This is the history of the Northern School Resource Alliance and its predecessor co-operatives in Northwestern Ontario. The book details the challenges faced by small schools in remote parts of the region and the need for a creative solution to ensure that schoolchildren have the same opportunities as those in larger urban centers.
The book details the collaborative work of English, French and First Nation schools and boards. Through collaboration, co-operation and the use of technology, high-quality education is provided for the children of small remote schools.
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Big Isn't Better!
The History of Northern School Resource Alliance and Its Predecessor Co-operatives in Northwestern Ontario
By Fred Porter
Balboa PressCopyright © 2014 Fred Porter
All rights reserved.
Isolate Boards and the Ministry of Education Regional Office in Northwestern Ontario in the Years 1966 to 1977
On April 1, 1966 Ontario Department of Education Superintendent A. H. McKague issued a memorandum announcing special assistance for small boards. In that memorandum, he expressed concern about the qualifications and competence of teachers in small isolated schools. He proposed to recruit a volunteer corps of up to 16 young teachers with the energy and interest to go into isolated areas where adequate home accommodation could be provided.
In 1967, Canadian National Railway withdrew the school cars on the Northern CN line. This resulted in several villages along the main line of the CN without schooling for their children. Every seven miles there continued to exist tiny settlements inhabited by section crews, hunters, trappers and fishermen whose children still needed opportunities to have education without having to travel to a distant community to attend school. On the CN north line hamlets such as Ghost River, Allanwater Bridge, Collins and Ferland had been regular stops of the school cars. Since prompt action needed to be taken to respond to children's educational needs, the then Department of Education established small district school areas. Management was entrusted to three local trustees with a secretary-treasurer.
The Department of Education acted to build schools in hamlets on that railway line. In 1967 a one classroom school and teacherage was built at Allanwater Bridge. This was followed in 1968 with two classroom schools and teacherages in the hamlets of Auden and Ferland.
Also in 1967 the Ministry of Municipal Aff airs handed over the administration of USS Number 1 Slaght and Factor (Umfreville District School Area Board) to the Regional Office of the Ministry of Education.
Many of the activities of the isolate school boards were overseen directly by personnel from the Regional Office of the Ministry of Education. It was recognized that there was educational and administrative challenges in dealing with isolate schools. In March 1970 Dr. R.R. Steele issued a memorandum to Dr. J. R. McCarthy, Deputy Minister of Education proposing "a manageable number of isolated schools be grouped with regard to (at least) some degree of geographic cohesion under the jurisdiction of an elected Board of Trustees". The recommendation was not implemented.
In April of 1972, the staff of the Business Section of the Ministry of Education Regional Office looked at their operation and attempted to emphasize the urgency of a solution of the "Isolate Board" problem found in the region.
In March of 1973, a study committee, consisting of area superintendents representing each of the three northern regions of the Ministry of Education, was formed to "review in depth the current status of Northern Corps schools and other isolated schools in the North".
In July of 1973, the study committee filed its report "A Review in Dept of the Current Status of Northern Corps School s and Other Isolated Schools in Northern Ontario." The report dealt, in part, with the business support required for isolate boards. It was recommended that a local secretary should be retained by all isolate boards for day-to-day duties. It was further recommended that the use of contracted board auditors as accountants for the boards be discouraged. Also recommended, an assistant should be included on the Regional Business Administrator's staff to answer the needs of isolate boards and visit with board secretaries when required.
In November of 1973, Memorandum C, 1973-1974 was issued for the reorganization of "Regional Services of the Ministry of Education." 5 The memo clearly established a new role for the Ministry with the operation of school boards being viewed as the sole responsibility of the elected and/or appointed trustee(s). The memo indicated a coming reduction of Regional Office staff over the next few years and a "flat-line" restriction of the Ministry's budget.
As a result, the Regional Office attempted to involve each Board's auditor in the provision of improved financial and accounting assistance to school board secretaries, a function no longer the responsibility of the Ministry of Education.
In December of 1974 H. K. Fisher, Assistant Deputy of the Ministry of Education issued a policy memorandum outlining the relationship between public and separate school boards, isolates, those without a chief executive officer and school boards on crown lands.
While shrinking resources and changing roles were placing increasing pressure on the Regional Office personnel, the education function in the isolate schools was continuing. Indeed, in some locations, new challenges were growing. People of Aboriginal origin were in some cases leaving their traditional communities and moving onto provincial crown land. Thus in 1976 the people of Slate Falls (75 air miles north of Sioux Lookout) and the people of Summer Beaver (200 air miles northwest of Geraldton) were granted permission to organize school boards.
The pressure on the Regional Office of the Ministry of Education continued to build while the needs of the isolate schools continued to increase. Clearly, a new model of support for these schools was urgently required.CHAPTER 2
A New Service Model 1977
By the fall of 1976, the Regional Office of the Ministry of Education looked at two options to resolve the administrative pressures that the isolate school boards were placing upon Ministry resources in Northwestern Ontario.
