Aboriginal adults in northern Ontario are getting a second shot at completing their high school diploma through their local Catholic school board. The Northeastern Catholic District School Board’s ACCESS Program is offered in four centres in the board’s vast area from Moosonee on the shore of James Bay down to Cobalt in the south.

Jesuit program connects students with Global South


TORONTO - Canadian Jesuits International (CJI) is bringing social justice teachings to high school students as part of its new Youth for Others program.

Celebrating Catholic education in song


MISSISSAUGA, ONT. Singing is faith in action, says Nancy Bodsworth, writer and performer of “Together in Faith,” the theme song for Catholic Education Week 2013.  

Our system is rooted in Gospel values


TORONTO - In a variety of ways the past year has been a strange one in publicly funded Catholic education. This should not surprise us. We will always be a “sign that will be contradicted” (Luke 2:34). Nothing daunted, we carry on in our mission, confident in our abilities and with a profound reliance on the guiding power of the Holy Spirit. We are a successful, efficient, co-operative school system with an unbroken history going back more than 175 years.

Catholic teachers seek lifting of restraints


TORONTO - Ontario’s Catholic teachers are asking provincial Finance Minister Charles Sousa for freedom — freedom from bureaucrats, freedom from standardized tests, freedom to teach all kinds of students from four-year-olds to special needs kids to adult learners.

Port Credit school to reopen as Global Learning Centre


MISSISSAUGA, ONT. - When the doors of St. James School reopen next September, students will get a global perspective on the world while maintaining a Catholic presence in the community.

For Annaliese Carr, age is no barrier to helping out


TORONTO - For the second consecutive year Annaleise Carr, the youngest person to successfully swim across Lake Ontario, has been honoured as an Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year.

Keeping faith with past — and future


LONDON, ONT. - What does it mean to be a Catholic university in this day and age?

Province takes over Windsor-Essex Catholic board


For the second time, the provincial government has taken over one of the province's Catholic school boards.

The Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board is the latest to fall under provincial control after an external review found board staff was willing to risk a strike to balance its budget. The board's budget was short $2.2 million this year, the fifth time in the past six years it had failed to balance its books. Staff noted that a strike might help to find those savings.

The board had no contingency plan to find the savings, said Deloitte, the consultants who authored the review.

Norbert Hartmann, who oversaw the Toronto Catholic District School Board when the province took it over in 2008, has been appointed to oversee the Windsor board's financial management and administration.

Barbara Holland, chair of the Windsor board, had predicted a takeover was coming in early August. She told The Catholic Register's Evan Boudreau that it wasn't so much financial instability, but more of a retaliatory measure for the board filing for conciliation to resolve the collective bargaining difficulties it was having with its teachers (before the province introduced its Putting Students First legislation Aug. 27).

"I do feel that it is a retaliatory measure and it is retaliation because we spoke out on this issue," said Holland.

Catholic trustees bound to earlier deal, not new legislation


TORONTO - The devil is in the details as far as Catholic school boards are concerned when it comes to side-stepping strikes and lockouts.

The Putting Students First Act, the Liberal government’s legislation to freeze teacher salaries, will require Catholic schools to operate by a different, more restrictive, set of rules than the province’s public boards. And that has the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) up in arms.

Catholic boards will continue to be bound by the deal struck in July between the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Ministry of Education, even though the government legislation has backtracked on some key provisions contained in that agreement.

To get the Conservatives on side with Putting Students First, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals had to remove controversial clauses that would have stripped school boards of some rights related to the hiring of permanent teachers and managerial oversight of diagnostic testing. Public boards will now be able to negotiate locally with teachers on those contentious issues, while the trustees from Ontario’s 29 Catholic boards are stuck with the deal the government negotiated with OECTA.

“The effect of these changes are in fact no change at all,” said Bob Murray, the OCSTA’s director of legislative and political affairs. “It’s subverting the role of trustees.”

The OECTA deal leaves virtually no room for local collective bargaining because all the substantive issues were settled without input from the province’s trustees.

“Under the proposed legislation no local collective bargaining will happen,” Murray said. “It’s an agreement that local trustees never agreed to.”

