The University of Toronto has a practice of undertaking periodic reviews of academic units. In accordance with this practice, in 2018, the University commissioned an external review of the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study (last reviewed in 2009). The review serves as a key mechanism for assuring quality at the University, and provides an opportunity to secure the expert advice of leaders in the field concerning academic and administrative issues, assess our performance against leading international institutions, and receive guidance on key strategic directions. The review report is taken forward to governance as a measure of its importance.
The external review team for JICS consisted of:
Professor Lynn Thomas, Faculté d'éducation, Université de Sherbrooke, and
Professor Gerald Campano, Graduate School of Education, Pennsylvania University
Their visit of the Institute on March 8 and 9, 2018, included receiving a detailed information package and time to tour the school, meet with Lab School administration, teachers, staff, and parents, along with meetings with members of the MA CSE Teacher Education Program and the Laidlaw Research Centre. This broad range of constituencies provided the reviewers with the opportunity to hear a wide range of views.
The JICS parents who met with the reviewers were Beth Corcoran, Deepta Rayner, Tracy Pryce, Aviva Zukerman, and Jamie Deans. I would like to thank these parents for sharing their insight and perspective on how the lab school addresses its public purpose through our relationship with research and the MA CSE program.
Below are the sections of the External Review that pertain to the Lab School and the JICS Director’s Response to the Recommendations. This information will inform future planning for the Lab School. Please be in touch if you have comments or questions.
Dr. Lynn Thomas
Dr. Gerald Campano
We would like to begin this report by stating how much we appreciated our warm welcome and the organisation behind our visit to the Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study (JICS) and how much we enjoyed meeting the various people associated with this institute. It was a great pleasure to spend time with such a committed group of professionals and students who truly love their work and study environment. It was clear to us that the JICS holds high standards and clearly meets their tripartite mandate of research, child-centered elementary school education and graduate level teacher education. Despite the many interruptions caused by the recent major renovations, all of the people associated with JICS, including researchers associated with the Laidlaw Research Centre, classroom teachers, parents of students attending the school, graduate students, practicum coordinators and support staff all spoke with enthusiasm for their work, their studies, the opportunities for learning for both children and adults and the overall positive climate of the entire Institute. We attribute a part of this enthusiasm to the tremendous impact that Dr. Clare Kosnik as director and Richard Messina as school principal have had on this climate. It is clear that a good deal of the professional satisfaction of the people associated with JICS stems from their competent and inspiring leadership.
During our two day visit we also noted some areas of concern for the JICS and would like to offer some recommendations for improvement. We will begin with two general topics that apply to the Institute as a whole and then focus on the MA program in teacher education, where most of our recommendations lie.
Summary of issues of concern [pertaining to Lab School]
Lack of socio-economic and some forms of racial diversity among the students attending the elementary school.
Some problems of communication between different members of the JICS community.
Along with many of the people we met at JICS, we noted that there is a lack of socio-economic diversity among the students at the elementary school. This situation is a concern for the school and the Institute as a whole and results from the fact that the school is required by the university to be self-supporting, meaning that it must charge fees as an independent school to cover its costs. The parents were most vocal in addressing this issue, and not because they wanted to complain of the school fees but because they were well aware of the advantages of a more diverse school population. The principal, Richard Messina, also mentioned this issue. There appears to be some financial aid available to parents and a plan in place to work on greatly increasing the size of the school’s foundation now that the renovations are (mostly) complete. We strongly recommend that the Institute make this issue a priority and set short term goals for greatly increasing the diversity of the study population in the elementary school. In addition, it would be worth revisiting the extent to which other forms of diversity (racial, ethnic, cultural) are present at the school.
Another general issue that concerns the entire Institute is that of communication. On different occasions we noted that the groups of people who came to meet with us were somewhat surprised to learn about different initiatives or practices from the others who were also present. One example is that one of the five parents present did not know about the bursaries available for families with financial needs. Support staff also noted that they were not informed about various research initiatives, even when it meant that there were unfamiliar people entering the building. Although there is a weekly newsletter to the JICS community, weekly Lab school meetings, and general emails we recommend that greater care be taken to ensure that all members of the larger JICS community are kept up to date about different initiatives.
We also saw many things that work well in this community, and would like to share some of our observations here.
1. The school is child-centred and inquiry-based, with the needs of the children placed first and foremost. The school is perceived to be small, secure, family oriented and was described by a parent as “my village”. Comments from parents include:
a. My son needed a lot of extra support and he got it here, but he was never defined by his problems.
b. The teachers see the children as they are.
c. The teachers always ask “How do you know that?” and not just “What do you know?”
d. Our concerns about the lack of space, no gymnasium and the age of the classrooms were all addressed by the renovations.
2. The teachers appreciate their dual roles as classroom teachers and teacher educators as they are invited to give lectures to the MA students in different aspects of child learning and lesson preparation. They note that the MA students all learn theories of child development and are able to apply these in the classroom on practicum. Teachers note:
a. The MA students have to be part of our planning and we must accept that we are mentors if we want to work here. That becomes part of our teaching identity.
b. I teach children and adults even if I don’t have a student teacher in my class because I am often in their classes, or on a panel or participating in special projects.
c. I really like the exposure to research that I receive here. I am always learning something new.
d. The JICS Research Lab School Committee vets all research applications after they have ethical approval from their respective university. The committee may decide not to participate because it does not help deepen our knowledge of children.
The work of Haley Higdon and Beverly Caswell on the Natural Curiosity publications and the work undertaken with funding from the Robertson Foundation were most impressive. The examples they showed us of how the JICS is reaching out to communities in remote rural areas and supporting inquiry-based child-centered teaching and learning were a highlight of our visit. We heard about the many other initiatives taken on by teachers and researchers to ensure that some of what the JICS has to offer children and teachers is offered to the greater community, both in Toronto and around the world, but these two initiatives were the most concrete for us. We urge the JICS community to continue to make this kind of dissemination a priority.