On October 14, 1976 Superintendent of Business and Finance, Peter Workman sent a memo to Mr. J. Martin, Director of School Business and Finance in which he outlined two options. Option one was to establish a separate unit for the isolate boards within the Regional Office which would mean Ministry personnel would serve the isolate boards in an administrative capacity. Option two was to initiate the formation of a co-operative staff ed by board employees with services financed as part of each board's isolate board grants on a shared cost basis.
By November 1976 Dr. H. K. Fisher, Assistant Deputy Minister of Education, approved the second option in principle. The Umfreville Board was to govern a school services unit. An Isolate Boards Staffing Plan for Co-operative Management Services was drawn up. This plan laid out the roles and responsibilities of the isolate board secretary, the supervisory services officer, the business administrator of the Co-operative and a clerk-bookkeeper.
A three-year plan was developed from the period of October 1976 to January 1978. In October of 1976, the isolate boards of Slate Falls DSA, Summer Beaver DSA and Sturgeon Lake DSA were to be serviced by the Co-operative. In January of 1977, the isolate boards of Allanwater DSA, Auden DSA, Ferland DSA and Umfreville DSA were to be added. Finally in January 1978, the isolate boards of Armstrong DSA, Caramat DSA, Kashabowie DSA, Kilkenny DSA, Mine Centre DSA, Savant Lake DSA, Upsala DSA and White Ott er DSA were added. A Staffing Schedule and Proposed budget were developed. It would begin at $8,300 in 1976 and grow to $50,000 in 1978.
An advertisement was prepared for an accountant and Mr. D. A. Knight was the first Business Administrator of the fledgling Co-operative.
On November 26, 1976 the Umfreville DSA Board met with Dr. R. Steele, Regional Director of the Northwestern Ontario Regional Office. Dr. Steele outlined the need for the Board to establish a school services unit to sell services to other boards that had been approved by the Assistant Deputy Minister. As a result, the following motion was passed: "The Umfreville DSA establish a School Services Unit effective January 1, 1977". The Co-operative Services Unit of the Umfreville DSA Board was born. A new model of service delivery to isolate school boards was created.
On December 20th, 1976 Dr. R. R. Steele prepared a memorandum detailing his approval of the model. 11 Adjustments were made to the original three-year plan. Effective January 1, 1977 the Co-operative Services Unit was responsible for the entire business and accounting function for the following boards: Allanwater DSA, Auden DSA, Ferland DSA, Slate Falls DSA, Sturgeon Lake DSA, Summer Beaver DSA and Umfreville DSA.
Further, Dr. Steele indicated in his memo that it would be the policy of the Regional Office to encourage isolate boards to make use of the Co-operative's services on a voluntary basis.
The financing of this venture was to be financed by the Ministry under the isolate board provisions of the GLG Regulation. In turn, office and staffing costs were to be charged to each participating board using some appropriate base for cost sharing purposes.
Finally, the Regional Office supported a person to work with each board at the local level. That person would act as secretary to the board while the Co-operative Business Administrator would act as treasurer. A final operating budget for 1977 was established at $35,668.
A memo to file was signed by Dr. Steele on March 23, 1977. That memo summarized the model and made it clear that the Co-operative was a non-profit arm of the Board of Trustees of the Umfreville District School Area Board. That memo also made clear that the control of its costs would be exercised through the approval by the Ministry of the Umfreville Board's annual budget and the budget of each participating board.
Thus on January 1, 1977 the model was in place.CHAPTER 3
Growth of the Co-Operative Services Program
While the formation of the Co-operative Services Unit of the Umfreville DSA Board was largely driven by the demands for financial accounting and reporting, other challenges could also be identified.
By 1977, it was difficult to find people to act as school trustees. A major cause of that difficultly was the departure of families as woodland operations moved on and railways reduced jobs. This also resulted in declining enrolment in the schools.
Buildings were in need of extensive repairs and utilities/ services such as generators, water systems and septic fields were beginning to experience breakdowns, suggesting a need for more frequent maintenance. Changes in railway schedules and policies were making some of the schools more difficult to service and supervise.
There was a disparity in the resources and support services available to children. Parents in some communities complained that they did not really possess any control over the education of the children.
Frances Poleschuk, Regional Director of the Northwestern Regional Office moved to make some changes to upgrade educational opportunities available to children.
Since residents of some small villages along the main line of the CN had expressed concern about absentee trustees, the DSA boards (Allanwater, Savant Lake, Armstrong, Ferland and Auden) were combined under a single large board named the Northern DSA, with headquarters in Armstrong. The Northern DSA Board was also selected by the Ministry as a pilot project for the implementation of Bill 82 (Special Education). With the reorganization came a supervising principal, a special education consultant, a program supervisor and two itinerant special education teachers. It now meant that the children in these schools would have more resources and support.
