A passionate educator faces a dilemma: follow his muse or take direction from the parents through the trustees they elected,

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

March 14th, 2017



Halton District School Board Director of Education Stuart Miller is not wrong – but he isn’t right enough either.

Miller is an educator. He is not a sociologist, he is not a politician. He is a lifelong teacher who grew into an education administrator.

Mention a student he taught 15 years ago at a school in Oakville and he will tell you things about that student they may have forgotten.  He is passionate about the work he does.

Hammil + Miller

Stuart Miller works from his smile – open and very much the professional educator who wants nothing but the best for his students.

Whenever there is an event that will have more than 25 students on a Saturday morning and he will show up – coffee cup in hand.

He slips out of his office at noon frequently to drive over to Bateman and have the lunch that comes out of the excellent kitchens the students run. Then he sits and eats his meal with the students.

He is exceptionally open: not everyone will agree with that statement but he is a lot more open to media than any one of the politicians in the Region.  Many parents don’t feel he listens well enough; just because he doesn’t agree with them – that doesn’t mean he is not listening,

Miller with students Mar 7-17

Miller is fully aware of the world his students are going into – and he wants as prepared as he can make them.

He listens to the parents that want to keep their local high school open and he is mindful of their concerns but for Miller his job is to give the students he is responsible for the best education possible and that means offering every course he can in every school.

In order to do that Miller believes he needs larger high schools with more teachers to give more versions of the same course so students don’t lose out due to class conflicts. Those are the well-developed views of a professional administrator.

Parents appear to be Ok with their children going to a different school for some of their courses and Miller does what he can to make that possible.

He believes that a big high school with a lot of staff is the route to go – so when he says he wants what is best for the students he is talking about the course offerings.

Stuart Miller

Miller with the ever present coffee cup.

That a school has some history the students can attach themselves to is something Miller grasps but he doesn’t understand why a person would put a first class education before having a school they can walk to.

Miller doesn’t live in Burlington. He commutes to Burlington from High Park and uses the 45 minute drive to think through the day he is getting into.

Miller is all about education – he could have a stronger team supporting him but he hasn’t been the Director of Education for two years yet – the public might yet see him as the person who creates a team of Superintendents for the Halton District School Board that are second to none. He doesn’t have that yet.

The team he has is made up of decent people but they have not given Miller anything in the way of new ideas or innovative approaches to solving the problem he faces.

The lens Miller looks through is those 1800 + empty classroom seats and from his perspective it doesn’t matter how he re-arranges the boundaries or the feeder elementary schools – he still has those 1800 empty seats.

What Miller and his staff have not done is come up with proposals or initiatives for the trustees to consider. The province doesn’t fund empty seats.

While Miller has said again and again that the issue is not about money, from his perspective but it is in reality a money issue.

If the trustees decide to not close any of the high schools and to shift boundaries so that the pressure is taken off Hayden and Pearson gets back the population it once there will be more balance – but the city will still have high schools with considerably less than the 1000 students Miller thinks are needed to be able to offer a full palette of course offerings.

Trustees - fill board +

The Halton District School Board in session. Eight of the 11 trustees have just a little over two years experience. A number of them may not have the depth of experience to handle the task ahead of them. A couple have been on the Board far too long.

The trustees need to instruct Miller to give them financial options. If every high school is to be kept open the money to pay for those empty seats has to be found somewhere. The trustees need to direct the Director to find the savings within the budget they now work with.

The philosophy board staff appear to work from is bigger schools mean better educations at the high school level.

It is the trustees, serving the people who voted for them that make the final decision – and if the parents want all the school kept open so that a sense of community is kept with the schools we have and they want students walking rather than spending a significant part of each day on a bus – then that is what the trustees should be expected to deliver.

Miller is open to new ideas – he welcomes them and he listens intently – but he doesn’t appear to be a new idea kind of guy.

He spent some time in Africa with his wife but other than that his career has been with Halton where he started out as a teacher and grew into a bureaucrat who now faces the biggest administrative challenge of his career.

PARC with options on the walls

Why is this PARC not leading more instead of following a process that the smarter members believe to be seriously flawed?

The Program Accommodation Review Committee (PARC) is not coming up with much in the way of new ideas – they have become a group that is squabbling with the different high school representatives fighting for their own turf.

Board staff are leading the PARC through a process and the members of the PAR are putting up with it. There are voices on the PARC that can and should be showing much more in the way of leadership.

Miller will serve as the Director for perhaps another ten years. He doesn’t appear to be the kind of guy that will go up against the Ministry of Education. He doesn’t appear to have any aspirations to become part of the provincial government bureaucracy either.

