Opening up schools for community: Insights from Dr. Charles Pascal

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted the state of the world. Everyday activities that we thought we could rely on - such as our children going to school five days a week - have been brought into question. While the current pandemic has had devastating impacts, may there also be opportunities to create change for the better? The SPACE Coalition sat down with Dr. Charles Pascal to discuss how we may seize this moment in history to restore schools as inclusive, welcoming public assets for use by the entire community.

Dr. Charles Pascal’s significant experience in education and government in Ontario include holding the position of Deputy Minister of Education and Training, writing the 2009 report With Our Best Future in MInd which led to the implementation of full-day kindergarten, and being a celebrated author with his most recent book, Leading from the Inside Out, in which he shares reflections and insights from his many leadership roles.

Dr. Pascal said, “In my report to the Premier in 2009, I advocated that schools become community hubs, ‘centres’ where an integrated service system for children and youth services would evolve. Part of our vision simply noted the importance of available school space being shared with key community activities.” More than a decade later, provincial government funding for community use of school space plateaued with costs rising and then faced drastic cuts right before the pandemic. Why does the government seem reluctant to transform the relationship between schools and communities?

In Leading from the Inside Out, Dr. Pascal wrote that "Real change requires the serious disruption of the status quo; playing around the edges and appropriating simple solutions for complex problems will not yield the required progress" while saying that he "hope[s] that the disruptive nature of this [COVID-19] crisis can result in a pathway for a better future."

Our conversation with Dr. Pascal about this pathway highlighted the importance of building a coalition among community leaders, schools, civil servants, public officials, and various other industries that work outside government: arts, social services, labour, business to create a new dynamic vision to help the future of our province. It will take a bottom-up and top-down strategy, according to Dr. Pascal, involving ongoing advocacy work and support to be prepared for any window of opportunity.

The SPACE Coalition sees schools as more than just centres of education but also as sources of community connection, inclusiveness, and wellbeing. As Dr. Pascal said, it takes collaboration, innovation, and hard work from across all sectors to make this vision a reality so please join us and contribute your voice to our advocacy.

For more information and to connect with Dr. Pascal, visit his website