Equity Matters

Equity is a foundation for our work at HWDSB because it is so integral to our operations. We want all voices to be at the decision-making table. We want all students and staff to feel welcome at HWDSB. We want to tackle this complex work, with the understanding that it will entail a shift in thinking and culture across the organization.

Related reports: Equity of Opportunity, Access and Outcomes;

Goal: Ensure equitable resource allocation to schools, staff and students.

Music and iPads.

Music and iPads.

Our work in this area is essential and extremely complex. Because equity of outcomes has many aspects – including equity related to access, opportunity, socio-economics and more – we face the challenge of how to select the most relevant lens for each decision we make.

We are embracing a more strategic view of equity of opportunity, access and outcomes. We must make challenging fiscal decisions, we must monitor and review our responsive system, and we must always keep in mind that this work will never be completed.

In 2011-12, HWDSB solidified a shift in thinking from “an equitable allocation of resources” to a broader concept of equity of opportunity, access and outcomes. This is based upon the recognition that an equitable allocation of resources is a component of “how” we achieve equity of opportunity, access and outcomes. Even in this broad form, defining and achieving equity of opportunity, access and outcomes continues to be an extremely complex and challenging task.

Tackling these complex concepts is essential as we continue our direction of being an intelligent and responsive system, focused on students learning and achieving. Equity of opportunity and equity of access support achieving equity of outcomes. Equity of outcomes are defined through our system-wide expectations of:

  • each student reading by Grade 2;
  • each student engaged in personalized learning environments and programs and
  • each student graduating.

Some of supporting initiatives related to equitable resource allocation included:

Equity Fund
Work in 2011-12 resulted in the creation of a system-wide Equity Fund, as well as involvement of Superintendents of Student Achievement in determining funds to be allocated to high needs schools for student experiences.

Program Opportunities
We want each student engaged in personalized learning. This was important for the development of our Mental Health and Early Years strategies, the accommodation review process and subsequent Program Strategy, the creation of a process to review program fees and school fees and the creation of a new program to respond to specific student needs.

In 2011-12, we continued to review resource allocation, including a differentiated approach to staffing of elementary central support personnel and elementary teachers.

Some of our next steps regarding equitable resource allocation include:

Executive Council is considering an equity framework based upon the research of Doug Willms which considers interventions that can raise student performance and reduce inequalities. This model considers five types of interventions:

  • Universal Interventions
  • Socio-Economic Status (SES) Interventions
  • Compensatory Interventions
  • Performance Targeted Interventions
  • Inclusive Interventions

With this model, we will review past work and consider future supports. We have engaged in the discussion around what schools need. This conversation must move to the more difficult discussion around the difference between “what schools need” and “what schools believe that they need.” We need to press further in making decisions that will support allocating resources in the most equitable way. Staffing processes and allocations will be a particular focus in 2012-13. The Action Plan for 2012/13 focuses on the following areas:

  • Implementing a secondary Program Strategy which considers equity of opportunity and access and continue to review and implement an elementary program strategy;
  • Creating the Terms of Reference (including a sustainability plan) for the HWDSB Equity Fund;
  • Continue to modify how we allocate human and material resources while reflecting an equity of outcomes framework.
  • Finalize a review of school and program fees and make changes in alignment with the equity framework.

Goal: Ensure that our diverse learners receive the appropriate programming and support to achieve their full potential.

We are all responsible for recognizing the particular needs of each student, including the most complex challenges faced by students, and to find ways of meeting those needs.

An important measure of a caring and safe school is its ability to identify students’ needs and determine their influence on student behaviour. The increased use of assistive technology, which is good for all and essential for some, has helped students demonstrate their learning in new and engaging ways.

For our students learning English, we have learned how to incorporate technology within a classroom to enhance a student’s organization and comfort level with computer use for literacy. Behavioural and academic supports such as the Centre for Success, Character Networks supports and in-school and system Alternative Education, provide students with academic and social-emotional supports so they can participate more fully in their education.