A strong board of trustees can develop their Director of Education into the kind of person the city needs. The Director can then develop the staff that he needs.

Stuart Miller is a passionate advocate focused on giving the students in Halton the best education possible.ll about the students.

What he needs to appreciate is that those students have parents who also have a say, the say for that matter – at least in a democracy.

He is not wrong, but he is not right enough on the community element which is a large part of an education.

Parr wearing T-shirtSalt with Pepper is an opinion piece by the publisher of the Gazette who has been covering Boards of Education since the Living and Learning document was released when Bill Davis was the Minister of Education.

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7 comments to A passionate educator faces a dilemma: follow his muse or take direction from the parents through the trustees they elected,

  • Will

    Agree with Terri. Not enough students means not enough classes. Some parents may not realize that keeping a school open is to do so at the cost of their child’s education. Lets make sure that students can have choices that lead to their post secondary goals no matter whether they take a bus or not. And as we hear there is no money to use, do parents really want to put their childrens education at risk to force money from teaching students to keep a school open?

    I am glad that the director is looking at students first. Shouldn’t we all?

    • Tom Muir

      This may sound fine and dandy, but I have asked Director Miller, the Board, Trustees, and the PARC for a detailed accounting of how much money will be saved, how many new courses will be offered, what will the courses be, how will the courses benefits the students, to how many new students, at what schools, and so on, in a detailed accounting.

      This information has never been provided and doesn’t seem to be in the offing.

      Also, maybe you don’t know, but the Board doesn’t have to spend the savings from closures on providing these additional classes.

      So before we make decisions such as yours based on assumptions, you should be asking for the information I asked for, and assurances that this will be delivered.

  • Joan

    I agree with your viewpoint that Mr. Miller seems to be a nice fellow but beyond that, there are several flaws in your argument, including parents who are part of PARC. They do not have a voice and do not make final recommendations to Miller. They are there as a smoke screen to make parents believe they’re part of the decision-making process. Miller may have started out as an educator but in his new role he’s nothing more than a bean counter. Whatever decision he comes up with has nothing to do with robust programming and everything to do with keeping his bosses happy at Queen’s Park.

  • Gary Scobie

    It will be interesting to see what exactly Mr. Miller recommends to the Board of Education in his final report. He is constrained by a rigid and badly designed system that in the end pits school against school without much thought of community and walkability and advocates bussing to distant schools as the fix for everything.

    The trustees and the province have now been well-informed by parents of the damage being done by the current PAR process. If the province refuses to halt the PAR and address its shortcomings before looking again at school closures, then it will be up to the trustees of Halton to take a stand and vote to close no schools, forcing the province into a halt and repair process. We’ll all soon see what the trustees are made of.

  • Look it’s not about running these “specialized courses”. (What are these courses exactly?) It’s about running them at max capacity. If it was acceptable to – god forbid – run classes with 15 students, then you could pitch them anywhere.

    It’s seems clear that administrators want power plant schools and the “PARC” is a sham process to not own that decision. Why not? Because the “close central” option overloads Aldershot with portables.

    Walking is good for students too. Not getting up an hour early to catch the bus is students too. Having friends close to them they can walk back from school with is good for them too.

    It might be satisfying to deliver specialized courses at max capacity, but the trade off is not worth it. Don’t as me – just ask the parents and students affected. Maybe they are not idiots, but can tell what is good for the kids as well.

    • Teri

      Actually Option 28c doesn’t put Aldershot students into portables – it uses 10 empty classrooms that already exist in the school.
      It is also not about running courses at maximum capacity – if there are not enough students to take the course it is not offered. Options and choice is important too.

  • Stephen White

    Great article!

    If Mr. Miller is so “open and receptive to new ideas” and “passionate about education” then he should wrap his head around these: 1) people in this City are passionate about the education of their children, and they don’t like being dictated to by public servants; 2) kids sitting on buses being transported to other ends of the City to attend school is neither environmentally sound nor what most parents or kids want; 3) the overwhelming number of people I spoke to at the meeting March 7th clearly don’t want children warehoused in massive schools that lack a sense of community or identity; and 4) a first-class education offered in a school with less than 1,000 students are not mutually exclusive concepts.

    The Premier has clearly instructed Boards of Education to examine options other than school closures. I don’t see any unique or original approaches to this problem emanating from the Halton Board. Concepts such as the sharing of facilities with separate school boards or different cost-sharing arrangements with other public service providers have not been fully explored or communicated. I suggest Mr. Miller and his cohorts start listening to ratepayers and stop trying to impose their centralized, monolithic vision on parents and students who clearly want the existing high schools in Burlington to remain open.