Physical Schools: The restart of classes in our physical schools has gone largely with out issues. Around 160 thousand returned to our bricks and mortar physical schools this September under enhanced safety protocol. We have implemented small class sizes to all schools identified by the Toronto Public Health as having enhanced risk, and instituted reduced class sizes for all other physical classrooms identified as low risk.
Virtual Secondary Schools: Virtual school for secondary students started on Sept 22, 2020 and the process for most students have been smooth. We have observed some difficulties with time-tabling and access to online platforms for students, however most of these issues were resolved within the first week of school start.
Student Safety: We have seen some encouraging implementation of safety measure within schools. These measures are challenging for both our students and staff to implement, but we see that everyone is doing what they can to protect themselves and others. So far in Ward 13, we have seen 4 confirmed cases amongst our school staff (some were from before school started), and 4 confirmed cases of infection amongst our student body. As of Oct 12, the cases identified in our schools are all thought to be acquired through external transmission from outside of the school communities, and the Toronto Public Health has not declared an outbreak in any Ward 13 schools. An out break will be declared if two members of a school community test positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day period, of which one case is believed to have been contracted from interactions within a school. As our province experience a second wave of surge in COVID-19 cases, I hope everyone will continue to stay vigilant and work hard to remain safe.
Challenges within our Elementary Virtual Schools
The introduction of our elementary virtual school was one that faced many challenges. Many of our students have faced issues accessing Brightspace, and some are still waiting for a teacher to be assigned.
Brightspace: Due to system updates required to support the massive number of students who needed to access Brightspace for their virtual learning, various student accounts had to be reset. This resulted in a number of our students losing access to their Brightspace learning platform. The resulting call volume to our IT helped desk then overwhelmed our customer service capacity, leaving many parents desperately searching the internet for a way to login. It is during this time when I saw many parents stepping up to lend a helping hand to provide others with the information that they have. How our community came together to support each other during a time when our system was struggling was very moving for me to see. Thank you!
Teachers Shortage: For many days after virtual school was supposed to start on September 22nd, we were not able to assign a teacher to many students. The reason for this was contributed by two main factors.
Last Minute Hiring: As the number of COVID-19 cases started to raise in early Septembers, many parents contacted the school board to make last minute move from physical schools to virtual learning. The result of this was close to an additional 20 thousand students entering into our virtual programs, which prompted the need to hire 800 additional teachers with a few days of notice. The additional teachers had to be hired in order to avoid a last-minute reorganization of physical schools, which would have delayed school start for those 160 thousand students who had chosen to return to physical classrooms. Unfortunately, not all the hiring was able to be completed on time, so we started Virtual classes with a deficit in teachers.
Teacher Resignations: Virtual learning is considered by many educators to be an extremely intensive work, and is quite different from teaching in a physical classroom. As we brought many of our newly hired long-term occasional teachers to fill the ranks of virtual school teachers, many educators found the work to be unsuitable for their personal teacher style, or existing circumstances. As a result, we experienced a surprisingly high number of turn-over amongst our virtual school teachers within the first week of their employment. This had forced our human resources staff to scramble to hire replacement teachers, further contributing to our teacher shortage.
Leaves of Absence: The shortage of teachers has also created challenges to provide virtual class-rooms with a supply teacher when a teacher goes on leave. The challenge with assigning a supply teacher is compounded by the fact that a virtual teacher must go through a two-day training program on virtual teaching and be set-up with an online profile. So unlike supply teachers in physical schools where it is fairly straight forward to walk into a class room being teaching, much preparation is required to create a qualified pool of supply teachers in virtual schools.
Solutions to Challenges within our Elementary Virtual Schools
Frankly speaking, our senior staff of the TDSB, under the strong encouragement from the Board of Trustees, have turned over every stone to resolve our virtual school challenges as quickly as possible. But I want to be clear that many of these solutions are temporary in nature and they are designed to close our teacher shortage gap until a permanent solution is put in place after October 15th.
- Some students enrolled in French Immersion and Extended French virtual programs are assigned with temporary English teachers until a qualified French teacher can be assigned.
- Some teachers have been assigned two separate cohorts temporarily with separate instructions alternating between the morning and afternoons.
- Some French Immersion and Extended French classes have been assigned a team of two teachers (one English teacher, and one qualified French teacher). This allows the TDSB to complete the necessary French curriculum in two classes using only one qualified French teaching resource.
These above-mentioned solutions have allowed 99% of our students begin learning with an assigned teacher
Starting the week of October 15th, full time teachers will be reassigned from physical schools to close the teacher shortfall gap in virtual schools. Our senior staff expect this reorganization teacher will bring us a long-term solution to the staffing challenges we are currently experiencing in our virtual schools.
Elementary School Reorganisation
Each year, the TDSB reorganizes the staffing within our schools in the beginning of October to true up the teacher assignments based on actual enrollment numbers. A school with higher than expected number of students will be assigned additional teachers, and vice versa. This year, due to a large number of students electing to switch to virtual class between the end of August and Sept 15th, and also again between Sept 16th and Sept 39th, our physical schools became over staffed by 500 teachers. This overstaffing of physical bricks and mortar schools also became the main drive behind the staffing challenges experienced by our virtual schools.
As you can see from the chart below the average class sizes within the non-high-risk physical school is quite a bit below our original plan. And if we dig deeper into these numbers, we had 166 classrooms with 10 or less students as of September 30th.
|JK/SK||Grades 1 to 3||Grades 4 to 8|
|Targeted Class Size Average as per Reopening Plan Funded by the Province||19.77(24 target limit)||17.68(20 target limit)||23.54(27 target limit)|
|Actual Class Size Average as of Sept 30, 2020||17.55||16.33||20.39|
Through this reorganization, we will be redeploying 570 teachers from over 320 physical schools to our virtual classes. These teachers will be assigned to any classes that are still without a teacher, and will also replace around 200 occasional teachers already teaching in our virtual schools. These 200 occasional teachers will then be freed up to take up supply teaching roles for long-term & permanent virtual school teachers who goes on leave. Throughout this process, our senior staff have taken into consideration the preferences of those teachers being reassigned, and reorganized staff with a preference of going to a virtual school as much as possible. During this process, 42 vice-principals will also be transferred from physical to virtual schools in correspondence to enrollment changes in those affected schools.
Senior staff have made it very clear that changes being made to classes for in-person schools will not exceed the TDSB’s original targeted class size limits so that health and safety standards relating to classroom size and social distancing can be maintained. The targeted class size limits are: JK/SK classes – 24 students, Grades 1 to 3 – 20 students, and Grades 4 to 8 – 27 students. Schools in communities identified by Toronto Public Health as higher risk for contracting COVID-19 will have JK/SK classes with a targeted limit of 15 students and Grade 1 to 8 classes with a targeted limit of 20 students.
We know that change is not easy for our students who are affected by this reorganization. Teachers will make every effort to make this a smooth transition for students affected by the changes. Parents/Guardians of in-person students will have already heard from their Principal if changes to teachers/classes will affect their child. I encourage all parents whoa are concerned to reach out to their principal for detailed information on how a seamless transition will be ensured.
A detailed timeline for school reorganization can be found at the following link.
For additional Q&As regarding reorganization, please click on this link.