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Education takes back seat for principals overwhelmed by managing schools, report says

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Ontario principals do so much administrative work, such as managing the school building and staff, it is a “challenge” to find time to improve student learning, according to a report released Wednesday.

The findings are based on a survey of 1,244 principals from publicly-funded schools by research and advocacy group People for Education. Among the more “startling” figures, says executive director Annie Kidder, was when principals ranked the amount of time spent on various tasks, including managing facilities, staff and individual student issues.

Annie Kidder, executive director of advocacy group People for Education, says principals have expressed concern that management tasks have ending up overtaking learning tasks.
Annie Kidder, executive director of advocacy group People for Education, says principals have expressed concern that management tasks have ending up overtaking learning tasks.  (Tara Walton / Toronto Star File Photo)

Just 9 per cent of elementary principals, and 13 per cent of secondary principals, said the most time-consuming task was supporting professional learning and improving the instructional program. By comparison, 22 per cent of elementary principals said managing the facilities, and 27 per cent of high school principals said managing staff, took up most of their time, according to the report, now being reviewed by the Ministry of Education.

“One would hope that principals would say the task on which they spend the most time would be leading the instructional program, and it is not that,” Kidder told the Star. “When principals talk to us about the competing priorities, their concern is that the management tasks end up overtaking the learning tasks.”

She says principals are “hamstrung” by having to focus on managerial issues and not educational ones. One solution is adding more vice-principals — most high schools have them, but just 45 per cent of elementary schools do. The report, which expands upon survey results that were released in June, notes that vice-principals help out with managerial duties, allowing principals to spend more time on the instructional program and school improvement planning.

Also, 11 per cent of elementary principals, and 18 per cent of high school principals, said most of their time is spent addressing the needs of individual students, such as behavioural and mental health issues. They say there aren’t enough mental health resources in schools, such as social workers, psychologists and guidance counsellors.

“They’re sort of putting out fires in terms of individual student issues, rather than leading the instructional program,” says Kidder. “They need more staff support.”

That’s why the group is calling on the Ministry of Education to meet with principals’ councils to address these challenges and consider providing schools with more resources and administrative staff.

“The ministry will continue to work with its partners to hear recommendations on how the province can support principals and vice-principals,” says ministry spokesperson Heather Irwin.

In March, the then-Liberal government in Ontario announced $181 million in funding, over four years, to hire more mental health workers in high schools, but it’s unclear if that money will be distributed by the current Progressive Conservatives.

“The government is currently reviewing all investments of mental health resources within schools with a view to building a more integrated and responsive system,” said Irwin. “The government understands the importance of student mental health and is continuing to work with school boards to grow the capacity of school administrators, educators, and school mental health professionals to recognize when students may be struggling and to intervene early.”

Larry O’Malley, president of the Ontario Principals’ Council, says hiring compliance officers to complete some administrative work, giving the custodian more responsibility for managing the building and training more adults to help supervise students, for instance during the lunch hour, would help free up some time.

“Principals are one of the key factors in student success, so they need to be able to do their leadership role, in terms of providing instructional leadership,” he says. “That’s what they need to be able to focus on.”

Jennifer Yust, president of the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario, says the report underscores the feedback they regularly receive.

“Evolving roles of principals and vice-principals have resulted in an alarming increase in workload,” she says. “Our school leaders, at both the elementary and secondary levels, are spending a disproportionate amount of time handling administrative tasks, rather than improving student learning.”

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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