On July 4, following six months of unsuccessful bargaining, the Catholic trustees walked away from the table. That left the government and OECTA to strike a deal that imposed a two-year wage freeze, a reduction in sick days from 20 to 10, and elimination of the right to bank sick days until retirement. But the deal also gave the union greater input in hiring permanent teachers and some control over diagnostic testing.

“We said from the beginning that Ontario has a problem fiscally and something had to be done and we were willing to help out,” said Marino Gazzola, president of OCSTA.

“I think our concerns are the same now as they were before any proposed changes.”

He said that in negotiations with the government, OCSTA has consistently opposed ceding rights to the union on the issues of hiring and diagnostic testing. He said it’s not for him to say if the Liberals finally changed their position due to pressure from the Conservatives.

“If I had the answer to that I would probably be a millionaire,” he said. “We’ve been voicing these concerns all along and we’ve been firm in our position and we’ve been strong and consistent in our position.”

Those concerns were that provisions surrounding the hiring practices and diagnostic testing removed managerial rights and significant checks and balances from the boards. Under the changes, the trustees believe hiring now gives seniority greater weight than overall qualification, while granting teachers control of diagnostic testing gives them the ability to hide under-performing students.

“All students in Ontario should be able to receive an education from the most qualified teachers and benefit from the insight gained from the use of system-wide diagnostic tests that include parents,” said Gazzola. “School boards in this province have serious concerns about the proposed legislation.”

OCSTA was surprised to learn that the amendments to Putting Students First would not apply to the Catholic boards. They are now calling for additional revisions to essentially veto the controversial areas of the OECTA agreement so that Catholic boards have the same ability as public boards to negotiate locally with teacher unions.

“This legislation will create inequity in our system,” said Gazzola. “We urgently call on your government to amend the legislation to honestly reflect the changes proposed by the opposition.”

Advisory council empowers students to empower students


TORONTO - Ontario’s Student Advisory Council, which brings together students from all over Ontario, is lively, full of discussion and debate.

The council, a yearly initiative created in 2009 by the Ministry of Education, consists of 60 students in all sectors of the education system, including Catholic boards. The students participate in discussions, team-building and leadership activities, as well as identify issues within their schools and offer suggestions for positive change.

Gary Wheeler, senior media relations co-ordinator at the Ministry of Education, said the purpose of the council is for members to share their ideas and advice with the Minister of Education on how to ensure Ontario’s schools remain “the best in the world.”

“The council is about empowering you to ‘be the change,’ ” Wheeler said in an e-mail. “It is an opportunity to think big, SpeakUp (programs to engage students academically and socially) and take action to help other students across the province.”

Ben O’Neil, now a Grade 10 student from the Ottawa Carleton Catholic School Board, says he didn’t necessarily find Catholic students were equally represented on the council, but that it didn’t really matter.

“It was students from every board, every different place from Barrie to London, North Bay, Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Toronto,” O’Neil said. “It shows you that no matter what school it is, Catholic, public … we are all students, we are all equals.”

O’Neil applied to be on the council for the one-year term through the encouragement of a friend. The council met for the first time in May of this year, and met again in August before the school year begins after Labour Day.

O’Neil says meeting with different students from all over the province was an eye-opening experience.

“It’s interesting to see that there are those similarities, those basics,” O’Neil explains. “Every school has bullying. We have more faith-based groups, but it’s interesting to share ideas.”

For Alicia Pinelli, a graduating student who represented the Niagara board, being on the council has been an “amazing experience.”

“It seemed that the Catholic students all kind of gravitated (to talk about) things that weren’t common in our schools, weren’t open in our schools,” Pinelli said. “The public schools are more open to a lot of different things. It was a good experience to see how the two interacted, how the two could change each other.”

But not everyone thought all the discussions were particularly productive.

Enrique Olivo, an incoming Grade 11 student from the Toronto Catholic District School Board, felt a bit of a backlash towards Catholic schools, especially when discussing the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances.

“(No one wanted) to say anything controversial,” Olivo said. “At times you could feel the tension.”

Still, Olivo, who will also act as treasurer of his school’s student council this year, thinks the advisory council does good work.

“We covered a whole bunch of issues: dealing with mental health problems and how schools should focus on that, technology in the school, a little bit about equality amongst races, sexual orientation.

“The council will definitely make a lot of changes.”