Premier Kathleen Wynne made a few stops in our area last week, including a visit to Jean Vanier Catholic High School in Collingwood.
On Friday, Wynne spoke to the grade 12 students who gathered in the main foyer of the school. The discussion was a town hall meeting where students were encouraged to ask Wynne questions of their own.
The video below was recorded live and captures most of the discussion, but here’s a summary of the questions that were asked (with a recap of Wynne’s responses in italics):
- School closures are becoming a threat across the province. Please tell us what your government is doing to address the issues of school closures, especially in small towns. There are grants to help school boards keep small schools open. School boards must look at the schools in their region and determine what the best configuration is to deliver the best programs to kids.
- As a follow up to the last question, there’s a small school in Markdale, Ontario that is facing closure. Chapman’s Ice Cream is one of the town’s major employers and has offered money to keep the school open. What is your position on corporations supplying funding to support education? This is a challenging issue because I think the last thing we would want in our publicly funded education system is for corporations to dictate program, curriculum, or philosophy. So I will never support private corporations sponsoring the programming in our schools. But in this case my understanding is that Chapman’s is working with the municipality and the board, so I don’t think there’s any problem if the community can come up with a creative way to have other services in a school building, but the school itself is still funded by the Ministry of Education.
- What do you believe needs to be done to foster greater support for members of the LGBT community in schools? You will know that I’m the first women who’s been the Premier of Ontario, and I’m also the first openly gay person who’s the Premier of this province. My whole belief is that in schools we need to foster the most accepting environment possible, and that of course includes LGBTQ, but it also includes people of different backgrounds, races, and abilities. In my opinion, public education is where young people learn about difference, and we learn how to understand each other and how to be accepting people.
- Why do we have standardized testing? The testing is about the system, and about making sure the schools have the right support systems in place for students.
- Will the tuition assistance program provide support for middle class students? There’s support for students whose families make up to $160,000. Those students will have at least 1/3 of tuition paid, and many will get free tuition or better. There’s a calculator online for students to determine what kind of support they can get based on their specific situation.
- Is the literacy test effective at increasing the literacy rate? The test is successful at giving teachers a better idea to make sure they have the right training and resources in place for students. I don’t believe testing is the most important thing in schools, the test just gives the system information.
- Are there job prospects in the future for our generation? There’s uncertainty in the economy, but Ontario is doing pretty well. Housing prices have gone up and we’re developing plans for that because there’s anxiety about how young people can rent or own homes. We’re also working with the private sector to create jobs.
- What is the plan to increase support when it comes to mental health? We have a mental health strategy that makes sure there’s a person in each school to help. We have also made investments in post-secondary support and are finding ways to help people know where the resources are. We recognize that more money needs to go to mental health initiatives.
- What was your experience in school and how does it compare to now? In some ways there are similarities (great teachers, small town), but the big difference is the access you have to so much more information and the social connectivity.
- In recent news, people were banned from speaking on University campuses. Do you think Universities are going too far? I believe that if there’s not a hateful component, Universities and Colleges are where we should express lots of ideas. But Universities should work to decide, because there’s a line that has to be drawn between free speech and hate.
- Do you like your job? I love my job. I love the chance to meet people across the province and to work with colleagues to better support the province.
Note: Wynne’s responses above are not quoted verbatim. They are paraphrased for the purpose of this article.