YARMOUTH, N.S. – The province’s education minister says work is continuing on recommendations contained in the Avis Glaze report, which laid the groundwork for changes in the administrative structure of the province’s public education system.
The recommendation to dissolve the province’s eight elected English school boards was carried out very soon after the release of the report earlier this year. While elected board members are no longer part of the system, school board offices and their staff became regional centres of education.
A recommendation of the Glaze report is to appoint a 15-member provincial advisory council.
Zach Churchill, the minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, says the department is in the process of seeking applications for the council. He says they’ve been aided in the process on many fronts.
“We had the majority of the board chairs from the former boards come forward, or alternative representation from each regional board, and we had the African Nova Scotian community, the Acadian community, the special needs community and the Mi’kmaq community at the table forming an interim group that gave us some recommendations,” he says. “So we’re now in the process of seeking applicants for the full-time board and we should have those in place for the fall.”
Churchill says the council will ensure there is a regional voice in place to impact provincial decisions, and he says this voice will represent a lot of diversity with representation from all regions of the province as well as different demographics.
Another recommendation in the Glaze report calls for giving school advisory councils (SACs) a more enhanced role. Asked where things stand on this front, Churchill says, “We’ve done two consults with SAC representatives. I got out and met with SAC board chairs and we’ve just recently completed some focus groups to get a sense where they want to see an enhanced role in the system.
“SACs will have an enhanced role in their local school communities with dispersing funds in areas that they view important for student achievement and well-being,” adds Churchill. “They’re going to have an enhanced role through directing funding, when it comes to policy development and when it comes to having a direct line of communication with regional offices.”
He says there will also be a direct line of communication to the minister through an annual conference. Churchill says the enhanced role for SACs will be in place for this school year.
One concern that was raised last spring by elected members of the Tri-County Regional School Board was the struggle some SACs have in finding volunteer members to serve. Churchill is asked if this is still a concern and if so, what supports the province would put in place to help SACs with recruitment of members.
“That will be an ongoing concern, so we want to make sure SAC involvement is accessible to all members of the community,” he says, suggesting there could be accommodations within the SAC budgets if required.
“Particularly if there is a challenge economically for people to travel to the meetings, or whether it is because of taking care of their kids or other family members, there can be some allocations in their budgets to help with accommodating those needs to make engagement more accessible to people,” he suggests.
The one elected school board that was not dissolved is the Conseil scolaire provincial acadien (CSAP). It was recommended in the Glaze report that the Acadian/francophone board remain in place. Churchill says the province continues to work with the CSAP to bring forward an independent act for this board in the fall. The act, he says, will identify the unique role the CSAP plays within the system to deliver cultural and linguistic education to Francophone communities.
Meanwhile, during this transition period Churchill has words of admiration for former elected board chairs and board members who have worked with the province to help make the transition a smooth one.
“I really need to commend the board chairs and board members on their dedication to our students and to their communities and their ability to rise above the hurt that they experienced as a result of that decision we made and remain at the table and stay focused on the needs of the kids,” he says.
“We had a group of people that came together, that could rise above the negative feelings that they had, they could rise above the disagreement that they had with government, and work with us to ensure that the transition was as smooth as possible and that the provincial advisory council has a mandate and representation that is best going to serve the students.”