TORONTO - An initiative to improve the accountability of the Toronto Catholic District School Board by appointing an independent ombudsman has hit a legislative roadblock.

“The ministry is telling us that we cannot create our own ombudsman role,” said Ward 9 trustee Jo-Ann Davis, who is leading the initiative. “It seems odd to me that our Ministry of Education is not allowing Toronto Catholic to be as accountable as it wants to be.”

Published in Education

TORONTO - Grace Iafrate does one thing really well — she gets kids moving.

For this, she has received the 2012 Victor Angelosante Award.

"(I) look at sport as an avenue, a way to bring out other talents and gifts," said Iafrate, principal at St. Boniface Catholic School in North York. "It's a great honour to be recognized with the 17 other (past) recipients."

Published in Education

TORONTO - The Toronto Catholic District School Board's new three-year pastoral plan will focus on virtues of faith, hope and charity, one for each of the next three school years.

About 800 students, staff, parents and parish representatives from across the city were gathered inside the Montecassino Banquet Hall for the May 2 launch of Pastoral Plan: Faith, Hope and Charity. The plan aims to grow upon the areas of focus from the previous pastoral plan, word, worship and witness.

Published in Education

TORONTO - If you can’t find Andrew Walker in choir practice, leadership meetings or studying to maintain his honour role status, try checking the Toronto Argonaut schedule — chances are, if there’s a game, he’s at it.

“I’m a big Argos fan,” Walker said. “I’m a season tickets holder. My dad and I go to every game.”

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TORONTO - Two Toronto Catholic District School Board students and teammates with the Senator O’Connor Blues have made their debuts with Canada’s under-17 national rugby team.

“I’m honoured to be selected. It’s a real accomplishment for me,” said Lucas Rumball, 16, who scored his first international try against Belgium while touring the United Kingdom recently with Team Canada. “It was exhilarating. I pounded it in.”

Rumball shared his international glory during the first two weeks of April with Michael Douros, 17. The students now plan to apply their international experience to the Blues for the team’s season.

Published in Education

TORONTO - Over the last two decades, student leadership has evolved and taken on new life, according to Greg Rogers.

“Twenty years ago, schools were just beginning to realize the power of student leadership,” said Rogers, co-ordinator of student leadership with the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Rogers has been on the frontline of this growth since the early 1990s, when as acting vice principal at Toronto’s Brebeuf College School, he asked to take the incoming Grade 9 class on a camp retreat to Olympia Sports Camp in Huntsville, Ont.

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Looking to restore public confidence in school trustees, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) board has passed a multi-year plan that emphasizes trustee governance, mentoring and transparency.

“We are reducing the areas of ambiguity and providing more clarity,” said Ann Andrachuk, second-term chair of the board. “That will restore and improve public confience, not only for us but for Catholic education around the province. We’ve always been looked at as being leaders in Catholic education in the province and we’re heading in that direction again.”

Published in Education

The Toronto Catholic District School Board has reaffirmed a motion to make all schools “bottled water free zones” by September 2012.

“We’re the largest organization to ever tackle this in the country,” said trustee Maria Rizzo, who put the motion forward on behalf of all the board’s students.  “The TCDSB became a leader for social justice and the environment. Water is God’s gift to the planet and you shouldn’t sell it like a pair of sneakers. It’s as ludicrous as bottling air and selling it.”

Published in Youth Speak News

TORONTO - Students in Toronto Catholic schools will now begin their school day by singing our national anthem each morning.

On April 19, the Toronto Catholic District School Board voted 7-3 to have students sing “O Canada” a cappella during opening exercises.

To lead by example, trustee Angela Kennedy, who spearheaded the vote, uploaded a video of herself on YouTube singing “O Canada” without any background music.

Published in Education

OTTAWA - Parents must assert their rights as first educators of their children or bear the consequences of government policy that will profoundly re-engineer their children’s views on family and sexuality, says Teresa Pierre.

The director of Parents As First Educators (PAFE) said parents need to get involved in decisions being made that will affect their children.

“Start attending your parent-teacher meetings and start asking questions when you hear a proposal offered that doesn’t sound quite right, or worse, when you don’t hear anything at all,” she said. “Parents have a lot of influence when their criticisms are offered in a respectful way in a context of a community that knows you.

“The Church has told us the importance of parental authority in education and even suggested that families should work together to support each other,” she said, drawing from Familaris consortio (The Role of the Family in the Modern World), Pope John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation.  This document describes parental authority in education as “primary and inalienable” and outlines the duty parents have to maintain an active relationship with teachers and school authorities, she said. Parents are to be advocates of family policies in society, the document says, and warns “families will be the first victims of the evils they have done no more than note with indifference.”

