• Marie Snyder

Questions from Vista Hills: Equity, Capacity, Arts, and IEPs

Updated: 10 hours ago

1) Ontario’s education equity action plan outlines how we will identify and eliminate inequities in the education system. This strategy involves working with parents, educators, principals, board staff, trustees and the community to ensure Ontario’s publicly funded education system will be fairer and more inclusive for all students, educators and staff, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or any other factor related to individual identity. Research shows that when students see themselves reflected in their learning environment, they are more likely to feel a sense of belonging and well-being. WRDSB is currently working on making its programs equitable for all students. What does that mean to you and how will you as a trustee create policies that support all students?

I’m proud of the excellent work WRDSB has done so far working towards a more equitable and inclusive system, and educating teachers on subtle prejudices that can creep up in the classroom. Trustees can craft and support policies that enable students to have a clearer and more easily-accessed process of complaint or concern in light of any problems in classrooms, hallways, or school yards. I’d support policies that offer better mediation training for staff and students to ensure everyone feels heard and respected and has a path through to resolve any issues that arise whether between students or in a student-staff conflict.

2) Currently Vista Hills public School is over capacity. As the community continues to build this challenge will continue to grow. As a trustee how will you work towards alleviating the over crowding that's taking place in waterloo west? For example, a boundary review could help to alleviate some of the capacity challenges within the west end of waterloo. Specifically to include Mary Johnson, Edna Staebler, Vista Hills, Laurelwood and Abraham Erb.

A boundary review process becomes necessary from time to time as our population grows and shifts throughout our region. I would support a review with the consultation of the neighbourhoods affected and some means to allow siblings to remain together at the same school if desired despite the new boundary lines created.

3) What do you believe is the number one issue the school board is facing today? If elected, what will you do about it?

The school board is divisive around some factual information and statistical misunderstandings in a way I never expected to see. The rhetoric and misinformation around both Critical Race Theory and Covid-19 needs to be clarified and corrected. As an educational institution, I would like to see peer-reviewed studies on contentious topics made available and explained at a variety of levels in simple fact sheets to help our staff and students have a stronger foundational knowledge to allow informed decisions on important issues. (Maybe something like this poster on Covid-19).

4) Currently Arts programming at WRDSB schools is inconsistent through out the WRDSB area. Some schools have instruments and Band. Others have excellent visual arts programming. Many have very little in the way of Arts support and funding. How will you as a Trustee support Arts for our students' developing minds?

My first teachable subject is Visual Arts, so this is very important to me, and it is a problem that specific courses cannot be accessed by every student. There are two solutions that both come with benefits and problems: magnet schools or mandatory electives offered at all schools. Magnet Schools that offer specific extra courses are a useful way to have resources and specialized teachers at one school, but it creates more need for bussing and splits up communities (instead of kids having a neighbourhood school they all attend) and makes extracurriculars more difficult to access for kids who need to bus home.
Ensuring the same electives are offered at all schools keeps kids in their home school, and makes programs equitable across schools, but means resources are spread more thinly across the board, and some schools might end up with a teacher without an arts background. Also, if a less-popular course is offered at every school, many schools might find they don’t have enough students to run the course anyway. If the course is only offered at one or two schools, and serves as a draw for those students, then full classes are more likely. An outside-the-box option to consider might be to allow students to take specific courses online, except many art courses come with equipment that isn’t possible to offer online (e.g. a kiln for ceramics). But there might be work-arounds for those barriers. This question requires a lot of discussion and research into innovative ways other boards solve this dilemma.

5) Across Ontario there has been a serious challenge centering around pick up and dropping off at schools. Vista Hills is no different. Many parents choose to disregard the no parking signs in the bike lanes, perform illegal U turns, disregard the speed limits, abuse staff when asked to correct their behaviour etc. How will you as a trustee work with the City to begin to solve this challenge that places our children in serious danger?

We can work with bylaw enforcement to ticket in a blitz each September and again in November (as more might choose to drive in colder weather) to make parents aware of the consequences for violating traffic laws. Administrators in schools should be visible and working to direct the flow of traffic for the first few weeks and again as needed. On top of that, I’d support more sheltered bike racks that have a camera pointed at them to deter theft. I believe many more kids would bike if they felt certain that their bike is safe at school - as it should be.

6) Currently WRDSB's policy and funding allows for only a few children to be tested for learning disabilities. This forces families to reach out privately for a psychoeducational assessment costing on average over $3,000 per child. Many families are unable to afford the costs of an assessment placing children of low economic families at greater risk. How will you as a trustee work toward ensuring some of our more vulnerable children have the same access to testing and support as wealthier families?

This is another very important conundrum to unravel. It’s possible for students to be referred for assessment through a psychiatrist that’s covered by OHIP, but the waiting list for that is years long, so I understand why people seek out private assessments. Furthermore, I’ve seen several IEPs with just a family doctor’s diagnosis on them, so that’s an option as well. Parents need to know more about how this system works to be aware of the funded option.
My long-term hope for this is to make assessment part of our education system through psychometrists available to visit each school as needed, and through better teacher training on more common learning disabilities, neurodiversities, and the complex role of executive function in order to help staff better understand why, for instance, a student might be able to answer questions in class but never puts anything in writing. Short-term, though, we need greater awareness of barriers to learning and a variety of solutions for all students. Something that might be possible is the use of enCompass as a tool for teachers to indicate in the comment field if a particular strategy worked well with a particular student. This would provide a fast and specific tool for teachers to access when working with students, which might be more useful than an often general IEP. For instance, I’ve had many students with ADHD respond to a wide variety of different strategies to the point that the diagnosis and IEP is less useful than a quick chat with a former teacher to find out what actually works. Currently, teachers are instructed not to comment on enCompass at all, but perhaps the benefits of using the tool more fully and specifically to help students, and over their entire school career, might override any concerns with possible negative comments being included.
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