committee, I am proud of the extensive work that the PDSB is undertaking to ensure that the mental health of our student and staff is being addressed. The climate for learning and working is a very important priority for the Board.

As I wandered around the event and spoke Mr. Springle, the then principal when the shooting occurred, listened to the sister of Margaret Wright, the teacher that lost her life that fateful day as well as the sister of the shooter, Michael Slobodian; it hits you. Whether you were a family member of one of the deceased, or the injured, a family member who waited anxiously for news about a loved one inside, a member of staff that was on the “hit list” or not on the list, or whether or not you attended BCSS during that tumultuous time, you were affected by the incident. All the aforementioned individuals were victimized in some form or another.

Imagine that the students went back into the schools around three days later. The bullet holes on the wall from the shooting rampage were hidden by bulletin boards and the students would walk past them every day knowing the bulletin boards were obscuring the gaping holes in the walls. The bullet holes on the bathroom were not concealed in any way. It was not until recently that most of the victims of this tragic event began to talk about and deal with the trauma of May 28th, 1975. It was an emotional time as I watched the magnificent sculpture being revealed. It is truly a healing place. That is what artist Mary Ellen Farrow and the BCSS Memorial Committee wanted to accomplish. And that they did. It was serendipitous that the morning was cloudy there was a gentle breeze, it was serene. One of the benches has an inscription that reads “On May 28th, 1975 all of us learned to love one another just a little bit more.”

Armed with a sense of sanguinity I look forward to working with Peter Joshua as he transitions into the role. I recall when Mr. Joshua said that he always felt that he belonged, he always felt able and he always felt that the differences of the few racialized students were celebrated. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if each and every student in the province could confidently affirm this? Mental health is beginning to be at the forefront and the courageous conversations around this taboo topic is making its way into discussions and classrooms throughout Ontario. So, journey with us. Walk good. Belle Marché.

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