OTTAWA — Lorne Rachlis, the director of education of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB,) the largest public school board between Toronto and Montreal, has retired after 37 years in the field of education, the last five in his present position.
Lorne Rachlis in class
From his early years as a science teacher, Rachlis progressed through the ranks to increasingly senior and challenging positions. “There are some people who enjoy doing the same thing over and over, but I needed to do something completely different about every five years, and my career allowed me to do that,” Rachlis said.
Beginning as principal of the night school at Bathurst Heights Secondary School in what was then North York in 1975, he expanded the evening program from mainly interest courses and English as a second language courses to include a large selection of credit courses. He also extended the program through the summer by making it North York’s adult summer school site, and then he expanded the program into daytime hours.
When Rachlis left in 1980, it was the largest adult continuing education program in North York.
“Over a five-year period as night-school principal, I turned what had been a small, winter night school into a full-year program, in effect creating one of the first adult day schools in Ontario,” he said.
“The day school alone had 800 adults enrolled, with 800 adolescent students, and the non-credit day, evening and summer programs had 6,000 registration annually,” he added.
As director of the Avon Maitland District School Board in Stratford from 1998 to 2003, he was instrumental in creating an e-learning distance education centre.
During the mid-1990s, Rachlis created a Grade 11 archeology course in Ottawa that allowed students to take a senior level credit for their diploma while spending three weeks in Israel. They spent a week on a kibbutz and then participated in archeological digs. Although the course was popular, the cost contributed to its demise.
Rachlis received an award, among several others, for creating and implementing the former Ottawa Board of Education’s anti-racism and ethnocultural equity education policy. “The Ministry of Education used our processes and plans as an example to other school boards,” he said.
Rachlis took the job as OCDSB director in August 2003, when the board was under provincial supervision after failing to balance its budget. It was created in 1998 out of a merger of two local boards. After almost five years of school closings and a re-organization, its budget is balanced and new schools are now being built.
As well, Rachlis has overseen new initiatives such as the Education Foundation of Ottawa, the Outdoor Education Council and the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority, which were all created during his tenure.
Board chair Lynn Scott also noted that Rachlis “was the guiding force behind the now annual Student Recognition Awards, which recognize secondary students from across the district who are making a difference in their schools and communities.”
As the only Jewish public school director in Ontario, Rachlis credits his religion with helping him grapple with complex decisions in his career. “My faith is at the core of my being, and it is through that moral centre that I filtered my actions as a son, a husband, a father and an employer.”
A life-long member of Ottawa’s Temple Israel synagogue, Rachlis served two terms on its board of directors and sat on the education committee.
Reflecting on his retirement, Rachlis commented: “I will miss the wonderful people I work with, the opportunity to make things better for the next generation through education, seeing the talents and inquisitiveness of children.”
Rachlis will not be leaving the field of education completely, however. This fall, he will be teaching two courses in the master’s of education program at the University of Ottawa.