Equity Matters

Equity work is among our most complex endeavors at HWDSB, because it requires shifts in culture, thinking and practice throughout our entire organization. But equity is also integral to our operations because we want to include all voices in our decisions, we want all students and staff to feel welcome, and we want to meet the needs of our learners and community members in ways that are equitable.

Related reports: Equity of Access, Opportunity and Outcome ReportDistrict Mental Health StrategySecondary Program Strategy

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

Bruce Trail

Click here to read, Students, Staff Step Up for Bruce Trail for Kids Nutrition Fundraising.

Addressing equity of outcomes through equity of opportunity and access continues to be complex, multi-faceted work that is essential for achieving our vision of all students achieving their full potential and meeting our expectations of each student reading by Grade 2; each student engaged in personalized collaborative, inquiry-based learning environments; each student graduating and; each student improving in an authentic area of need as identified by each school’s self-assessment process.

Our progress and learning in key areas includes:

Program strategy: Systemic, structural changes related to the number of secondary schools, student voice driving option sheet choices, specialized program placement, K-2 literacy approaches, intermediate music programs and the wireless everywhere project, have supported equity of opportunity and access. While work continues to be needed in this area, we need to facilitate a shift in conversation and thinking towards equity of outcomes for students.

Instrumental music: We have made good progress in our efforts to implement instrumental music in grade 7 and 8 schools, however, we have learned that there are some challenges in the full implementation of this initiative. These challenges are two-fold, one being the lack of instruments in some schools, and secondly, not enough qualified music teachers. We are working with Human Resources regarding the need to hire teachers with music qualifications. This year, there are seven schools currently without instrumental music instruction. In these schools, vocal music, keyboarding using computers, and/or recorders will continue to be used.

Equity fund: We learned that the Equity Fund needs to support individual students in need as well as students at schools with high and moderate needs. A systemic approach must maintain recipient confidentially and dignity. With the HWDSB Foundation in place, we need a sustainability plan for the Equity Fund. We must review the relationship between the Equity Fund and the secondary bursary process. Board provided bursaries are now provided to all secondary schools in order to allow the schools to respond to student needs and support equity of access.

Elementary staffing: With a new elementary staffing approach, we learned that we were able to be more equitable thanks to a collaborative process to staffing in the context of intelligent parameters (e.g. class size compliance). Staffing is allocated by student need not a computer formula.

Levelled Literacy: We examined our approach after learning that students were withdrawn for LLI support but classroom teachers weren’t using the strategies in guided reading. For 2013-14 we moved to a new model of support including: continued support for LLI (K to 2 Strategy); continued training to build capacity for LLI within our Grade 1 classrooms; and staging delivery of support to promote and support effective instruction and assessment in classrooms. Each elementary school, based upon student needs, has received a differentiated staffing complement for capacity building and LLI support.

EA allocation: This process benefited from dialogue between special education staff and school personnel about specific student needs. EAs are more equitably distributed across the system.

Student fees: Prior to the introduction of the Interim Student Fees Policy, establishing and determining school and program fees was a site-based decision. Introducing a Policy to guide the establishment of fees represented a significant, but needed cultural shift for our schools, in support of equity of opportunity and access. As of the time of our review regarding policy implementation, 100 per cent of our elementary and secondary schools were compliant with the Interim Student Fees Policy. Our review also found: variations at secondary schools for course material fees; schools are aware that fees are optional and arrangements are made for those less able to pay; and schools do not appear to be charging for items prohibited by HWDSB or Ministry requirements.

Bruce Trail

Click here to read, Students, Staff Step Up for Bruce Trail for Kids Nutrition Fundraising.

Our supports in this area include:

Great schools: Our Secondary Program Strategy is built on the principles of equity of opportunity, access and outcomes, with a vision that includes: All secondary schools will be great schools; students will have choice within their local schools; expanded access for students looking for specialized programs and; all students achieving and graduating in HWDSB. Students having choice within their local school supports providing both opportunity and access. With fewer secondary schools and an increased student population within our remaining 13 secondary schools, there is an opportunity to expand program offerings to better meet student interests and needs. Implementing our Program Strategy also gives us an opportunity to update our schools with the technologies, tools and environments that students will need for learning, working and living in the 21st century.

