Sunday, 23 October 2011

A Man of Character

What would you call a man whose entire personal and professional life experience had been in Toronto, York and Durham regions, who lived in Port Perry, who took a job in Peterborough to which he commuted, and who after only a few years on the job devised a scheme to pit the residents of Northcrest, Otonabee, Monaghan, Ashburnham and Town Wards and their attendent school communities against one another in a vicious game of “Survivor,” a game which he himself ended by administrative fiat, acting unilaterally to close Town Ward’s only remaining school and thereby rip out the cornerstone of central Peterborough, which is ultimately the cornerstone of the city itself?  

Would you call him “a man of character?”

“Character development” became a popular educational principle and buzzword in Ontario over the last decade. The idea was that in addition to psychological development, skill-building and intellectual training, schools should focus on promoting a series of positive character traits among their students. According to the KPR website, there are ten key traits that the Board focuses on (one for each month of the school year). These are:

  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Empathy
  • Fairness
  • Initiative
  • Perseverance
  • Courage
  • Optimism

Avis Glaze was one of the central figures in the promotion of character education. Shortly before the forming of the Liberal government in Ontario in 2003, Glaze was hired away from her Associate Director position at the York Region District School Board to become Director of Education at KPR. Glaze served in this capacity for several years before moving onward and upward. She is now a private eduational consultant. Her website is packed with accolades and includes a long list of her credentials. Glaze, who is originally from Jamaica, in this 2002 interview with Peaceful Communities, offered her thoughts on the moral roots of her educational philosophy and drive.

Avis Glaze, Educational Consultant, formerly Director of Education for KPR

When Glaze moved on from KPR, she was replaced as Director by Sylvia Terpstra, another former York Region administrator. Terpstra retired in 2009, and the job was offered to yet another former York Region employee – Rusty Hick. The Board had been successful twice in a row going to the York Region well, so why not try again? Hick had served as a vice-principal at several York Region schools before being hired as principal at Bowmanville High and then at TASSS, and counted both Glaze and Terpstra among his mentors. While Terpstra was Director, Hick moved up from TASSS to Superintendent of Operations.

Hick appears to have done his best to associate himself with the kind of character education ideals associated with Glaze. In particular, he became known for promoting restorative justice. In the fall of 2008, while Superintendent of Operations, Hick, along with other KPR teaching staff, spoke at a conference in Toronto organized by the International Institute for Restorative Practices. The conference was titled “Restoring Community in a Disconnected World.” In 2007, Glaze, then leading a group advising the Ministry of Education, had called for Boards to submit reports of their practices in the area of character education for a  Ministry booklet to be titled “Character Development in Action,” which was published in 2008. Predictably, most of the the programs discussed as examples for others to follow are from York Region. However, KPR was the featured Board for “Character in the Workplace.”

The “character in the workplace” intiative at KPR is said at the outset to have begun with a “challenge from the director that employees begin a dialogue about what character could / should / look / sound / feel like in the workplace.” (p.42). At the director’s behest, then, a committee was formed, and what did it do? It created and delivered a “training session” for employees to promote the ten character traits.

“Obedience” is not one of the character traits KPR is said to have been promoting. Nevertheless, the top-down model of this little scenario, which was apparently exemplary enough to warrant being included in the booklet, illustrates it nicely.

Director gives order – committee is formed – committee trains employees. It’s as simple as that! That’s the kind of workplace culture we want – an authoritarian one. We couldn’t possibly look and find where teachers and students were already role-modeling positive character traits of their own initiative – we needed someone at the top to dictate “training sessions” for professional staff.   

When Hick was first hired as Terpstra’s replacement two years ago, an article in the Examiner put the declining enrolment bogeyman front and center.  The Examiner reported that “Hick said the board is looking down the road five years to review which schools need to be flagged for possible consolidation or closure.” This was in 2009, so Hick’s comment is consistent with the 2014 target date suggested in the Capital Needs Assessment report of 2007. Hick proceeded to emphasize an “open process,” “creative solutions” and the importance of being “open and transparent with the community.”
“It’s an open process, so you never know,” he said. “There are always creative solutions out there. At the secondary school level we have challenges, for sure,” he said. “As long as we continue to be open and transparent with the community, we will continue to do the best for our board.”

Can we add “hypocrisy” to the character traits promoted at KPR?

The Examiner reported that Hick said that “the board is forecasting 2012 to be the point at which the decline will stop and gradually begin to rise again.” “We have three more tough years, but then we should be stable, Hick stated. These comments are in line with the estimates provided in the 2007 Capital Needs Assessment regarding the pattern in Peterborough, which shows graphs of projected elementary enrolment on page 2 and secondary on page 4. The elementary graph shows a nearly flat line between 2011 and 2015, while the secondary shows steady drop flattening out beginning at 2014. A leveling-off of the declining pattern in the elementary panel three years earlier than the secondary makes common sense, and suggests that the secondary path would follow suit.

So why did Hick give his projected enrolment figures in his request for an accomodation review only to 2014?

Was it because any further projection would show a levelling out, ruining the possibility of suggesting to Trustees that enrolment would continue to decline still further?

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