A longtime education activist, who was elected the new Ward 16 trustee on the Toronto District School Board, says she doesn’t have an interest in politics or political connections of any sort.
What Michelle Aarts does have, however, are connections that run deep in the Beaches-East York educational community.
Aarts, who was elected Oct. 22 with about 40 per cent of the vote, has been a member of advisory committees and has connections with staff and families who attend schools in the area.
She says she’s well known in the education system and wanted to gain more of a say in how it works in the city, which led her to run for election.
“I want a school board that operates better and follows best practices and does a better job at delivering education to the community,” she said in an interview.
Her agenda is vast, containing tasks that range from developing a plan to reduce class sizes to creating a welcoming environment for new families.
But one of the biggest problems she wishes to tackle is special education.
Special education refers to school boards allowing students to learn in a manner that’s welcoming and inclusive. Every school board, including the TDSB, has something called the Special Education Plan.
According to their website, the plan is updated every year to make sure any needs that arise are being met.
But Aarts says there’s a discrepancy in what the board envisioned and what she’s hearing from the school community.
“The way that special education is supposed to be delivered isn’t working. Resources aren’t getting to them the (way the) board’s designed,” she said.
Similar issues can be seen with the budget, according to Aarts. Money’s “not reported in a sensible and transparent manner that the public can look at it in what money’s coming and what money’s going out.”
Savings are reportedly being made by cut backs, including increasing the sizes of classrooms, Aarts said. “The way that the board reports (the) budget publicly isn’t acceptable.”
Another issue she wishes to tackle is the imbalance of support between different regions.
The board has a program called Model School for Inner City. According to the TDSB’s website, the program focuses on children who live in the inner city and ensures that all students and their families have “access to the same opportunities and support.”
But this program is geared towards kids who live in Toronto’s poorest neighbourhoods. Children who have a similar socioeconomic background but live in other neighbourhoods don’t benefit from the program. “I’d like to see a more compressive model of access that supports all kids regardless of where they live,” Aarts said.
Aarts plans to do all of this with support from the community, advisory boards and appropriate government officials.
She’s eager to set up meetings with the new Ward 16 councillor. While it’s not mandatory for trustees to have these sorts of meeting, Aarts wants to do so. “I want to set up working relationships that have regular proactive meetings that discuss things like access to resources and share use of facilities and taking school systems into account.”
Aarts will be sworn in as trustee on Dec. 3.