BROCKVILLE – Work is underway at the Upper Canada District School Board to change – and in their view improve – delivering alternative and adult education in the English-Public board.
An update, presented at the board’s February 8 trustee meeting, outlined significant changes to the TR Leger School of Adult and Continuing Education and the programs within. The changes were a result of an operational review by the board.
The board has seen a significant increase in mainstream secondary schools since the 2020-21 school year, but the same could not be said at TR Leger. Data released for the first semester of the 2021-22 school year showed that of the 416 students age 14-19, 397 credits were earned, an average of 0.95 credits per student. For adult students (20 years old and older), 406 students earned 241 credits, or less than 0.6 credits per student. Of the youth students of TR Leger, 43.6 per cent earned no credits that semester, 61.8 per cent of adult students earned no credits either. During the same time period, mainstream UCDSB secondary schools had a 97 per cent credit earned rate.
Executive Superintendent Eric Hardie told the board that 90 per cent of new students who enrol with TR Leger drop off within 30 days of signing up for the alternative programming.
“We tend to see a lot of enrolling and de-enrolling,” he added.
The review of TR Leger showed that most of the school’s graduates are adult students over the age of 20.
According to Hardie, one-third of students 19 or younger that move to TR have Individual Education Plans, and another third have mental health or other issues. In both cases, TR Leger does not have Education Assistants on staff or adequate resources to support those students.
Hardie said that in addressing mental health issues, the school has a small environment and “very caring staff there, but it is not designed to explicitly help manage the mental health issues.”
TR Leger Principal Shelley Riddell told the board that her school is static and lacks hands-on learning courses and school activities. TR Leger’s human resources are under-utilized she said, and that the existing school staff could have marked 65 per cent more lessons than were submitted.
According to the board review, the main reason students transfer to TR Leger is for more flexible programming. In that review, mainstream secondary school principals indicated that if there was more access to flexible programming, their own schools could accommodate most of the students who choose to switch to TR Leger – keeping those students in their home schools.
“We are committed to exploring and supporting these to the fullest extent to students can remain in their home schools,” Riddell told trustees.
Changes to TR Leger will see the board build on a pilot project from the 2020-21 school year called “FLEX” which kept students in their home school but added changes to their timetable and resources to work through issues at school.
Dubbed the “Student Success Toolbox Lift Plan”, the changes will relocate some TR Leger teachers and support staff into the board’s 21 secondary schools.
“This is not a money-saving exercise,” explained Hardie, adding there will be no job losses. “We need all those people.”
Students using the SST could see their timetable modified adding a period for extra support, additional co-op credits, or even specialized programming with an outside agency or community partner.
The new program also gives the board’s administration flexibility so if students need to change schools, they could go to a nearby secondary school to still be able access shops or even school activities. If that option does not work, then transferring to TR Leger is still an option.
Adult learning at the TR Leger school sites will also modernize, opting for online eLearning-type courses. The Individual Learning Credit paper booklet system the school has used will still be available, but it will not be the first choice for learning. With fewer staff in TR Leger sites, that staff would rotate between different sites regularly. No physical location closures are planned. The school will also add daytime and early evening online support for adult students – which has not been available before. .
The school is also expanding its Prior Learning and Assessment Recognition program to take in real world experiences and assign up to 26 credits for secondary school graduation. The remaining four credits needed, mainly in math and English, would then be earned in the school, with more focus being given to trades or apprenticeship. Technology for online learning will be loaned by the school to students.
Most of the trustees were supportive of the changes at TR Leger but there were some concerns.
Trustee Larry Berry (Dundas County) asked if there was an impact to federal funding to the school with the changes. Hardie responded that federal funds were for adult learning and supporting new Canadians, so there are no changes.
Trustee Lisa Swan (Grenville County) asked about students who did not want to stay in their home school due to bullying. Hardie reiterated that students could choose another mainstream school to use the SST Lift program, or attend TR Leger. “We’re not ruling out any of the options, just giving more access for students,” he said.
Superintendent Ron Ferguson added, “If the best fit is TR, that is where they will be.”
Trustee David McDonald said the school is “near and dear” to many of those at the UCDSB. “We’re still committed to adult and alternative education. It’s important to push the envelope a bit. We’re adding to the complement of things we’re doing. This may be a little uncomfortable for some but I think this is an opportunity to move forward.”
The changes to TR Leger are an operational matter so trustees did not have to vote on a motion as these fall under Ferguson’s work plan as director.