K-2 Strategy: Elementary schools continued to increase the number of students reading at grade level by the end of Grade 3. Various literacy strategies, directions, and interventions continue to be implemented as part of this strategy: programming that is good for all (tier 1) and essential for some (tier 2). The K-2 Strategy has included an increased emphasis on an inter-disciplinary, collaborative team approach to respond to student needs. School staff, system staff, community partners, and parent(s)/guardian(s) have all provided support for students and contributed to the implementation of the various interventions.

Arts: We made staffing changes and created expectations about arts programming that form part of the HWDSB Arts Strategy: All HWDSB students will have equitable access to a balanced and comprehensive arts education; there will be Board support for capacity building of educators in the arts; and collaborating with parents, school communities and partners to support the arts. We began with a focus on providing music instruction at the intermediate level.

Wireless: One of these essential conditions for learning requires equitable access to wireless network capability any time and everywhere so that all students and staff are able to make the necessary connections to content, tools and software in an effective and efficient manner. The goal of the Wireless Everywhere Project is to provide, for all of our schools and departments, a standard, sustainable, pervasive, equitable, high capacity, high speed, high-availability network infrastructure. The two-year project will be complete in December 2014.

HWDSB Foundation: In 2012-13, Trustees approved the revitalization of the HWDSB Foundation with a formal relationship with the Hamilton Community Foundation and the hiring of a Foundation Development Officer. Staff met with the HCF to discuss how the HWDSB Student Support Fund will operate and begin discussions on a fund agreement. The equity fund guiding principles are to support equity of opportunity and access, maintain recipient confidentiality and dignity, ensure the fund applies when support is required beyond the school level, and it will be sustained through external funding.

Elementary staffing: In 2012-13, we took a new approach to elementary staffing that allowed for more flexibility and equitable allocation of staff to meet the needs of all schools across the system. We used multiple lenses (school, cluster, system) to ensure an intelligent-responsive approach to staffing. Instead of a centrally created electronic school organization, this organization was done by school administrators with an administrator support team in each cluster. In addition, after three years of the Kindergarten to Grade 2 Literacy Strategy, we reviewed the approach to staffing in support of Levelled Literacy Intervention (LLI).

Educational Assistants: Assigning EAs to schools continues to be a moderated process responsive to individual student needs. Special Education staff work closely with schools and families to assess the ever changing needs of students who require Educational Assistant support. In collaboration with school administration and staff, Special Educational Consultants assess the needs of students based on a diversity of needs and required supports. Each student being considered for support is assessed to determine which area of need is to be addressed and to what extent the student requires adult assistance. Each school receives their portion of the total system allocation of Educational Assistant support, based on their assessed overall needs. The allocation is reviewed periodically during the course of the year, to adjust for new student arrivals, student changes in needs, and student moves. In addition, schools work collaboratively with Special Education staff to accommodate emerging needs that arise between allocation reviews.

Database: In 2012-13, staff has also been working on a database that Executive Council may use to inform decision making through a lens of equity. This database provides a summary of internal and external resources available to a school and includes: an enrolment summary of the school, staffing breakdown, budget information, school generated funds, partnerships and achievement data. Due to the pending rollout of our new student information system, the database development was delayed and is scheduled to be finalized by November, 2013.

Student Fees: In June, 2011, Trustees approved the HWDSB Interim Student Fees Policy with the stated purpose that “students are entitled to an education that ensures they achieve their full potential and that all students must be able to participate in all aspects of their school experience regardless of personal economic barriers that exist.” Subsequently, school administrators were briefed on the policy and the supporting policy directive, and board departments assisted with reviews of the policy’s implementation and development of next steps.

Critical friend: To more deeply understand equity of opportunity, access and outcomes, Executive Council works with Dr. Joseph Flessa, Associate Professor at OISE/University of Toronto. Flessa served as a critical friend pushing senior staff thinking on equity of outcomes, including pitfalls surrounding: trying to explain educational inequality; the allure of deficit thinking; looking for simple answers to complex problems and; thinking the solution is financial resourcing only.

Bruce Trail

Click here to read, Students, Staff Step Up for Bruce Trail for Kids Nutrition Fundraising.

Our next steps in this area include:

Program strategy: Staff will focus on the creation and implementation of a work plan which focuses on the commitments made during the ARC process and the Program Strategy outcomes. The Program Strategy is, at the core, about equity of opportunity and access, leading to equity of outcomes. Work to be addressed during the year includes: determining what transition and communication processes need to be established; revising the transportation policy; creating a plan to enhance student voice and; ensuring a tiered approach to supporting youth at-risk.

