Jo-Ann Davis, chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, set out this school year seeking to tighten the learning gap for students by establishing the Catholic Social Justice Committee. Photo by Evan Boudreau

TCDSB committee aims to close the learning gap

  • December 27, 2013

TORONTO - A Catholic Social Justice Committee has been formed for Toronto Catholic schools to address the gap in learning opportunities found in different areas of the city.

“The aim of the committee is to narrow or address the learning gap in schools,” said Patrick Keyes, chair of the committee. “What that means is that we recognize that when you start to look at the socioeconomic status that some areas of our city have versus others, that there is a gap there. So some kids are more prepared to come to learn than others.”

Keyes, who is also the superintendent of student success for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said this can range from a student’s access to technology and enhanced programs such as early French immersion to the opportunities they have to partake in sports and arts programs outside of the classroom.

That train of thought is completely inline with what board chair Jo-Ann Davis had in mind when she put a motion forward last September to establish such a committee.

“Whatever their talent is, as a Catholic public education system, we should be ensuring that children find out what their talent is, why God has put them on this Earth and what they are going to be doing in their adult lives,” she said. “For some students they may be able to find those opportunities outside of school because their parents may be able to provide them with those opportunities, but for some students if it is not inside the school they will not have that opportunity. We need to be making sure for those students that those opportunities are there in our schools.”

The committee is primarily made up of school board representatives and parents who will recruit community organizations with expertise in a variety of fields. Organizations of interest mentioned by both Keyes and Davis include the University of St. Michael’s College, the Angel Foundation for Learning and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

These, among other community organizations, were identified during the first informal meeting of the committee’s primary members in November with the hopes of having at least some of those organizations represented during the Jan. 15 meeting which will seek to identify gaps and begin working towards solutions.

Once a solution is determined the committee, which is scheduled to meet at least once every three months, will draft a recommendation for the board of trustees.

“The key part of the committee is that it passes on its recommendations to the board itself directly,” said Keyes. “That is an important piece of the governance model that we have.”

But keeping these solutions as cheap and simple as possible is essential in a time of ever tightening budgets.

“Basically (we’re) figuring out what would give the biggest lift to our students as well as figuring out small things that won’t take a huge systemic change for some students to be seeing some real differences,” she said. “Hopefully we can find some small ways that we can be improving things for kids and figure out what are the big systemic changes that maybe need to happen.”

And while Davis, whose ward represents much of Toronto’s downtown core, said she sees a large gap between the most well off and disadvantaged families she represents, Keyes said the problem is citywide.

“It is quiet widespread,” he said

Keyes strongly believes that solutions exist in each community. Some of these lower socioeconomic communities are already making the most of their schools despite the difficulties they face.

“What is interesting is that there are some really resilient communities where you have kids coming from a lower income family but some of those schools are doing considerably well and part of that has to do with how those schools have organized themselves,” he said, citing Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in downtown Toronto as a prime example.

“If our communities learn to develop the skills or organization and the skill of activating knowledge and the skill of being able to collaborate with one another then you see some remarkable things occur.”

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