Brian O’Sullivan, director of Catholic education for the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association. Photo courtesy of Sharon McMillan

Showcasing Catholic education

By 
  • January 24, 2014

TORONTO - Ontario’s Catholic school trustees’ association is showing off some of the system’s best through its recently launched Leadership Video Series.

The videos were uploaded to the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) YouTube channel this month. The videos are a continuation of the Faith in Our Future campaign launched in January 2013.

“The purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness about the value of Catholic education in Ontario and to provide some clarity around the contribution that our schools make to the life of this province,” said Sharon McMillan, OCSTA’s co-ordinator of communications. “We don’t have enormous sums of money to launch a TV ad or campaign but we are using social media and the network of our parishes and Catholic groups to help us raise awareness, communicate with our politicians and reach our parents.”

Aimed primarily at parents, the videos seek to show the distinctiveness of Ontario’s Catholic education.

A number of people invested in Catholic education were invited to speak in the series, including Toronto Catholic board chair Ann Andrachuk, Ontario Catholic Women’s League president Betty Colaneri and Marc Kielburger, co- founder of Free the Children and an alumni of the Toronto board. The seven videos, which range from about two to four minutes in length, also highlight teachers, students and alumni.

“We are highlighting leaders,” said McMillan. “We are highlighting engaged Ontarians so that even if you are not Catholic you can view these videos and get an understanding that these are good people who are giving up their time, their knowledge and their experience to help others. That is the recurring message that you’ll hear in the video, that we focus on service, on love, on compassion, on supporting and assisting the most vulnerable in society.”

Brian O’Sullivan, OCSTA’s new director of Catholic education, said what makes Catholic education distinct is a common set of values rooted in faith among a diverse range of people.

“What makes us distinctive is that we come from all corners of the globe. My father is from Ireland, and yet we have that common binding set of values,” he said. “No matter how global we are we have that uniqueness. I am constantly impressed with the participation of our teachers, administrators and students on so many international projects tied into poverty and peace activities that I really do think that makes us a distinct education system.”

And while McMillan and O’Sullivan are pleased with the video series, not everyone around the province is seeing them as a positive.

“I am very very disappointed,” said Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association. “My first reaction, and I have watched them a couple of times, is certainly the message that I think is being sent is that somehow a values-based education can only be found in one school system within the province of Ontario. I find that a little disheartening.”

Barrett added that although he does not think OCSTA “is attempting to be malicious in their communication,” unfortunately some of his membership are receiving it that way. And while he acknowledges that a passive competition has always existed between the province’s four different education systems, he said the video series appears to be taking it to the next level.

“Certainly my membership is taking that to mean a blatant shot across the bow in the sense that it’s a public competition for students,” said Barrett. “My concern would be, and I don’t necessarily support this, but my concern would be that it would only hasten the calls and the desire for one school system in the province.”

It is these types of concerns that in part led OCSTA to launch the campaign in the first place, said MacMillan.

“Why we are doing this is because there is the complaint or concern that our schools are not distinctive enough,” said McMillian. “So we think it is really important to show that we are contributing so much to this province and we need to remind Ontarians and even our own people, our community, of the tremendous value that our students, our teachers (and) our community as a whole really brings to life in Ontario.”

This negative reaction comes as a surprise to the OCSTA. President Marino Gazzolo said the videos are doing what the association has always done, promote Catholic education.

“The negative reaction is surprising to us because we’ve always taken steps to articulate the value of Catholic education,” he said. “We’ve used posters and videos always focusing on our distinctiveness. We’ve always valued our partnership with the coterminous boards ... this is not an attack.”

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