With regard to the K-2 Oral Language and Literacy work, we will continue to monitor the progress of students at the school level, supported by system support staff. The examination of the data regarding the students’ achievement in reading will assist in determining any future adjustments to staffing and program implementation strategies. As a next step, we will be pursuing sources of funding to provide instruments to the schools that do not have them.

Equity fund: With a Foundation Development Officer in place, next steps include: creating a Strategic Plan for the Foundation; finalizing legal requirements related to the Foundation; formalizing the relationship with the Hamilton Community Foundation and; determining links and establishing clarity between the revitalized HWDSB Foundation and pre-existing related operations (i.e. partnership and community engagement).

Levelled Literacy Intervention: We will monitor the Levelled Literacy Intervention (LLI) support to ensure the strategies are embedded by the LLI support teacher co-planning and CI-teaching with classroom teacher within the classroom, rather than full withdrawal of students for LLI. We also plan to have instructional coaches support teacher learning teams within schools and across schools (networks) with collaborative inquiry with a greater focus on assessment (evidence) and reflection on the impact on the instructional strategies on the authentic student learning need.

Student fees: HWDSB has an Interim Student Fees Policy in place. We now need to “dig deeper” into the themes that have surfaced. We will work with secondary administrators to better understand the data and then turn to the School Budget Working Group to help support the development of system parameters which will guide the setting of fees.

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

First Nation

Click here to read, First Nation, Metis and Inuit Students Asked to Self-Identify.

Differentiating for all students
Monitoring and measuring the impact on student achievement at each school level, in a cyclical manner, requires a differentiated approach from system staff. This is necessary in order to support the effective implementation of differentiated classroom instruction. The Camp Power program demonstrated the effectiveness of integrating numeracy and literacy with culturally specific materials and resources, delivered through an inquiry-based model. Quantitative data indicates improved academic results for the participating students as well as a positive qualitative impact on families and teacher professional development.

Supporting special education in regular classes
The number of special education classes at the elementary level continues to be reduced, due to increased differentiated instruction in regular classes and the increased support of various Tier 1 special education supports and services. Tier 2 short-term, time-sensitive interventions have assisted students with learning disabilities and behavioural challenges to return to successful integration in the regular classroom environment. Tier 2 supports for Grade 5 students identified as gifted assisted in improving their understanding of themselves as learners, and occurred alongside additional support for classroom teachers to differentiate for this exceptionality within the regular classroom. Tier 3 special class interventions are becoming more closely tailored to the profile of students and their specific strengths, needs, and pathways rather than primarily based on exceptionality.

Watch Hamilton Partners in Nutrition video

Click here to view, Hamilton Partners in Nutrition.

Our supports in this area include:

Differentiating for all students
By knowing our students through the analysis of data and the use of effective instructional and assessment strategies, staffs continue to work to provide the appropriate program supports. Each school identified a student learning focus, a staff instructional focus, and a capacity building plan, through the self-assessment process. The system capacity builders and support personnel provided responsive, job-embedded support for schools and networked learning teams.

Differentiated programs to support groups of students with specific academic concerns continue to be supported and expanded. For example, the Camp Power summer literacy/numeracy program at Prince of Wales School and supports for newcomer English Language Learners and First Nation, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) students help to improve and sustain academic gains through personalized engagement strategies. A full description of these supports can be found in our Student Achievement Report, Appendix B.

Supporting special education in regular classes
HWDSB continues to provide a spectrum of special education supports and services for students. This spectrum includes both in-school as well as itinerant support, short-term intervention services, and placements in regular class, special class and at Glenwood Special Day School. Staff endeavour to meet the needs of all students in the most enabling environment, and, wherever possible, special learning needs are addressed within the home school.

Short-term Tier 2 interventions have continued at the elementary level, through the Centre programs. Increased support has been provided to address the needs of elementary students identified as gifted through itinerant and Centre support. A Social Communication program has been established to support students on the Autism Spectrum to participate more successfully in regular secondary classes. For students in tier 3 classes whose programs are entirely alternative, an Alternate Report Card has been developed to align with alternative Individual Education Plans. A full description of these supports can be found in our Student Achievement Report, Appendix E.

Supporting Initiatives

Click here to view, A Window on Aboriginal Identify and Opportunity at Churchill.

