Belief - in students, in teachers, and in the Toronto District School Board - will be the theme next fall when educators gather at the Air Canada Centre for the board's first ever professional development conference.
And Nikki Yanofsky, whose tune I Believe became Canada's Olympic theme song, will be performing her theme-appropriate song, thanks to private donors and partnerships that are covering the speakers and entertainment costs of the event.
The TDSB announced the music and speaker line-up for the controversial conference Monday. Nearly 20,000 educators, parents and students will come together for one afternoon to discuss learning strategies to reach the 250,000 young minds that fill the board's classrooms each year.
"We're going to talk about believing in their students, and ensuring that all of their students have a caring adult when they go to school," said education director Chris Spence. "We're going to talk about the importance of instruction and I believe that that has to be our relentless focus, if not our obsession, for all administrators and practitioners throughout the system."
The guest speakers will include Avis Glaze, a founder of the Ministry of Education's Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, and American education activist Larry Lezotte, whose research has identified correlates of effective schools.
Critics raised objections to the initial $345,000 price tag on what amounted to an educational pep rally and trustee Josh Matlow received a letter of censure from board chairman Bruce Davis after he accused the board of going on a "drunken spending binge."
Dr. Spence acknowledged cost concerns, and the event was scaled down from a full day to a few hours while hardcopy commemorative booklets were re-imagined in a digital format in order to bring the cost to taxpayers closer to $125,000. Most of that will cover the rental of the Air Canada Centre for the event, Dr. Spence said Monday.
"Our partnership people have done an amazing job raising close to $200,000 to cover speakers and entertainment and all the other parts of the day."
But Mr. Matlow was singing the same tune Monday about the cost of the conference to the board.
"It makes it very difficult to say with a straight face that the board has a dearth of funds but is managing the funds responsibly when the board does things like this," he said. He has proposed a motion that the trustees have yet to debate proposing that they re-examine the use of the allocated conference dollars and reconsider whether it should be held at all.
"We're asking parents to support some school closures because we don't have the funds," he said. "So then to turn around the next day and spend their money on a vanity affair in a hockey arena feels like a slap in the face."
Dr. Spence said he will decide on how or whether to follow up on the conference after reading their evaluations of the event.