Raising the bar

Posted: October 17, 2010 in Platform


to raise the bar

  1. (idiomatic) To raise standards or expectations, especially by creating something to a higher standard.
    Acme’s new technology will raise the bar for the entire industry.

“Why do you want to do this?”

As I walk around the streets of my community, I have time to reflect on questions like these.

It is in fact a stock question asked of each and every candidate for a seat at the School Board Table. Indeed, it is a question asked of any candidate – Trustee, Councillor, Mayor, or in a job interview.

But in the case of public office, the question is often framed in the context of “why do you want to take on a task that will place huge demands on you and your family, practically wipe out any free time you now have, sets you up as a target for anyone with a grievance and pays pretty much peanuts relative to the hours spent on the job.”

The answer for each candidate varies according to the platform of ideas that the particular candidate wants to put out there. Some have new and innovative ideas and approaches. Some want greater transparency and accountability. Better communications. Better fiscal management. Better representation. Some care deeply for local governance and feel they can contribute in a positive way. Others have an axe to grind. Some are running more “against” an incumbent than actually “for” anything.

My reasons for running fit into a number of those reasons.

But, as has happened a few times over the past few months, clarity clicks and I am reminded of the real reason why I took up this challenge.

I want to help raise the bar for education in Zone 6 and in Ottawa.

Joe Banks of the Citizen penned an article last week that reminded me of my true motivation.

Mediocrity has become the new normal.

Today’s Castor Valley School Council was told at its June meeting that the school would have two more portables, bringing its total to nine from seven. This is progress?

That over-reliance on portables, in fact, is a city-wide problem. And as much as we can harp on it in the rural wards, Citizen columnist Randall Denley recently highlighted the 30-year-old school overcrowding issue in Kanata. Katimavik elementary school “has nearly as many students in portables as it does in the school and is likely the most crowded school in the system,” he reported.

Even if you don’t have kids in the system, the structural reliance on portables is an aged sign the system is not progressing, in spite of McGuinty’s pro-education pronouncements.

That should be of great concern to every taxpayer, and something broached by the candidates running for school board this fall, a campaign largely overshadowed by the municipal one, which has in turn been sidelined by the mayoral contest.

Mediocrity has become the new normal.

If an apparently progressive society has stopped progressing and, in fact, shows signs of regression, then it’s a clear sign there’s a systemic break in the system, that in spite of the comings and goings of staff, trustees, students and parents, there remains an immovable obstacle to make things better.

Regrettably, most voters don’t care, or at least don’t know to care, about local government, and much less about school board matters, at least until an issue surfaces that directly affects their property values or quality of life.

You and I can shout that needs to change. But until the current system recognizes how some wrongs are never made right, the only progress we’ll see is in voter cynicism.

If low standards (e.g., portables) persist long enough, then they become the benchmarks – the norm rather than below the norm.

And I don’t think we can point to only our aging infrastructure in this way. Talk around Board tables and Council tables is always about cutting programs, prioritization, slashing budgets, “zero means zero”. It is seldom about how to move forward, improve programs meet new needs, excelling. It does happen (e.g., Trustee Brockington’s motion to look at the feasibility of integrating a swimming program into the curriculum), but not as often as it should.

Now to be clear, I am not suggesting that the Board go on a haphazard spending spree. Not at all. The Trustees are responsible for tax dollars collected from Ottawans and these funds must be allocated carefully and without waste. This is imperative. Yet it is also imperative that the conversation changes from one of meeting the bare minimum to how families can be offered a boosted version of excellence in education. Innovation in programs. Challenges to the norm.

Raising the bar.

We are fortunate to have truly great schools in this city with equally talented and inspiring educators. We are not starting from the bottom rung by no means! Look around. Look at Canterbury HS and its world-renowned arts programs. Look at Riverview Alternative and how it offers top-notch teaching in a way that meets the needs of a variety of students. Pleasant Park PS and Alta Vista PS and their engaged parent communities. Rockcliffe Park PS and its rich history. And look at all of the rest of the schools in Zone 6 and this city and each of them offers something that screams out “excellence!”

But we can do even better. We can raise that bar everywhere. Stand up to Queens Park. Raise that lowest common denominator. Reduce the number of portables. Be more responsive. Be more transparent. Don’t settle for less.

And that is why I am running for Trustee.


  1. Julia says:

    People DO comment when things are dumbed down and they DO like it when popular things (like tv shows) are not dumbed down (like “Big Bang Theory”). Absolutely we should keep raising the bar and our expectations of one another.

    The best way to get people to change their ways, is by education and by leading by example. You have to gradually change the culture in which certain things are considered acceptable, when really they shouldn’t be. My best example of that in action is drunk driving. When I was in law school in the early 80s, law students at legal aid were allowed to defend drunk driving charges because they weren’t considered “serious”. Now, only 25 years later, drunk driving is not at all socially acceptable and people talk about it and its consequences in a manner that was not even dreamt of back in the early 80s.

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