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2020: Board Transparency and Accountability

In this blog post:

  • news coverage from the London Free Press (article)

  • public presentation from Beth Mai to the board of trustees (video)

  • community engagement to help community members speak up about issues concerning their children and future students of TVDSB.


In 2019-2020, the shift from itinerant special education teachers working directly with students with special needs to a different model of special education teachers coaching other teachers was completed when the itinerant teachers for children with a giftedness exceptionality were removed.

I was concerned, as were others in London and region, that the decision was made without an opportunity for public input as per board procedures AND that the move lacked evidence to indicate that the change would result in improved learning or social-emotional outcomes for gifted learners.

This was they first year that I was an officially appointed member of the Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) at TVDSB, having sat as a guest for three years because I had been an employee and therefore was not eligible to be a voting member.

I spoke against this change because of the process and lack of confidence that the switch would be beneficial to students. It's unknown whether the switch to this "teacher coach" model has benefitted children with other exceptionalities - I will not presume to speak on that.

Below is text from an article published in 2020 after the community learned about the planned changes about which the board and its committees had not been consulted.

FYI: There is no data that is publicly available, in 2022, that supports the change as having been beneficial to students.

From the London Free Press:

"A shift in how the Thames Valley District School Board teaches gifted students has parent advocates crying foul, saying the brightest kids are losing out on valuable learning opportunities.

The parents say a program offered by the school board has changed dramatically as the roles of five teachers assigned to gifted children evolve and special programming called “cluster sessions” disappears.

“The model that has shown to be of greatest benefit to children, that’s been replaced — without consultation from experts — with a different program that lacks data and research to support it as an improvement for gifted children,” says Beth Mai, president of the Association for Bright Children of Ontario and member of the Thames Valley special education advisory committee (SEAC). “That is our concern.”

The board defines a gifted child as being in the top one or two per cent of the school population in terms of “cognitive differences,” she said.

Previously, the five instructors, known as gifted itinerant teachers, supported 645 gifted students with co-ordinated sessions, such as guest speakers or field trips. The three-day sessions took place four times a year.

“They were to give them opportunities they need to work with others with similar ability on in-depth projects that go beyond what they are able to do in the regular classroom,” said Christine Thammavongsa, former provincial president of ABC Ontario who’s also an SEAC member. “That is disappearing.”

The new model will see the children’s needs met in the regular classroom, she said, adding gifted children often work two to four levels ahead of fellow students. “It’s not just that they are making the change, it’s that it was suddenly announced and … the families have not yet been informed,” Thammavongsa said.

Andrew Canham, the board’s student achievement superintendent, said the five teachers’ roles have changed to that of teacher on special assignment.

“The purpose and mandate is to build the capacity of the classroom teacher,” he said. “They know how to change the curriculum expectations to meet the needs of the students. We want to make this move so this differentiation happens every day and not just solely in these 12 days throughout the year.”

Canham said they are also still looking at a “hybrid model” with regional sessions similar to cluster sessions “recognizing each student’s interests.”

“We feel confident this is a better opportunity to provide enriching curriculum based extension opportunities for our students than our previous model,” he said.

He also said a survey went out in an email to families of gifted students dated June 10, describing program changes."

The original article can be found here.

Surveying the community after a change has been made is not the same thing as seeking public input in advance of a change. Don't you agree? To bring some public input to the board, along with with many members of the community, I presented to the Board of Trustees on June 16, 2020.

The plans to change programming for several hundred students had not been shared with the board or any of its committees for input or feedback prior to staff being let go from their positions and public input had never been sought. For these reasons, the community hoped that the board would stand up for the community and put these changes on hold so that appropriate processes would be followed.

This is the video from that board meeting, cued up to where public presentations are given. I am the first speaker. We are all remote because of Covid 19 protocols.

Trustees were told that this change was "operational" and that they had no jurisdiction. This has been said about other decisions as well, such as changes at Central Secondary School from Day 1/2 to semestered system and the circumstances at B. Davison. I disagree. The board's own policy and procedure about public input was not followed when this decision was made (or the decision the year before when I was not yet a full member).

We owe it to the public to ensure that there is accountability in decision-making.

The board did approve a program review for the students affected by this change, which was something positive from the experience. However, that review has still not begun and how kids are being impacted in classes these past few years is showing. Again, accountability and following through on commitments to the public really matters. Our elected officials must be working to ensure oversight of their sole employee and that there is follow-through on commitments made to the public.

I'm committed to accountability, transparency, and meaningful community engagement. I'm committed to you.


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