Some of our supporting initiatives regarding diverse learners include:

Our schools are more wired than ever, in our effort to respond to the needs of students now and in future careers. Technology supports rich learning tasks, equips students for a knowledge-based society, includes students with learning difficulties in the regular classroom, and provides social learning networks such as the HWDSB Commons which hosts 2,500 blogs for staff and student interaction and learning.

First Nations, Metis, Inuit Education
The First Nation, Metis, Inuit (FNMI) Education Policy focuses on improved outcomes for FNMI students. In 2011-12, we also saw the need for a dedicated social worker for aboriginal students and the need for a support program at Sir Winston Churchill. We also saw interest in expansion of the native languages program at two elementary schools.

Newcomers and ELLs
Newcomer students with limited schooling continue to receive support through the expanded ALPHA (Accelerated Literacy Programs for Hamilton) Program at Sir John A. Macdonald secondary. We also finalized resources to support equity and inclusion, such as: Using an Equity Lens: A Guide to Creating Equitable and Inclusive Learning Environments Assessing Learning Materials for Bias Inclusive Language Guideline. E-BEST began research on ELL student achievement to identify practices that helped elementary student achievement.

Strategies for the Arts & 21st-century Learning
Both of these strategies address equity of access. We want all HWDSB students to have equitable access to a balanced and comprehensive arts education that develops their critical and creative thinking, collaboration and communication skills. Likewise, we want all HWDSB students to have equitable access to 21st-century learning experiences that are engaging, real- world and authentic, and that develop their critical and creative thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication skills.

School Climate
We need system coherence around how a positive school climate contributes to student engagement, which is essential for student achievement. We are doing extensive work on positive school climate. Supporting the system in understanding how the pieces connect and building capacity is a critical next step. The Safe and Inclusive Schools Report will detail our five year plan that will bring these components together in an aligned and coherent way. Additional work related to Positive Space and Anti-Racism was also undertaken.

Our next steps regarding diverse learners include:

  • Joint planning between staff in Information Technology (IT) and 21st Century Fluencies will help us build a technology infrastructure to support student achievement and engagement (e.g. wireless access in every school and opportunities to bring your own device). Increased use of assistive technology will see more students benefit from these programs, the use of which are good for all and essential for some).
  • We will begin implementing the First Nations, Metis and Inuit Policy with its confidential, voluntary, self-identification of FNMI students. This includes the creation of an FNMI Advisory Committee. HWDSB is collaborating with Niwasa to review the NYA:WEH programs at Sir John A. Macdonald and Parkview and determine next steps.
  • Bill 13, Accepting Schools Act, 2012 encouraged the view of Positive School Climate as essential for student engagement, which has a direct impact on student achievement. Staff are looking at our existing work to support system-wide coherence. We will build capacity around Bill 13, bullying, positive space, the FNMI Policy, religious accommodation, accessibility and inclusion.

Goal: Provide safe, inclusive and respectful learning environments for all staff and students.

Our safe, equitable and inclusive school (SE&IS) strategy encourages school practices that promote a safe and caring school culture—a culture that models and reinforces socially responsible and respectful behaviours, so that learning and teaching can take place in a safe and caring environment. A safe, caring and equitable school is a place where all partners—students, staff, parents, and community members—treat others fairly, with respect and kindness, and act in a socially responsible way towards all members of the school community, including students with special education needs.

Here are some things we have learned recently:

