In this blog post:
a success story for a TVDSB family
an example of one of the 100s of families I have helped to navigate the education system at no charge (pro bono)
it matters to me that parents are heard, that their concerns are validated, and that we can foster responsive relationships so that concerns are resolved in a timely manner
You may have seen the article, published in The London Free Press on August 20, 2022, that talked about a family who had successfully appealed a school board decision regarding special education services. That same article was later published online with a slightly different title, but the content remains the same.
For me, this is not a story of what's going wrong but of what can go right when when we all understand how the system works, offer appropriate support, and promote accountability for decision-makers.
There is a lot I could share about this experience, including the 80+ hours I provided as a volunteer to support the family or the who-knows-how-many hours the parents spent (this year alone) trying to navigate the system as outlined in order to have identified needs met.
I could talk about the toll this kind of experience takes on parents, most of whom are
already often overextended and not nearly as well-equipped as they sometimes need to be to advocate successfully for supports or services their child needs (not wants, but needs).
I could talk about the toll this takes on children's mental health or the ways in which front-line staff are impacted.
I could talk about the ways in which I believe our provincial government can do better in terms of its organization, decision-making, and creation of Ministry policy/guiding documents without necessarily supporting the infrastructure in a way that enables success for all students in the way that's envisioned.
I've thought a lot about what I could say about this story that's only really unique in its ending - that the family learned they could appeal the decision after feeling the other processes hadn't been effective and that the family was successful. The issues the family faced were not unique to TVDSB or to London. As a volunteer advocate, people across Ontario who have children with special education needs of all kinds reach out to me to give guidance, attend meetings, and support them. Educators and administrators reach out to me to learn more about special education, what children may need, and how to develop functional plans for kids to meet those needs in an appropriate environment and with plans in place that will make a positive difference. Others partner with educators and families too, all across the province.
For me, this is not a story of what's going wrong but of what can go right when we all understand how the system works, offer appropriate support, and promote accountability for decision-makers.
In education sessions I offer to the community - open to parents and teachers at the same time! - I talk about the importance of open communication, active listening, appreciating what we don't yet know, understanding that asking for help is not a sign of weakness for anyone, and that classroom teachers and parents can be partners in supporting the success of children when communication remains productive and you work together to seek additional support when it's needed.
I also firmly advocate for the use of a school board's policies and procedures to address concerns early. They exist for a reason and everyone benefits when the community uses the policies and procedures that are in place, as board leadership intended, to ensure that what needs to happen is taking place. No one is perfect. No one person knows everything. We can all make mistakes or decisions we wouldn't have made if we had more information. Sharing concerns is a way to engage and encourage productive problem-solving and accountability. The longer we wait to do this, the more challenging it can become to address the issue. No one wants this.
I'm running for school board trustee for TVDSB in wards 7, 8, 9, 10, and 13 with a name that's usually associated with one of my areas of expertise. My lens is far wider than this, though, and you can be sure that the dedication I put forward for the betterment of public education in ways that are widely-known is the same dedication I apply to all work that I do.
I'm here for everyone to support a better learning environment for all (staff and students), to support all parents, and to work collaboratively with those in leadership while ALSO expecting (and modelling) accountability so that we are making sure we are always working to fulfill the board's mission of building "each student's tomorrow, every day".
I encourage you to learn more about me. I'm known for my work in special education and there's no doubt TVDSB can benefit from that (it impacts all children, not just those with identified learning need). However, I bring far more to the table than this piece. Follow me on Twitter at @bethmaicanada, check out my Facebook page, email me at email@example.com or text/call me at 519-868-8538. I'm here for you now and I'll be here for you for as long as I'm needed. I want to you feel confident in your choice of trustee. You won't be disappointed.