Dufferin-Peel looks to future

By 
  • November 23, 2007
{mosimage}MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - A bruising battle over funding with the provincial government behind it, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board is now embarking on a thorough re-examination of its Catholic mission for the first time in 15 years.

“We’re looking at a system review with all stakeholders involved,” explained John Kostoff, who took over as director of education on Sept. 1. “We’ll be considering where we want to go in the future.”

The current mission statement was formed 15 years ago. Since then, the Dufferin-Peel area has grown by leaps and bounds and is home to an increasingly large immigrant community, speaking many languages and hailing from a wide range of countries. And the board itself — with almost 89,000 students and more than 141 schools in Mississauga, Brampton, Caledon and Orangeville — is one of the fastest growing in Ontario.

The board had a very public battle in the last two years with the Ontario Ministry of Education over its deficit. At one point, a provincial administrator had been imposed by the government to run the board because the trustees refused to pass a balanced budget. The trustees argued that the government was failing to give them the necessary funding to meet their obligations.

But a compromise was announced in August when the government provided a grant to eliminate the deficit and allow the board to file a balanced budget for 2007-08. Now that the government has also announced it is reviewing the provincial funding formula for education and the board has implemented some internal cost controls, Kostoff believes the financial crisis has subsided.

But Dufferin-Peel also shares many of the challenges facing other Catholic school boards in the province. Its students live and work in a highly urbanized setting and are often confronted with the same issues around violence and substance abuse facing young people elsewhere. Parents want more and more from the schools while funding continues to lag behind the demand for services.

Most importantly, the Catholic mission of the schools has come under scrutiny from a larger public that has become more vocal about their disapproval of tax dollars being spent on faith-based institutions.

“I think the nature of the Catholic system has always been in the forefront of the trustees’ deliberations,” Kostoff told The Catholic Register in an interview Nov. 13. “But now we want to make it more concrete. . . . We want to go deeper to look for answers” to the questions raised by critics and demonstrate clearly the contribution that Catholic education makes to society.

The review will include, besides consultations with staff, teachers, clergy, parents and students, some polling done in the community to measure public perception of Catholic schools. Kostoff is very aware that less than 40 per cent of Catholic adults have children in the schools, but the rest still devote their local taxes to the separate system.

The result of the deliberations could result in an entirely new mission statement or some tweaking of the current one, he said.

In the meantime, the board is not waiting until the consultation is over to start implementing some strategies to strengthen the faith and religious knowledge of its students and teachers. Kostoff outlined a variety of measures designed to build the Catholic identity of the board. Among them:

  • In September, the first issue of a quarterly newsletter to pastors of area churches was published. Kostoff hopes it will allow busy pastors to get a regular peak into what actually happens in the classrooms at schools in their parish boundaries. He also said the newsletter was the first in a series of initiatives to improve communications in the school-parish-home relationship.

  • A new “virtues” program, developed on DVD with the help of Salt+Light TV, will be unveiled soon. It is Dufferin-Peel’s response to the government’s new demands for character education, Kostoff said. In the monthly DVDs, students and teachers will find lessons on different Christian virtues developed in an entertaining and informative way.

  • The board is working harder to ensure that religion classes get a prime spot in the timetable so students benefit more fully, Kostoff said. Along with that comes measures to ensure all students are getting full benefit of the religious experience in Catholic schools. Even non-Catholics in Dufferin-Peel’s secondary schools take part in the full array of religious experiences, he said.

  • The board is also developing community studies units to help students learn about the role Catholic parishes, schools and clergy play in the development of the local communities. These will be used at the elementary level in social studies and at the high school level in history. “We graduate probably 3,000 students at the secondary level every year,” he said. “Currently students graduate without any sense of the history of Catholic education.”

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