The original services provided by the Co-operative Services Unit were also expanding from only financial services to include teacher support and maintenance. DSA boards shared the costs through their own budgets and determined which services that they required.
By 1981, the Co-operative Services Unit was made up the following personnel:
A supervisory officer who was a Regional Office staff member responsible for overseeing all operations of the Co-operative Services Unit;
A business administrator having the overall responsibility for directing the financial services to board as they requested;
An accountant who worked under the direction of the Business Administrator;
An education officer expert in native language (Ojibwa) instruction;
An education officer to work with principals and trustees in professional development and to assume responsibility for the establishment of an educational resource unit;
A specialist in special education; and
A full-time maintenance person to service the boards
The Educational Resource Unit was established to provide teaching materials and other assistance to teachers in remote schools. Through the year, the Education Officer provided professional development on leadership for trustees and principals.
Another challenge was the issue of support for secondary students to continue their schooling in Thunder Bay. None of the DSA boards at that time provided secondary school education.
The Territorial Students Program was established to support those students in Thunder Bay from the isolate school boards. The counsellors were responsible for getting the students to and from the city as well as finding suitable board and lodging homes. They assisted students with personal problems both in and out of school. The counsellors were expected to maintain a liaison between the board home parent and the student's parent. They provided recreational opportunities for those students.
By 1981, the cost of operating the Co-operative Services Unit had grown to almost $300,000 annually.
With the growth of the Co-operative Services Unit, changes were taking place at the community level. The need for teachers in the northern schools increased while a decrease of hiring was happening in the urban centres. Secondments, hiring and retention of teaching staff in northern schools occurred. New leadership was needed and obtained through the hiring of a Supervising Principal (Fred Porter ) and Special Education Consultant (Grace Farrell ) at the Northern DSA Board.
New schools were beginning to be built to replace aging structures. A new school in Connell and Ponsford DSA Board (Pickle Lake ) was opened in the spring of 1981. A portable school was placed in Savant Lake to replace the aging building. A new school was built in Upsala. New teacherages were built in Armstrong, Allanwater Bridge, Savant Lake and Upsala providing housing for staff that was not otherwise available or adequate.
In 1984, the Regional Office of the Ministry of Education arranged for a Supervisory Officer to provide more time and leadership to the Co-operative Services Unit. Approximately 30% of the time of Larry Fontana, the Director of the Atikokan Board of Education was purchased and the title of Manager was assigned. This step meant the Co-operative Services Unit would have more proactive educational leadership available to its personnel.
However, as the trustees and principals became more knowledgeable (both because of increased professional development and longer retention), concerns began to be voiced.
There were concerns about the perceived lack of financial and service accountability of the Co-operative Services Unit. By 1988 its budget has grown to $800,000.
There was concern by the Ministry of Education officials about the legality of Umfreville DSA with appointed trustees and no students. The school in Umfreville burned down in the late 1970's. Parents moved away leaving the board intact but with no students.
There was a question about the relationship among the Ministry, the Co-operative Services Unit and the isolate boards. Who made the decisions? Should the funding go the Cooperative Services Unit directly or to the participating boards?
With these growing concerns, The Regional Ministry Office arranged for an external review of the services provided by the Co-operative Services Unit of the Umfreville DSA Board. In 1998, Reg Jones, Superintendent of Business and Plant, Lakehead Board of Education, Mr. Len Yauk, Director of Education and Secretary, West Parry Sound Board of Education and Mr. Dave Marshall, Dean Faculty of Education, Nipissing University College (Laurentian University) carried out the review. The Ministry contact for the review team was Mr. Jim Whicher, Supervisory Officer for the Umfreville DSA Board.
Excerpted from Big Isn't Better! by Fred Porter. Copyright © 2014 Fred Porter. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Isolate Boards and the Ministry of Education Regional Office in Northwestern Ontario in the Years 1966 to 1977, 1,
Chapter 2 A New Service Model 1977, 5,
Chapter 3 Growth of the Co-Operative Services Program, 9,
Chapter 4 The Service Model Reviewed, 16,
Chapter 5 The Pilot Project 1988-1990, 22,
Chapter 6 Transition to a New Model, 28,
Chapter 7 The Cooperative Grows and Matures, 36,
Chapter 8 A Dodged Bullet 1996, 41,
Chapter 9 The Sigmoid Curve and the Northern School Resource Alliance, 43,
Chapter 10 The New Millennium Begins (2000–2005), 48,
Chapter 11 Storm Clouds 2006–2009, 56,
Chapter 12 A Promise Betrayed June 2009–August 2009, 66,
Chapter 13 Over Before Its Time!, 72,
Addendum One, 79,
Addendum Two, 95,