PAFE is a fledgling organization formed last spring during equity policy public consultations with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. When former Ontario education minister Kathleen Wynne introduced the Equity and Inclusive Education policy to Ontario schools in 2008, Pierre said, “It was designed to create openness to all forms of sexual expression by offering them as part of the curriculum from the earliest ages.” The controversial Bill 13, which mandates gay-straight alliances in high schools, is one prong of this policy, which includes a sexual education curriculum.

Though the Liberals tried to introduce the curriculum in 2010, it received so much criticism from parents the Ministry of Education withdrew it, Pierre said, though she notes Wynne has said the policy will come back. This curriculum would teach Grade 3 students about homosexuality and gender identity, teach Grade 6 students about masturbation and teach Grade 8 students about the concepts “heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, two-spirited, transgendered, transsexual and intersexed,” she said.

“The second way the curriculum could be affected is that equity topics could be introduced almost anywhere in the regular curriculum,” she said, noting the Toronto District School Board issued a manual called Challenging Homophobia and Heterosexism: a K-12 Curriculum Guide that undermines traditional views of the family. The material treats homosexuality and gender identity as fixed characteristics, she said.

“The fact that there are lots of competing views on the origins of sexual identity or even the need for scientific proof is not even mentioned.”

Pierre said few parents even know about the policy, despite the public consultations.  She said the media, Church hierarchy and school boards play a role in dissemination of information but at the school level, parent-teacher associations should be informing parents about these policies.  

“Are they doing that? Most don’t,” she said.

“Even the people who do care and do know better are often afraid to speak against the culture. You need to overcome your own fear, which is the root of the problem.”

Published in Education

TORONTO - The Ontario Divisional Court has cleared Toronto Catholic school trustee Angela Kennedy of conflict-of-interest charges.

The court overturned a 2010 Ontario Superior Court verdict that found Kennedy guilty of a conflict stemming from a May 2008 school board budget meeting where she had voted against staff layoffs. The 2010 decision ruled her vote may have affected two of her sons who were employed by the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

The appellate court ruled March 5 that any economic interests Kennedy may have gained by voting against the cuts were minimal and unlikely to influence her vote.

Published in Education

TORONTO - There is the poverty, the high cost of food, lack of clean water and acceptable housing, the lack of concern for the people’s wellbeing, the high rate of disease and of course the whole situation around the school. Nobody has the silver bullet that will fix education in Attiwapiskat in northern Ontario.

But that doesn’t mean we do nothing. Mother Teresa most often gets credit for telling us that we’re not called to be successful. We’re called to be faithful.

As a Toronto Catholic District School Board teacher, I’ve been working with Attawapiskat for 10 years. It started when I was a literacy resource teacher heading up our early reading intervention program. The principal of Attiwapiskat’s JR Nakogee School contacted me. The challenge at his school was and still is raising the literacy skills.

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OTTAWA - An Ottawa-based think tank said mandating gay-straight alliances (GSAs) as part of Ontario government’s anti-bullying strategy will only force students into activism.

The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) warns of negative effects on freedom and equality if Ontario’s Equity and Inclusion Strategy forces students to move “beyond tolerance to acceptance and respect.”

“Diversity will only flourish in Ontario schools when students are encouraged to respectfully interact with different thoughts and opinions,” said the IMFC in its study entitled Ontario’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy Reviewed. [DOWNLOAD REPORT HERE]

Published in Canada

The award is nice, but St. Patrick's Catholic Secondary School principal John Shanahan has a different measure of success.

Shanahan is one of 40 educators who will be honoured as "Canada's Outstanding Principals of 2012" by The Learning Partnership at a Feb. 28 gala dinner in Toronto's Sheraton Centre. The Learning Partnership is a charity that advocates for and supports public education. It's best known for Take Your Kids to Work day.

Shanahan is bashful, unwilling to talk about the award as a personal achievement. But he has lots to say about his school, his teachers and most of all his students.

Published in Education

TORONTO - The Marshall Medium student newspaper was looking for hot topics for its spring 2011 issue. So when 12th-grader Erica Lenti pitched a story about the gay-straight alliances springing up in Ontario schools, the newspaper staff was sold.

Lenti interviewed staff and students at Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School in Toronto and the article passed through editing. But when Lenti picked up a copy of The Medium, she learned her story had been pulled.

Her facts were incorrect, she was told. Her take: school administrators wanted nothing to do with the topic.

Published in Education