Equity Matters

Equity is the foundation of our work at HWDSB, and is woven tightly into our operations so that equity and inclusive education permeate everything that happens across our Board.

We have worked hard to use an equity lens when examining how we allocate human and material resources in HWDSB. This is complex work because standards do not yet exist for related indicators, and because it has entailed a shift in thinking and culture across the organization.

With equity of outcome for all students being our overarching goal, we set out to determine how to achieve the component parts of this, namely equity of access and opportunity. We were aware that equitable allocation reflects quantity and type of human or material resource; that schools with concentrated need will require enhanced, differentiated responses; and that we must challenge traditional assumptions in this work.

We established our first work group to address equity related to community use of schools. This entailed developing a model of equity of access to programs outside of the school day, access to facilities and the equitable allocation of resources to schools that are used outside of the school day.

After surveying all schools, this Community Use of Schools Work Group drafted a mandate for community use of schools to focus on student achievement and well-being, and to give access in priority order to: schools, HWDSB’s reciprocol use agreement with the City of Hamilton, youth-serving organizations, neighbourhood groups, and for-profit groups. We continue to develop an improved, equitable system for our rentals.

Executive Council also adopted an equitable allocation of resources lens in its decision-making in 2010-11. Knowing our students, staff and communities was crucial to this work. For example, an equitable allocation lens was applying to areas such as: our Program Strategy, K-2 literacy strategy, tiered intervention, professional learning plan, mentoring EA allocation, urban and high priority schools, social justice, the After School Scholars Program and much more.

In addition, our Compensatory Education Administrator Committee provides leadership on equity, and has been collaborating as a learning community to see what issues they share as administrators. Their previous work led to a differentiated staffing model recognizing student needs; the next step is to look at the impact of that differentiation and the types of resources needed at each school. There is also a need to review equity of access and opportunity as it relates to the Walk-in Closet, the Accessibility Fund and the Nutrition Fund.

Built on our fundamental beliefs that we will serve each student, provide engaging programs to meet student interests and improve achievement, and provide access to programs for all, we also work hard to encourage school practices that promote a caring and safe school culture. In 2010-11, our safe schools focus remained prevention and intervention with an emphasis on research-based programs such as peer mediation and Roots of Empathy.

Restorative Justice practices shifted from awareness training across the system, to in-school support for weaving strategies into curriculum and daily practice. Special emphasis was placed on progressive discipline and addressing the needs of exceptional pupils, gathering student voice and training staff on bullying prevention and intervention, and supporting schools as they organize Positive Space Groups and respond to issues raised around student mental health.

An Equitable Program Strategy

HWDSB is implementing a road map called our Program Strategy to ensure equitable resource allocation to schools, staff and students. Our Program Strategy is rethinking the way we offer programs and facilities, so that we can best meet the needs of each our students in the 21st century.

We want students to have choice, support and direction as they benefit from the knowledge and skills acquired from their educational program. We are restructuring what we offer, where we offer it and how we can help all students achieve their full potential. We know today’s learners require new approaches, and the we must respond with engaging programs and safe, nurturing and innovative learning environments.

We envision a school system in which all students can find what they need at any of our schools. A place where the placement of programs, supports, and facilities makes strategic sense. A place where students feel safe, welcome, included and energized as they are moving closer to their goals. The program strategy is about restructuring our programs and facilities in response to the input of our communities and students.

Open House Highlights Supports for Diverse Learners

Students, parents and educators mingled amid colourful displays in the Education Centre as HWDSB’s Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) hosted its first Student Voice Open House this year. The event, which invited displays from every HWDSB secondary school, was a chance for the community to hear from HWDSB students about the programs and supports at the secondary level.

Visitors heard how the Empower Reading Program helps students to decode language, the one-to-one partnerships of students with special needs and their Best Buddies, the struggle and success of credit recovery when teens fall behind, and a long line-up of displays detailing how schools are supporting students who struggle.

“Education is a responsibility shared by parents/guardians, school staff, and the students themselves,” explains Judy Colantino, chair of SEAC. “Regular, ongoing communication is a valued part of the team approach. Students, parents/guardians, and educators all play important roles in the planning and implementation of a student’s program.”

HWDSB provides a range of special education/student services supports for students at their school and outside of their school, for short periods of time as well as in placements in regular classes and dedicated, special classes. Superintendent of Leadership and Learning Vicki Corcoran, who is responsible for special education, said the Student Voice Open House was unique because visitors could hear directly from students about what works for them.