Our next steps in this area include:

Differentiating for all students
All interventions need to be documented and given reasonable time to demonstrate their effectiveness. While all schools were monitoring student achievement, more attention is required on the level of teacher implementation of the strategies to differentiate instruction and assessment for all students, especially when the strategies being embraced are new to the teachers. The sustainability of the gains through summer programs such as Camp Power and other specific supports needs to be monitored. Ways to incorporate the successful strategies into regular day school programming need to be explored. We need to consider new and innovative ways to encourage voluntary, confidential, self-identification for our aboriginal students and create a strategy to improve student achievement.

Supporting special education in regular classes
Support from system capacity builders to increase the ability of all teachers to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of students with special education profiles needs to continue. This includes support to differentiate for students who have participated in specific Tier 2 interventions in order to capitalize on gains made through Centre programs. Staff and families benefit from specific information to support students experiencing self-regulation, social communication, and behavioural challenges coupled with mild intellectual difficulties. Tier 3 classes require additional support to differentiate effectively for our students with the greatest exceptional challenges.

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

Bullying Prevention

Click here to read, Stand Up, Speak Out for Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week.

In All Schools, Departments
Tier 1 programs focus on the promotion of school and department conditions which support the well-being of all students, in all classrooms, in all schools. Examples include:

  • Promote Positive School Climates Strategies
  • Increase staff capacity to support mental health and well-being
  • Continue parent forums related to positive school climate
  • Support five schools piloting Positive Action
  • Expand implementation of mental health literacy modules
  • Provide leadership experiences for inclusion of all students
  • Build staff capacity to support positive school climates
  • Tiered Positive School Climate approach to support student achievement, well-being

Specific support for some schools and students
Tier 2 activities support students and schools needing specific support. The time-limited strategies are preventative so that students gain skills to experience success in the overall school environment. Examples include:

  • Continue Coping Power pilot programs and examine its effectiveness
  • Align Tier 2 services in district’s continuum of services
  • Safe & Equitable Schools Skill Building through an Equity Lens
  • Peer mediation implementation
  • Promote well-being by addressing bullying, substance abuse and anonymous reporting
  • Support school Safe Schools Plans, and administer Safe Schools Survey
  • Provide training re: Bill 157
  • Engage parents in pilot schools in the TipOff mobile app project
  • Survey to determine needs of parents of bullied children, youth

Significant support for a few schools and students
Tier 3 interventions help schools support those few students who present with significant risk factors. Initiatives at this level are specific to the student’s need and involve inter-disciplinary support, which may include community partnerships. Examples include:

  • Continue to assist implementation of responses/protocols for high-risk incidents
  • Training on ASIST and SafeTALK, aligned with training on safe schools, inclusion, and equity
  • Collaborate with other boards on School Mental Health ASSIST initiative
  • Continue to work with community agencies to provide linked services, protocols and partnerships
  • Align related policies and directives with Ministry documents
  • Continue the Violent Threat Risk Assessment work, with community partners

Mental Health

Click here to read, Student Senate and Board Mental Health Team Design Mental Health Summit.

Our supports in this area include:

Positive School Climate
For all students
Positive School Climate (PSC) is a Tier 1, proactive and collaborative effort to promote equity, inclusion, mental health/well-being and safe schools, with system direction and school-level implementation and focus. The goal is to make each school a socially healthy environment with socially healthy relationships. Specific, system-supported initiatives included:

  • Positive Action, a social emotional learning program, is occurring in five schools and is being explored by others; in collaboration with Hamilton Public Health Services.
  • Kids Have Stress Too/Stress Lessons (Grades 1-6) have been developed to teach students about stress and coping.
  • Girls ONLY programming is occurring in 15 elementary schools and has expanded into 11 secondary schools.

Mental Health & Well-Being
For some students

  • Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) prepares caregivers to provide timely suicide interventions. In October, three HWDSB staff became ASIST trainers. Six weeks later, 11 HWDSB staff received their ASIST certificates. Two additional training dates are set for the remainder of the 2013/14 school year.
  • Departments worked collaboratively on projects including Positive School Climate Team, suicide risk assessment working group, mental health awareness and literacy resources, Coping Power and Positive Action. This work has increased knowledge and appreciation for services, and helped plan Tier 2 service alignment.

For few students

  • Our collaborative relationship with the Child and Youth Mental Health Program of McMaster Children’s Hospital and psychologist Dr. Jennifer McTaggart provided led to training on suicide risk assessment for all HWDSB staff in Psychological Services and Social Work Services. We are developing a school protocol to respond to suicidal behaviour that identifies how and when staff will provide an assessment and support to youth with concerns of suicide.

