Halton District School Board survives 2019 - looking for opportunities to serve more effectively in 2020

News 100 yellowBy Pepper Parr

January 3rd, 2020



Miller with students Mar 7-17

Miller works well with students – he can remember the names of students he taught science to 20 years ago. At heart he is a teacher.

For Halton District School Board Director of Education Stuart Miller, 2019 was not an easy year.

The labour issues, that are ongoing, and the penny pinching at Queen’s Park has created confusion and havoc. The one positive part of all this for Miller is the “very good working relationship we have with the local union groups”. It is the larger province wide collective agreement part that is troubling.

This government looks at education quite a bit differently than the previous government. Burlington gets a very disproportionate share of funding from the province based on population and student size.

istem Cafeteria-crowd-Nov-2018-768x371

The first public information meeting drew 1000 people to Aldershot high school.

Despite the drawbacks Miller can point to some significant successes – the launch of the iSTEM program at Aldershot High School has been a resounding success. So much so that Miller thinks the Board might be able to offer a similar program for the new high school being built in Milton and scheduled to open in 2021.

The Board is still working at finding ways to partner with other organizations in the Region – not much to report at that level.

Miller needs a new administration building but has not managed to get the support he needs from the community at large and the trustees haven’t found a way to make the case with the public.

The Board has the land in Burlington – at the intersection of Upper Middle Road and Guelph Line; Miller needs a partner who can build what is needed and had hoped someone could come forward with a proposal.

MMR Clair Proteau

MMR principal Claire Proteau pointing to some of the changes being made in the school when the Pearson high school students became part of MMR

The upheaval created when the decision was made to close two of Burlington’s seven high schools in 2017 has worked itself out. The merger of the Lester B. Pearson population with that of MM Robinson has gone exceptionally well, due in large measure to the work done by MMR principal Claire Proteau and Superintendent Terri Blackwell. They understood the need to work with the parents and students at both schools and make them a part of the process that everyone had to go through.

Bateman - crowd scene with Bull

The Bateman parents were passionate about keeping their school open – closing was as much a political issue as it was a student population issue.

The merger of the Bateman and Nelson high schools hasn’t gone as well; the fight to keep Bateman open lasted much longer – many thought the wrong school was being closed. Space had to be created at Nelson for the Bateman students – that work is underway now.

The Bateman high school site has yet to be declared as surplus to the Board’s needs. When that decision is made the Board has to first make the property available to a legislated list of institutions. Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward has plans for the space and HDSB trustee Amy Collard, who fought valiantly to keep the high school open, wants it used by the community. The building has an indoor swimming pool that the city Parks and Recreation people make significant use of. The fear that the building would be torn down and turned into a condo site is not in the cards.

The International Baccalaureate program that was at Bateman has already moved to Central where it is doing very well.

While the iSTEM program at Aldershot is a runaway success – the HDSB is not doing as well with trades training – at a time when the needs for men and woman in the trades is not being met. That is a challenge to which this school board and many others in the province have not yet figured out how to meet.

The HDSB was at one point the sponsor of The Centre for Skills Development that delivers free government-funded programs and fee-based programs to help people at various stages of life (youth, job seekers, second career seekers and newcomers to Canada) get on a path to career success.

That organization went on to become an arms length part of the board and then became a separate entity that the Board is no longer part of.  The Centre appears to be doing a good job of serving the needs of the commercial-industrial sector.

Stephen Lewis

Stephen Lewis, probably the most passionate speaker in the country was to speak at a Human Rights Symposium – a teacher strike meant cancellation. The event is scheduled to take place in 2020.

A major 2019 disappointment for Miller was the need to cancel the day long Human Rights Symposium that was to feature Stephen Lewis and Michel Chikwanine. Miller told the Gazette that he has been able to convince Lewis and Chikwanine to take part in the 2020 Symposium – the 2019 event had to be cancelled when the teachers used the scheduled date to strike.

The Symposium has Miller’s signature all over it. It was his idea and he has been the driving force behind it; Superintendent Rob Eatough was in place to make it actually happen. The Trustees, who give Miller a lot of latitude, quite frankly they don’t really hold him to account – not that there is any need to, Miller delivers, but the Trustees are there to ask the hard questions; few of those are heard at the Halton District School Board.

Miller prep at Central

Stuart Miller

Miller became Director of Education six years ago on a five year contract that was extended for a year and might get an additional extension. Miller is far too young to think in terms of retirement but he does have something he wants to do up his sleeve. He just wasn’t ready to show that card during our conversation.

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2 comments to Halton District School Board survives 2019 – looking for opportunities to serve more effectively in 2020

  • Mike Ettlewood

    Stephen – as always, excellent and very insightful comments. I would add that the optics around a new administration bldg. for the HDSB, given the very divisive nature of the recent PAR process with two school closings, are absolutely horrible and deserve to be. Going quite a bit further out on the ‘proverbial limb’, why do we have two Boards when we can barely afford one? Religion should be a subject taught but not a funding formula. We can no longer afford two distinct infrastructures IMO. And finally, although somewhat parochially, can we not get a Director of Education who actually lives in the constituency that he or she is supposed to serve? Is Mr. Miller so valuable that he has his contract extended (potentially twice) but is actually a “designated import”? Yes I know he was a Principal in Oakville (some time ago) but he lives in Toronto. Would like to see someone who has to live (literally) with the decisions that he or she makes.

  • Stephen White

    Two statements from the foregoing article are noteworthy:

    “..the Trustees are there to ask the hard questions…”

    “Miller needs a new administration building but has not managed to get the support he needs from the community at large and the trustees haven’t found a way to make the case with the public.”

    At the risk of conflating these observations, the tough questions I would like asked are: 1) what is the business case and rationale for a new administration building; 2) have options such as work-from-home and leased space been fully explored and considered? and 3) in an age where technology permits effective communication from work from home or offsite locations why is it necessary to house all employees at one location and under one roof? I am sure it would be very nice to have everyone housed in a nice, bright, shiny new edifice but in an age of cutbacks and financial controls it’s a bit hard to justify. There is a significant difference between “needing” a new administration building vs. “desiring” a new administration building. I’d like a nice new 2020 Mercedes-Benz, preferably in blue. Whether I need one is another issue.

    Finally, at the the additional risk of being accused of nit-picking, why is it we don’t hear from the Catholic Board regarding the establishment of a new administration building? Their offices on Drury Lane look to be a lot drearier and in far worse shape than the HDSB offices on Guelph Line.

    Hmm. Tough questions indeed…