Trustees training

 In Boardwatch, News

York Region trustees to undergo training in wake of scathing report

York Region District School Board approves plan for trustees to get training in governance and equity issues.

Loralea Carruthers, chair of the York Region District School Board, said the board has a detailed plan to rebuild trust with the community in the wake of past troubles.

The York Region District School Board has approved a plan for extensive equity and governance training for trustees and senior staff to meet the deadlines for the first set of directives set out by the education ministry after a scathing report that documented widespread dysfunction in the board.

At a special meeting Thursday night, the board’s 11 trustees — who were described in the report released earlier this month as dysfunctional, unaccountable and lacking “a basic understanding of their roles and responsibilities” as elected leaders — approved a plan that would see them receive retraining in governance, and three three-hour sessions in equity training.

The board also outlined an extensive multi-year plan for “rebuilding trust and re-engaging with communities in the board,” which includes the implementation of the “every student counts” survey to collect race-based data, town halls with parents, and increased collaboration with community and faith groups.

“Today we are making good on that commitment by delivering thorough and concrete plans to address the first set of her recommendations,” said Board chair Loralea Carruthers. “Our detailed plan to rebuild trust with the community demonstrates our commitment to rebuild our board in an open, transparent and collaborative way.”

Earlier this month, Education Minister Mitzie Hunter issued a list of 22 directives for the York board to implement after a three-month investigation painted a troubling picture of a board in crisis. The reviewers noted a lack of “strong and ethical leadership” by trustees and the director.

“Their observations are profoundly troubling to me, particularly those which describe feelings of alienation, marginalization, and discrimination expressed by a large number of individuals and groups in the board’s communities, including students, parents, and staff,” Hunter wrote in a letter to the board.

“It is my sincere hope that the trustees, individually and collectively, will do everything within their means to uphold their responsibilities as locally-elected representatives of the public,” she wrote.

Among the most pressing directives was the immediate suspension of travel by trustees and senior staff, the creation of a plan for equity and governance training, and by the end of May, a performance appraisal of the director of education, J. Philip Parappally.

The trustees took immediate action on many of the directives, including the dismissal of the director. In a meeting last week, trustees voted to “begin the process of dismissal” after the report detailed that Parappally had fostered a “culture of mistrust,” in the organization and lacked support from many senior staff.

Associate Director Leslie Johnstone is in charge of the board’s 123,000 students at 200-plus schools until an interim director is selected.

The next set of ministry mandated deadlines, which includes establishing a policy for receiving and investigating complaints of racism, and setting up the office of an integrity commissioner is to be completed by May 9.

In a recent interview, Hunter said the York board has listened and is working toward meeting the goals she’s set out.

“The 22 directions that I provided in response to the report from Sue Herbert and Patrick Case — I know that the board is focused on implementation and they’re moving forward,” she said.

She also said communication with the board is ongoing.

“We actually check in quite regularly, my team and I,” she added. “We’re monitoring it very, very closely.”

At the end of January, Hunter appointed a two-person review team to probe the board, after concerns that incidents of racism and Islamophobia were not properly handled, international travel was getting out of hand, and the “deteriorating relationships” between trustees, staff and the director.

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