Safe & Equitable Schools
For some students

  • Peer Mediation, provided in more of our schools, is backed by research as among the most effective ways to prevent bullying. Trained student mediators help younger peers resolve playground conflict. The Social Worker for Violence Prevention used a ‘train the trainer’ model to build capacity with school consultants and help expand the program to all elementary schools. Training was provided for teachers working with these student groups in schools.
  • Peer Mentor training has been provided to students in grades 7 and 8 to teach them the skills needed to help Grade 6 peers adjust to the social demands of middle school. Peer mentoring in secondary schools continues to help keep more students engaged and connected.
  • Parent workshops have provided information about bullying/harassment prevention and intervention to help parents/guardians understand bullying/harassment, provide help to children who may be targets, perpetrators or bystanders; and to work in partnership with their child’s school when bullying problems occur.
  • Similarly, staff workshops have provided information about bullying/harassment prevention and intervention to help school staff: understand the definition of bullying/harassment; learn skills to intervene effectively; work with students to prevent bullying/harassing behaviours; and partner with parents/guardians when incidents occur.
  • Classroom presentations and discussions about bullying prevention and intervention help students: understand the bullying/harassment; learn skills to speak out about bullying/harassment; and work with teacher to reduce its incidence.
  • The 144 econdary students who attended the Ontario Leadership Camp supported bullying awareness and prevention activities in schools, as did other student-led groups within the schools (i.e., Student Councils, Health Action Teams).
  • We enhanced our support for school administrators on suspensions and expulsions, to ensure a deep understanding of legislation (e.g. Bill 157) and the safe schools process for administration, students, and parents/guardians. We increased collaboration and alignment between safe schools, mental health, special education, and equity initiatives to support student achievement and wellbeing.
  • We explored different ways to implement anonymous reporting of bullying in schools. This led to development of a mobile app, TipOff, that allows students to report bullying using text, web form and smart phone app. This allows anonymous incident reports by students, staff and parents; individual school communications (phone and email contacts); referral to third-party and community resources; and the sharing of school news, activities and events.

For few students

  • We completed three policies and policy directives in this area last year: Bullying Prevention and Intervention, Promoting Positive Student Behaviour and Progressive Discipline, and Code of Conduct. As well, we distributed to schools parent information booklets on Safe Arrival Check, Appropriate Dress, and Restorative Justice. We are reviewing suspension/expulsion data to provide direction on initiatives to reduce incidents requiring discipline.
  • The Student Support Leadership Initiative continues to support the Hamilton Children’s Network Table, which has approximately 25 members from children and youth service agencies, school boards, John Howard Society, and Hamilton Police Services. Parent information nights, co-sponsored by the Hamilton Coalition for Bullying Prevention and Intervention, began with a session by Hamilton police, Social Media and Bullying: What Parents Need to Know.


Click here to read, HWDSB to Launch Anonymous Texting Service to Boost School Safety.

Our next steps in this area include:

For all students

  • We plan to integrate girls programming with community providers so that we have integrated and co-ordinated girls programs at the community, Board and school levels.
  • We plan to continue with Positive Action implementation, based upon results of evaluation, so that our students experience increased social emotional literacy skills development programs.
  • We plan to expand our provision of a mental health awareness professional development to all schools, so that we increase staff capacity in being aware of and supporting student mental health and well-being.

For some students

  • We plan to communicate the alignment of Tier 2 services – i.e., who schools can contact regarding supports – so that we have clearer ‘pathways to care’ for students.
  • We plan to continue mentorship programs to promote student leadership and responsibility, to increase student capacity to use problem-solving strategies to address issues.
  • We plan to support schools to administer and use school climate surveys and data, thereby increasing staff capacity to effectively collect and use data for decision making.
  • We plan to continue programs to address bullying and to promote anonymous reporting, anticipating that this will reduce incidents of bullying and increase anonymous reporting.

For few students

  • We plan to develop and communicate a school response to suicide concerns protocol, to have a consistent school-level response to students in risk of suicide. We plan to develop and implement a model of practice for HWDSB staff completing suicide risk assessments, to have a consistent response to, and support of, students in risk of suicide.
  • We plan to continue Violent Threat Risk Assessment work, in collaboration with community partners, so this work is more co-ordinated with community services. We plan to continue to monitor and review suspension and expulsion data so that we can plan programs and interventions in response to review of data.