Ontario’s new Education Minister says the overwhelming concern he’s hearing from parents, educators and students is that they want kids to get monetizable skills.

King-Vaughan MPP Stephen Lecce, who took over the education portfolio last month, says that has become his mission.

“There is a real concern, and that exists as I understand it in northern Ontario, where families feel their kids cannot apply their knowledge in the workforce,” he says. “There’s a real acute issue across the province, especially in northern Ontario, where young people work hard, they’re proud of their communities, but they can’t find employment and they want to stay in their communities.”

To do that Lecce says they’re updating the curriculum, putting more money on the table and creating real career paths for students.

Funding was another issue discussed in a wide-ranging interview with our newsroom.

Last week, the Near North District School Board passed a balanced budget.

In a release, the board says trustees ‘carefully reviewed and analyzed existing programming, administrative positions and expenditures to minimize the impact that funding reductions would have on students and staff.’

Lecce says collaboration is key and says he’s known board chair Jay Aspin for some time, pointing out they spoke recently.

“I appreciate that we’re going to need to collaborate to improve the student experience, and so that collaboration, that listening has already commenced. It was a good, very constructive chat for him to express to me there are some unique challenges facing northern Ontario families, particularly kids in the classroom,” he says.

Lecce also says there’s ‘a lot of noise out there’ but they’ve added, and in some cases doubled, money to a number of areas that have acute needs.

“We’re investing more in special education than any other government in our history, we’re investing more in French Language funding than any other government in our history, we’re investing more in mental health, we’ve doubled the mental health funding,” he says.

Lecce says it’s a positive start and while they understand there are fiscal challenges with the province, they’re making sure the dollars flow where they’re needed in the classroom.

The minister was also asked about teacher redundancy notices issued this spring.

He says notices are issued every year, but also says they’ve invested $1.6 billion in attrition protection.

“I think we need to be mindful the recall notices may manifest over the coming weeks as we get closer to September, my message to teachers is one of respect. I know they work hard, I know they’re public servants and I know they care about these kids,” he says.

When asked what has been the best part of his job since taking over as Education Minister, Lecce says it’s meeting young people, which he does on almost a daily basis.

“It really does help to shape who I am as a minister when you get to see the energy and excitement in their eyes,” he says.


(Photo submitted)

Filed under: education-funding, education-ministry, king-vaughan, near-north-district-school-board, north-bay, northern-ontario