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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest Blogger Shawn Lewis

Note: The following post is provided as a public service and is not an endorsement of the candidate or the views expressed in the post. Other trustee candidates may request a similar opportunity and, if time and space permit, will be accommodated. Please keep your submissions short, under 500 words if possible. This will be available only for trustee positions which are rarely covered by the established media.

TVDSB Trustee for Wards 1, 11, 12, 14

Why do I want to be a school board trustee? With Election Day looming, I wanted to take the opportunity to share my response to one of the most frequent questions I've gotten from voters. I'm not going to just write what I think people want to hear, I'm writing to provide a straightforward and honest answer.  
I don't have kids myself, but I am very privileged to have a significant number of kids and young adults in my life. Some are family, some are like family who have come into my life as an active community oriented citizen. More than a few are through my volunteering in minor hockey. Others (in the secondary and post secondary age groups) have done volunteer hours or co-op placements in my office. But regardless of how they've come into my life, they are important to me as individual people, as well as the future of our society.

I recognize that is going to be a challenging future. They are growing up in a world of increasing technological dependence, where resource consumption and rampant consumerism is destabilizing the environment, and where competition for resources is only growing. I want to do what I can, within my skills and means, to help ensure we provide them the best possible education and skills we can to help them become the people who will meet these challenges head on and innovate the solutions for those challenges.

In some very real ways, I feel that we are failing the current generation of students in this regard. Certainly EQAO test scores reveal that there are issues to tackle in mathematics and literacy. Please don't misunderstand me, I also recognize that EQAO testing is at best, a blunt instrument and that there are many socio-economic factors that come into play in student results as well. Nonetheless, while the measuring stick is not ideal, neither are the results. We need to revisit how math and literacy skills are being taught to our children.

We also cannot continue to "bubble wrap" or "helicopter parent" children in the manner that has emerged over the past decade in particular. When we have schools removing playground equipment because someone fell and scraped a knee or broke a wrist, we have a problem and this is already happened some Ontario schools. When we have principals banning pick-up soccer or softball games at recess because a child was left out of play, we have a problem. These "life lessons" about being careful or not always being included are part of growing up. I'm very much interested in promoting a "Playground Risk" pilot project in the Thames Valley School Board, that brings play back to our playgrounds, similar to what a school in Winnipeg has done (http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/04/return-of-risk-the-growing-movement-to-let-kids-play-like-kids/)
I'm not naive, I realize a lone trustee cannot change the curriculum, or increase provincial budget allocations for education. I realize that pursuing any of these issues; improving math and literacy, continuing equity and diversity efforts, and bringing play back to the playground, are going to require building support from parents, educators, and fellow trustees as well as diplomatic but persistent provincial lobbying. The goal however, is in my view, worth the effort it will require.
There are also a couple of more practically achievable goals that have me running for the office of trustee.
A consistent, board wide transfer policy is one. As I said, I have a lot of kids in my life. They aren't all living in traditional family models with mom and dad. In some cases, they are spending equal parts of a week with each parent and in some of those cases one sibling might be "with mom" and the other "with dad", yet spending most of their time as siblings together, except at school, where address differences mean attending different schools despite the family's wish to have the children in the same school. The current "home school" exemption process is onerous and leaves to much up to the discretion of the principal. We have to recognize that what is easiest for the board, or the principal, is not always what is best for the child involved. Creating some clear guidelines and creating a trustee reviewed appeal process is something I would like to work toward. Other boards have already enacted better "home school exemption" processes and the TVDSB needs to improve in this area.
Another more practically achievable goal I want to work towards as a trustee is establishing a more cooperative relationship between trustees and city council in London. It is important that municipal planning and school board planning are developed hand in hand. This is important both in regard to where new schools are located, as well as in discussions around school closures. The recent debate around the potential closure of Aberdeen Public School, at a time when there is a consider focus at City Hall around the revitalization potential of the SOHO district is a good example. Do we really want to be closing a school in a neighbourhood where we might see a new injection of young families in the coming 5-10 years? I've worked, at one time or another with nearly every member of the current and previous two councils at one point or another. Likewise, I've worked with labour leaders and MPPs on various issues. We may not always agree, or even like each other, but we nonetheless have worked toward a solution that works for the community on a particular issue. These existing relationships and understanding of the issues and barriers involved in making change gives me the opportunity to help the Trustees as a whole better partner, advocate, and lobby other elected representatives.


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