Overall, we were very impressed by much of what we saw during the two-day visit and would like to thank everyone who organised such an informative and interesting series of tours and meetings. The Jackson Institute for Child Study at the University of Toronto is clearly a positive place to work and learn, and with some adjustments as described above, could be outstanding.
The Administrative Response
Dr. Clare Kosnik, Former Director of JICS
The reviewers observed challenges of communication between different members of the JICS community, and recommending that greater care be taken to ensure all members of the larger JICS community are kept up to date about different initiatives.
The extensive construction at JICS over the last two years has resulted in a number of challenges including gaps in communication. Due to the construction, all JICS members were displaced with many having their offices and research labs relocated in different buildings, resulting in a loss of opportunity for informal discussion and communication. However, with the major construction behind us and the new building open, we look forward to realizing the possibilities provided by our new shared space. To further improve our communication overall we have put in place a number of processes:
A new receptionist was hired at JICS, and the role encompasses communication related responsibilities including organizing the Institute’s weekly bulletin with information about the Lab School, the MA-CSE program, and the Laidlaw Centre. For 2018-2019 school year, the receptionist will create a master calendar of events and initiatives at JICS, which will be accessible to all members of the community.
Additionally, the Communications Officer of the Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development was assigned responsibility for supporting JICS initiatives such as developing promotional materials and maintaining the Institute’s new website.
A graduate assistant was hired in the Laidlaw Centre over the summer to facilitate information sharing on faculty research among the various research labs.
During the construction period, getting together was challenging with many meetings of the JICS faculty held at OISE. Since February 2018, monthly meetings within JICS have resumed with good attendance and rich discussions. We trust that these regular meetings will improve communication at the Institute.
In addition, the construction a new faculty/teacher lounge will occur in July, 2018 with an opening planned for September, 2018. This shared space will have an electronic notice board, and will be a place for informal gathering. We believe a dedicated space for faculty/teachers will allow for casual yet important conversations
The reviewers noted a lack of socio-economic and racial diversity among the students attending the Laboratory School. They recommend that the Institute make this issue a priority and set short term goals for increasing diversity within the School’s population.
The Laboratory School is a tuition-based Nursery to 6th Grade School with the mission to provide excellence in elementary education, teacher education, and research in an intentionally diverse environment. In 2008, with the goal of decentralizing the budget, the University introduced its current budget model which considered all divisions and units as self-funded. As a result, the School was expected to cover its operation costs more fully causing an increase in the School’s tuition fees. In order to enable economic diversity at the School, in 2008 the Diana Rankin/Muncaster Family Tuition Support Fund was established enabling tuition assistance for families in need. In 2017-2018 school year, $110,000 in financial support was awarded to retain current families in Grades 3 to 6, to support families across the grades who experienced a changed financial circumstance (one-time support), and to admit students whose families could not otherwise consider enrolling in Grades 4 to 6. In addition, the School organized fundraising events to increase the School’s Tuition Support Fund.
The JICS community, including current and former parents, continues to be committed to expanding diversity at the School and increasing financial support.
In 2018, Provostial approval was received to create an endowment fund, which will allow the School to provide financial assistance to students in the early years (Nursery/Kindergarten) through to graduation. A lead gift of $500,000 is anticipated, and the goal is to reach a $5,000,000 endowment fund. It is expected that the endowment fund will make a significant contribution towards increasing socio-economic diversity at the Lab School.
In terms of other forms of diversity, currently the School has 54% of the student population (107 students) with parents who identify as “visible minorities”. Since 2008, the school has been very successful at working with community partners (e.g. Scadding Court Community Centre) to identify, admit, and serve students from underrepresented populations to increase the cultural, racial, and/or economic diversity of the School population.
The School will continue its ongoing efforts to build a unique learning community and create diverse, gender-balanced, equitable classrooms with broad-based populations representing cultural, economic, and social diversity. This work will be underpinned by three principles: (1) aiming to represent Toronto’s diversity including its Indigenous and multi-ethnic dimensions; (2) striving for economic diversity by providing limited needs-based financial support; and (3) ensuring gender-balanced classrooms.
In addition to the points discussed above, I would like to reflect on the reviewers’ recommendation that JICS should continue to refine and develop its partnerships, such as the Roberson Program and the Natural Curiosity. For example, we see our work with Natural Curiosity as essential, and the reviewers have urged “the JICS community to continue to make this kind of dissemination a priority”. While the Roberson Program’s work with Indigenous communities will continue because the program’s long term funding is now ensured, in order to maintain the success of the Natural Curiosity, this donor-funded program should receive more financial support from JICS and OISE.
We believe that JICS will continue to be a leader in education. To this end, we continue to strengthen the bonds among our three domains: The Laboratory School, the MA-CSE program, and the Laidlaw Research Centre. Coupled with our goals; ongoing initiatives and partnerships; and our community of dedicated faculty, staff, students, teachers, children and families, JICS has a strong foundation upon which to build.
Upcoming Dates to Note:
Monday, October 8: Thanksgiving – School & Daycare closed
Friday, October 12: Cross Country Track Team Meet at Christie Pits (10:30-1:30)
Monday, November 5: Parent Ed Event. 7:00 pm “How to Talk to Your Children about the Holocaust” with speaker Dona Matthews presented at Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre. A joint parent education project between the Mabin School, Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Lab School, Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School. (Registration info coming soon)
Wednesday, November 14: Parent Teacher Interviews
Wednesday, November 21: Parent Teacher Interviews
For more important dates, please refer to our School Calendar.