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TDSB gives cautious approval to director's 'transformative' vision

Chris Spence, TDSB director of education, wants to change the way boys are taught in school.

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The Toronto District School Board gave director Chris Spence a mandate to pursue his ambitious, sweeping "vision" for the board's future at a meeting last night - but not without strings attached.

The board voted to receive Dr. Spence's report, which includes such bold propositions as opening an all-boys school to tackle underachievement among male students; a promise to have all schools WiFi-equipped and all students learning online by 2015; and a vow to dramatically improve school performance on statistical indicators from greenhouse-gas emissions to expulsion rates. "I want to move from listening to leading," he said Wednesday night.

"Today's kids really want to be creative. They can be a filmmaker on YouTube, a recording artist on Second Life and an opinion leader on the blogs. And yet when they walk through our door, they have to power down."

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Subsequent meetings next month will hear more detail on how much these goals will cost, how they will be accomplished and what work (and board approval) that will entail. Perhaps the most high-profile of the report's proposals is an all-boys school that would offer classes from Kindergarten to Grade 3 as soon as next September. It's a bid to address chronic underachievement among male students in what Dr. Spence described as a "fatherless world."

"The traditional unisex approach to child development is seriously flawed," he said.

But he also spoke zealously about his plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, to reduce suspension rates by 20 per cent and to have students, teachers and parents interacting online by 2015.

Trustees said Wednesday night they were impressed, but also somewhat skeptical of Dr. Spence's proposals. "I've got about an hour's worth of questions," said trustee Irene Atkinson. Trustee Howard Goodman said people are excited, but also wary of the ambitious proposals. "Each of us brings our own fears and anxieties. … This is not something we've had before," he said. "It's extraordinary, ambitious and hugely transformative."

Trustee Mari Rutka applauded him for "boldly going where many have not yet gone."

"I have some concerns, however, on some of the proposals and I just wanted to confirm that by receiving this tonight we are not saying we have a complete go-ahead."

But trustee Bruce Davis said he's anxious to move forward on issues he sees as being long overdue: Boys' literacy has been a problem since 2001, he said, and little has been done.

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"Let's get going," he said. "I saw amber lights. I didn't see any red lights. [But]I want to see green lights."

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