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.