All-day kindergarten ‘extraordinary’ and ‘ground-breaking’ says minister

TheEnterprisebulletin.com – News
Sept. 1, 2010.   Posted By RAYMOND BOWE, QMI AGENCY

With classes about to get started for most Simcoe County students, Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky also discussed other timely topics during a visit to the region, Wednesday.

The future of all-day kindgarten, school closures and religious references in public schools were all on the agenda during a visit to the E-B’s sister publication, The Barrie Examiner.

All-day kindergarten, the first program of its kind in North America, will be launched at several county schools on Sept. 7.
“We are breaking new ground here and doing something quite extraordinary,” Dombrowsky said. “There are a number of jurisdictions watching.”

“Investing” in four-and five-year-olds is the key to their success as they progress through elementary and secondary school, Dombrowsky said.

Although full-day kindergarten is happening “piecemeal” across the province, the education minister said “our commitment to the people of Ontario is that we will have this fully implemented across the province by 2015.

“We are taking what I would believe is a measured approach this year, with upwards of 600 schools in the province of Ontario that will reach ultimately 35,000 students,” Dombrosky said.

That represents less than a fifth of the province.

The minister says the McGuinty government wants to phase in the program so that the areas where the need is greatest–such as a higher incidence of low-income families — are addressed first. Where there is demand, extended day programs will also be offered, she said.

The second phase will include schools that can accommodate the program “with some minor investment in capital,” Dombrowsky said. “They may need to do some minor renovations within the school.”

The third and fourth phases, however, are expected to require significant investment to build more classrooms.
In an era where money is always tight, Dombrowsky believes the expensive all-day kindergarten program is sustainable.

“It’s an excellent poverty-reduction strategy as well,” said the mother of four grown children. “When you invest in our youngest learners even before they get to school, research very clearly shows that education is one of the best routes out of poverty. It’s about enabling our people to get jobs in the future.”

QMI Agency also asked Dombrowsky about other education topics that have been in the news in recent months to get her take on those issues.

* JUDEO-CHRISTIAN WORDING IN BOARD POLICY

“In our schools, I think teachers do feel valued and supported. When they come to school, they’re ready to do their jobs. Morale in schools has improved and I think that’s had a ripple effect. We are building public confidence in education. Is there more we can do? Of course there is. But I think we’ve come a long way.

“Our government has also recognized and respected, No. 1, denominational rights that are set out in the Charter. But No. 2, the role of locally elected school boards.”

As a very diverse province, Dombrowsky said “each community is different and distinct. That is why it’s important that we have school boards that are elected by the local residents. Those trustees will deal with questions such as (Judeo-Christian wording in board policy).”

* SCHOOL CLOSURES

Barrie has seen two elementary schools closed (King Edward) or slated to be closed (Prince of Wales) in some of the city’s most established and historic neighbourhoods in recent years, with no sign of any replacements anywhere on the horizon.

Instead, students have been transferred to other schools in other neighbourhoods.

How does this fit into the province’s Places to Grow policy which calls for ‘complete communities’?

“What I would say to parents is that this is a very good example of why and where we expect locally elected school boards to make decisions in consideration of all of the issues that people in their community hold important,” Dombrowsky said. “You can appreciate, with the thousands of schools we have across the province of Ontario, I would be one of the first to say that I would not want decisions about my local school made outside of my community.

“We’re in a very important year — it’s an election year,” added Dombrowsky, herself a former school board trustee.

Municipal elections, including school-board trustees, will be held Oct. 25.

“Local boards have been dealing with declining enrollments,” she said.

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