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ALPHA Students Practice English and Make Friends through Sport

Dr. Davey Elementary School has found a unique way to engage its students in learning English, and it starts with the toss a sepak takraw ball in the air. The Southeast Asian sport looks a bit like volleyball but players use their feet to propel the bamboo ball over a lowered net. Dr. Davey staff says the sport is a great teaching tool.

“Sepak takraw has provided an opportunity for newcomer English language learner students to be leaders,” says James Savelli, an Accelerated Literacy Program Hamilton Area (ALPHA) teacher. “They showcase a sport that other kids usually wouldn’t have played.”

ALPHA students come from a variety of backgrounds but all have gaps in their education. Students familiar with the game teach the lunchtime game to students new to the sport, using their improving English skills. “They have never seen it before, and they want to play, so I teach them,” said Grade 8 student Tehtay Teh, who was in the ALPHA class in Grade 7. “They like it!”

HWDSB ESL consultant Judith Ngan said the initiative is a great example of using a 21st-century fluencies instructional approach, so that students are engaged in meaningful and relevant learning opportunities. “An integral part of ALPHA is to help students integrate into school communities and to develop leadership skills,” she said.

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HWDSB Celebrates Aboriginal Heritage

The significance of an eagle feather became the starting point for discussions about aboriginal communities at Strathcona elementary school, thanks to a visit by Ojibway-Cree elder Walter Cooke. Cooke, of the Aboriginal Health Centre, presented the school with an eagle feather, and explained that “an eagle feather represents a flag in our Aboriginal community… the feather represents good and bad, and the decisions that come with that.”

It all began when Strathcona students discovered, through a school project, that the aboriginal community didn’t have a flag. Cooke volunteered to visit the school and explain why, and later returned to present staff and students with an eagle staff at an assembly. He wanted to show the aboriginal community’s appreciation for Strathcona’s interest in building a relationship.

Each class has a staff decorated with feathers, and students can earn eagle feathers for demonstrating that they are good community members. “The eagle feather represents happiness, love and peace, and it represents that we did a really good job at being kind and nice,” says Strathcona Grade 3 student Lachlan. “It was really nice for him (Cooke) to come in.”

The event was a fitting prelude to Aboriginal Heritage Week, which HWDSB recognizes each June by honouring the historical and contemporary contributions of First Nation, Métis and Inuit people.

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Students Wear Pink to Fight Bullying

Led by our Student Trustees, HWDSB secondary students took part in Speak Out’s third annual Pink T-shirt Day to raise awareness about bullying. Student trustees Susan Tian and Micaela Corcoran and the Student Senate encouraged staff and students to wear a pink T-shirt to show their support for a world without bullying. In addition to wearing pink, everyone is being encouraged to Speak Out for those who otherwise feel voiceless.

“Four years ago, a Grade 9 boy from Nova Scotia was bullied for wearing a pink polo shirt at his first day of school,” said Tian. “Today, thousands of youth across Canada unite as they take a stand against bullying by wearing pink on Pink Shirt Day. We have been working with the Student Senate, listening to the student voice, to hear what the students in our schools are passionate about.

“Since the exposure of Positive Space student groups in our secondary schools, students have been empowered. The students recognize the dangers of bullying and the effect it has on each and every student somehow, somewhere. We are speaking out, we want to take action and we want to raise awareness against bullying,” Tian said. Speak Out has a vision that one day everyone will be treated equally, with respect and dignity regardless of race, age, gender, or sexual orientation.

Speak Out is an anti-bullying organization started by students for students based in Guelph, Ontario, which has reached out to students worldwide. Bullying – which exists in all school boards and the wider community – is centred around the power attained through real or perceived differences. Differences may be size, strength, age, intelligence, economic status, social status, solidarity of peer group, religion, ethnicity, disability, need for special education, sexual orientation, family circumstances, gender and race.

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Days of Difference Brighten Lives

The auditorium was packed with enthusiastic students, and laughter seemed to resonate from the walls as comedian Elvira Kurt went through her routine with stories from her own experience as a lesbian parent of two.

“Even though I am now a happy lesbian dad raising my two kids in Toronto, I still feel that as a queer parent I have to overcompensate and be extra awesome,” Kurt said.

Hosted by Sir Winston Churchill secondary, the annual Day of Difference was held April 20 to support members and allies of HWDSB Positive Space Groups. Attending students were treated to a performance by the band Colfax, Kurt’s comedy and also participated in focused discussion groups.

The upbeat day was in support of the LGBTQ community, to promote a message of inclusion. Students understood the message. “It’s a day where everyone can feel equal… it’s a positive day,” Churchill Grade 10 student Bree D. said. “It’s for everyone to feel like they belong somewhere.”

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Walk in Closet

MLK 2011

Black History Month at Glendale

Fight Bullying