As part of Toronto District School Board (TDSB) director Dr. Chris Spence’s Vision of Hope, every teacher and student is expected to have access to a computer in the classroom and an electronic learning environment in a wireless technology setting by 2015.
“This is a very ambitious project, but the vision is really to equip every learner for the digital age,” Spence said at the fourth annual Parents Make a Difference conference last Saturday at Earl Haig Secondary School. “This is really an equity issue for us because we are not trying to create a system of haves and have-nots.
“But we know that equity is really equal access to the benefits that one system has to offer and that may require differential treatment. We have to find ways to reinvest in our system and provide the opportunity because technology is no longer an option but a central tool for learning.”
Spence said the board needs to ensure that parents have electronic access to teachers and information about their child and the school environment and that parent engagement should no longer be measured by the number of parents on school council.
“Parents are busy and they have many things going on in their lives,” he said. “You don’t have to be in the school to be supporting the work of the school. I believe that technology helps us to better engage our kids.”
The one-day conference celebrated the recent agreement between the TDSB and the Parent and Community Involvement Office (PIAO) to pilot parent engagements in the selection and transfer process for vice-principals and principals. The agreement recognizes the work of parents across the system and offers resources on how to better navigate the system.
“We have to believe in our parents and our community,” Spence said. “Nobody cares more about a child’s education than a parent and there is nothing more profound than parents that are engaged and informed because we recognize and address the barriers such as past experiences, time, transportation, location and translation.
“But one of the things we want to do at the TDSB is take parents on a journey from beginning to end and to make them go ‘wow’.
“Educating the student is not the sole responsibility of a school. It truly does take a whole village and that’s why I am so excited about some of the work that we are doing such as creating effective schools and parent academies. When we reach out to you and when we engage in these kinds of efforts, we know that community and parent engagement goes up and life outcomes also go up for our students.”
Spence’s $1.7 million Vision of Hope involves a series of programs and projects focused on raising student achievement, enhancing parent and community engagement and achieving financial stability. The objectives are integral to achieving better student outcomes.
The vision includes a system-wide mentoring program to build relationships, self-esteem and confidence.
“I believe we have to institutionalize the concept of a caring adult,” said Spence who started the Boys 2 Men initiative aimed at helping troubled young Black males turn their lives around, the Read to Succeed program that encourages and teaches boys to read and Project G.O. (Girls Only).
“When students have a caring adult in their life, the academic and life outcomes go up. As you know, you can’t motivate a student you don’t know. There is no learning without trust and respect…If some students are getting lost in the system, then the system doesn’t work. It has to work for every child. I know that’s a lofty goal but it’s a vision of hope that we should all address.”