  • School Climate Surveys: We need to continue to refine our use of this survey, by providing more support for teachers in administering the surveys and for younger students. The survey in 2011-12 revealed that: verbal bullying is the most common form; bullying occurs in less supervised areas; most students enjoy being at school; about 30 per cent of students feel bullying is a normal part of student life.
  • Sharing Results: To encourage engagement and achievement, conversations with students at the Ontario Education Leadership Camp taught us that we need to provide schools with a school report that more easily allows staff, and school-based teams, to share school survey information with their student body and their parents.
  • Parent Nights: We hold three parent information nights per year co-sponsored by the Hamilton Coalition for Bullying Prevention and Intervention, covering topics such as social media and bullying. As we attract more than 60 parents per night, it indicates that parents are interested in safe schools topics and we should continue with these sessions.
  • Bullying Reports: We want more students to report bullying, and students tell us that we must use the tools that students themselves use. This is why we began to explore a text messaging service from InTouch Mobile, that will allow students to anonymously report bullying. We are planning a three-month pilot of the service, called TipOff, in six of our schools in January 2013. Although details are not final, we are excited about the potential of this service.
  • Tiered Supports: An important measure of a caring and safe school is its ability to identify the range of needs of its students, and determine how they influence student behaviour. This includes achievement markers, as well as student well-being, both of which affect student success. We continue to support the Children’s Network Table, which has approximately 25 members from children and youth serving agencies, school boards, John Howard Society, and Hamilton Police Services.
  • Data Collection: We will continue to consider our data to assess our areas of strength and areas for improvement through a lens that promotes a positive school climate. Suspension and expulsion rates continue to decrease. Alternatives to suspension, and in some cases expulsion, include progressive discipline measures, prevention and early intervention strategies, restorative practices, support services either within the Board or through community supports, and program modifications and accommodations. Overall, we are seeing improvements in the total number of students suspended, the number of suspensions being given, and suspensions by gender, with the exception of a slight increase in female suspensions in secondary.

Suspensions and Expulsions by Year

 Year Suspensions Expulsions
2008-09 5,524 46
2009-10 4,916 40
2010-11 4,401 37
2011-12 4,461 18

Our supports for safe, inclusive and respectful learning environments include:

  • Surveys: Half of our schools completed the safe, equitable and inclusive school survey in 2011-12. This equals 5,403 elementary students and 4,617 secondary students – and it was a useful way to collect student voice to guide evidence-based action for our next steps. Teams from participating schools attended a half-day session to consider their data, learn about a whole school approach to promote a positive school climate and conditions for learning and teaching (Bill 13). They then developed their Safe School Plans for the 2011-12 year.
  • Violence Prevention: Our Violence Prevention Social Worker responded to school based parent groups seeking awareness sessions on bullying prevention and intervention. This led to support for individual parents and students. Similar work was also done at school-based staff meetings.
  • Peer mediation: Students and staff continue to expand our peer mediation program in elementary schools, which research shows is one of the most effective prevention strategies related to bullying. We want to expand this to all schools.
  • Senior Staff: We enhanced the knowledge of our Superintendents regarding suspension and expulsion so they can better support school administration, students and parents in our own schools. This helps us identify the professional development needs related to current and new legislation. This has also led to more collaboration between safe schools, mental health, special education, equity, and more importantly, how our work relates to student learning and achievement.
  • Mobile Reporting: As mentioned, we are exploring anonymous reporting of bullying in schools using the InTouch Mobile Campus Communications Service, to be called TipOff in HWDSB. This service will provide an anonumous reporting system with a central call centre to receive text messages, whether sent by text of via a mobile phone app. We are piloting the service in 2013, and look forward to its results.
  • Policy: Three policies and corresponding policy directives were completed last year: Bullying Prevention and Intervention, Promoting Positive Student Behaviour and Progressive Discipline, and Code of Conduct. As well, parent information booklets for Safe Arrival Check, Appropriate Dress, and Restorative Justice were distributed to schools.


No Bullying for Go Girls

No Bullying for Go Girls

We are pursuing next steps that include:


  • Continue to engage students in bullying prevention 
  • Incorporate a focus on anonymous reporting of bullying in all our schools
  • Promote student well-being through programs to address bullying and substance abuse
  • Inform administration and staff of legislative changes resulting from Bill 13
  • Support schools to implement their Safe Schools Plan, with particular emphasis on anonymous bullying reporting
  • Continue the Violent Threat Risk Assessment work


  • Support teachers to administer the Safe Schools Survey
  • Build staff capacity to support positive school climate
  • Build capacity and support for safe schools teams regarding the sharing of survey data with students


  • Continue parent forums on positive school climate issues
  • Engage parents in pilot schools in the TipOff mobile app project