New TDSB head lays out vision
Trustee John Campbell, elected chair of the Toronto District School Board in December after a tie followed by a drawing of lots, speaks to the Star about his hopes for the country’s largest board
Q: How do you feel about your new job? A: It’s a pretty awesome responsibility. I’m humbled by it and I think I have a very large obligation to prove that I can do a good job. Q: Half of the 22 trustees voted for you, but the other half voted for trustee Bruce Davis. Is it going to be tough to unify the board? A: No. You know, as I go down Bruce Davis’s list of supporters, I look at (trustees) Irene Atkinson, Chris Tonks, Stephnie Payne, Josh Matlow, Cathy Dandy, Sean Chen, Michael Coteau, Bruce himself, Sheila Cary-Meagher — I get along with all these people. Cary-Meagher said the other night, ‘You are a very nice man but I can’t support you.’ Well that’s the way it goes; I’m not bent out of shape on that. So there’s no animosity between me and any of the people that probably supported Bruce. Q: What are your priorities? A: We have the whole issue of the search for a new director of education, and that process needs to carry on. We’re waiting to hear whether we will be looking just inside the education area or will we be looking outside the education area. So, for example, would we choose somebody that was the director of a social work agency or the director of a hospital? Or the president of a Crown corporation? And then would they be a CEO because of their organizational ability and motivational skills and those sorts of things? Or do we just go the usual route and hire a former teacher, principal, superintendent type? That process is ongoing right now. Q: Would you support the idea of someone without any experience in the education sector to hold the top job? A: That would not bother me in the least, because we could get somebody who is a fabulous motivator who really understands how to find and draw out people’s strengths and somebody who would make necessary changes. Q: The night you were elected, you said you’re committed to a balanced budget. But the board was told earlier that evening it’s already facing a $51 million deficit in the 2008-09 school year. A: That’s an exaggeration. We presently have a $7 million deficit this year. . . . Next year, I’m not sure what the bottom line is. There’s a number of assumptions in that $51 million. But there are things that we are going to have to do in terms of realigning staffing. Q: What does that mean? A: We’re going to have align staffing more closely to enrolment. It might mean, in some cases, fewer staff. It might mean that if there are programs that aren’t effective, we can’t afford to hang onto them. There are no sacred cows. Q: How do you feel about a black-focused school, as is being proposed to the board?
A: I am not opposed to it. I look at it as our customers are students and parents; our product is education. We have declining enrolment and we have a group of customers that is dissatisfied and not doing well, or some of them aren’t doing well, and we have to figure out a way to address that. Q: How do you feel about the Model Schools for Inner Cities project, where seven schools in needy areas are provided an extra $1 million a year each, for three years?
A: We have not been presented with a progress report. We’ve invested a lot of money and we don’t know how it’s doing — and we are investing a lot of money in certain schools at the expense of other schools. I’m waiting to see the evidence and one of the things I’ll be doing is asking to see the evidence . . . in the short term, we should be seeing improved results in EQAO (standardized tests) and attendance and attitude.
Q: You work full-time as a sales vice-president and sometimes travel. Being chair is a full-time job on its own. How will you find a balance?
A: I don’t travel a lot. I go down to Montreal four or five times a year, usually overnight. I have on occasion, gone to Europe, but I didn’t go this year on business. I go down to the States maybe once a year on business and maybe once out west. In this day of electronic communication, it’s not going to be a problem.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A: I’m married with two daughters. One is in Grade 12 at the Etobicoke School of the Arts and the other is at Weston Collegiate in Grade 10. She’s in the IB (International Baccalaureate) program and top of her class. I, too, attended Etobicoke schools — Martingrove Collegiate, Princess Margaret and John G. Althouse — and I live in the ward.