A lot of negativity was avoided when the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union (NSTU) and the provincial government agreed to sit down face-to-face.
Late last month, the president of the NSTU, Liette Doucet, and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil met to discuss reforms proposed in the Glaze report, which were adopted by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
Some of the recommendations predictably earned the ire of teachers across the province, particularly removing principals and vice-principals from the NSTU, forming a College of Teachers, and not fully dealing with classroom issues raised last year by educators.
Other issues, such as the dissolution of the province’s elected English school boards, also earned opposition but it’s hard to fathom that teachers care more about school boards than what is happening in their classrooms.
Then on March 1, the provincial government announced the Education Reform Act would be introduced in the legislature.
Nova Scotia’s seven elected English school boards will be dissolved as of March 31. The $2.3 million in annual board member stipends and expenses will go back into schools. Under the proposed legislation, board offices will be renamed regional education centres. They will continue to make the same regional and local decisions they do now. Superintendents will become regional executive directors, reporting to the deputy minister of education.
The Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP) will remain in place. An act to oversee the CSAP will be introduced later in the session. For the first time, there will be separate legislation for the CSAP.
A new Provincial Advisory Council of Education will be created. It will have up to 15 members, representing all regions, and diverse communities and backgrounds. A representative with experience in inclusive education will also sit on the council.
Two new executive director positions representing the African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw communities are being created at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
Principals, vice-principals and other senior supervisory staff will move out of the NSTU to a new association called the Public School Administrators Association. This means they are removed from the NSTU bargaining unit and no longer members, but are still affiliated with the NSTU. That affiliation ensures seniority and compensation are protected, and principals and vice-principals will have the same benefits and pension they do now.
School Advisory Councils will be supported to advance local priorities for their communities. Consultations with current members will be held this spring to determine details such as their structure, membership, and supports needed for members.
The government then announced it will take a different approach to the recommendation in the report by Dr. Avis Glaze on a College of Educators and will work with teachers and the NSTU to develop teaching and leadership standards.
The government agreed to work with the NSTU on a number of recommendations that focus on areas, including extracurricular activities, professional development, strategies for recruiting teachers, rural education, educational needs of new immigrants, French language education, students living in poverty, and children in care.
In addition to the legislative measures, teachers will now have more say in choosing learning resources and textbooks for their classroom. Teaching support specialists will spend less time in regional offices and more time in schools where they will work closer with teachers and students.
Later in the day on March 1, the NSTU announced it will not pursue job action in response to the legislation.
Doucet pointed out that the College of Teachers would have created more unnecessary bureaucracy and drained resources from schools. She said a province-wide seniority list would also place rural communities as risk.
Doucet said the NSTU is still opposed to the legislation, which could do more harm than good to public education. She noted the removal of administrators from their bargaining unit “could bring more conflict to our schools.”
The NSTU is also fearful of the chaos the elimination of English school boards will bring to the entire system.
Doucet added the powerful statement teachers made with their strike mandate helped raise awareness of the risks associated with the Glaze report. She said the latest turmoil could have been avoided with proper consultation.
That brings up a host of issues which did not receive as much attention this year, but eventually found their way into the agenda after the two sides sat down: student discipline; the strain on teachers from inclusion; the no-fail policy; and a general lack of support for teachers.
These issues were part of the reason teachers mobilized last year, and which are so entrenched, they again threatened to return the province to last year’s strikes and job action which polarized Nova Scotians, angered teachers, put children in the middle, and caused headaches for parents.
It’s safe to assume no one wants a return of last year’s animosity and teachers and the province realize that by sitting down, talking and compromising, something positive can be achieved.