HALIFAX: A decision by the province to make sweeping changes to Nova Scotia’s education system is raising concerns in the Strait area.
Last Wednesday, the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Zack Churchill announced the province will adopt the recommendations outlined in a recent report by education consultant Dr. Avis Glaze. In accordance with the recommendations, the province will dissolve its seven elected English language school boards and establish one provincial advisory council.
“We have great people working in the system who are completely committed and dedicated to our kids. It’s our system that’s fractured,” said Churchill.
The province hired Dr. Glaze in October to conduct a comprehensive review of how Nova Scotia’s public schools are administered. Her report stated that the department and the province’s eight individual school boards often function as nine disconnected bodies, and recommended a more unified approach.
During last Wednesday’s announcement, Churchill pointed out that student achievement in the province is below the national average, and an achievement gap exists among some minority groups.
“Dr. Glaze has challenged us to look at some of these systematic big challenges that we face in our education system,” said Churchill.
The structure of the Conseil scolaire acadien provinicial (CSAP) board will not change. Any money saved by the dissolution of the boards will be put back in the classroom, however the minister said the focus is more on systemic changes than financial savings and he has no plans to lay-off staff at central board offices.
The province also plans to remove principals and vice-principals from the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union, a change that will affect 40 staff within the Strait regional school board (SRSB). Other changes include strengthening the role of superintendents who will report directly to the deputy minister, and moving teacher support specialists out of regional education offices and into classrooms four days per week.
SRSB Chair Jamie Samson told The Reporter that although the board supports many of the recommendations put forward in Dr. Glaze’s report, he is disappointed with the decision to dissolve the school boards.
“As individual elected board members, and in the board as a whole, we’ve always had the best interests of students in mind and we were always that local voice that they were able to contact to work through and talk through some of the issues they’ve been seeing,” said Samson.
“I think that’s a wonderful partnership that we’ve established and now that’s going to be at risk I think with this new process.”
The minister said the government plans to enhance the role of school advisory councils (SACs) to give teachers, parents, and community members at each school more of a voice in decision-making at the local level.
“I think asking parents to take a role in the schooling of their children is a wonderful idea,” Samson said. “I just think with the sheer number of SACs, to try to coordinate that at a provincial level may pose some challenges.”
The minister was unable to give a precise timeline on the planned changes, noting that new legislation will be required in order to move forward. However, he said the department’s goal is to have the new structure in place by the start of the next school year.
For now, Samson says the SRSB will carry on with business as usual until they receive further notice.
“Our efforts will continue to be focused on providing our students in our communities the best possible opportunities they can have, no matter where they live and we’ll continue to do so until the minister informs us otherwise,” said Samson.