School closures and teacher assessments were the topics that dominated a congenial debate for Toronto District School Board Ward 11 trustee candidates hosted by the Town Crier on Oct. 6.
Around 50 people gathered at the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto on St. Clair Avenue West to hear candidates Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, Shelley Laskin, Mark Tishman and Mike Wiener talk about how they would handle the trustee job if elected October 25. Candidate, Anthony Martin did not attend.
In the first question of the evening, candidates were asked whether they think the board is lacking performance indicators to weed out poor teachers.
Former two-term trustee, Shelley Laskin lamented that the system is very poor at removing underperforming teachers, while Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler pointed to overburdened principals sometimes missing under-performing teachers as a problem.
Second-time candidate, Mike Wiener said teachers who have simply been in the system for a long time shouldn’t be put ahead of the most talented new teachers who may be having difficulty finding jobs with the school board. Tishman said he needed to do more research into the matter, but was wary of the idea of pegging pay to student performance, an idea that is being practiced at some American schools.
But the most impassioned questions of the evening came from audience members on the topic of school closures, an issue that has been highly emotional and at times divisive in St. Paul’s over the last few years.
“I haven’t met anyone in favour of closing schools,” said Laskin. However, she said she’d be in favour of doing so if it meant creating better programs for all kids in the system.
“I’m 100 percent against school closure unless the school is falling apart,” said Tishman.
Wiener said he favoured closing schools temporarily and renting out the space to fund school programs. In particular he clashed with candidates over the issue of Arlington Public School, which the board voted to close this past June.
“Arlington is a new school not falling apart, but demographics are where it’s changed,” he said.
Chaleff-Freudenthaler agreed with Tishman schools shouldn’t be closed, but emphasized he’d involve the province and try to get stronger capital funding for schools.
“When we close a school we take the heart out of that community,” he said. “Closing Arlington would be short-sighted.”
Candidates also tackled other issues such as consensus-making on the school board and keeping schools safe, with all candidates agreeing the latter is a top priority for any incoming trustee.
This was the first debate for the Ward 11 trustee candidates in an open race where current trustee Josh Matlow is running to become the councillor for Ward 22.
For a live blog transcript of the Ward 11 Toronto District School Board debate click here.
For audience reaction to what was said at the debate click here.
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