Education Minister Zach Churchill answers questions from The Weekly Press on report that will see school bards axed
ENFIELD: The Province of Nova Scotia is looking at healing a fractured education system by accepting all of the recommendations in the Glaze Report, including the axing of seven of the elected school boards and removal of the principal and vice principals from the union, the Education minister said.
In an interview with The Weekly Press on Feb. 13, Zach Churchill answered more than a handful of questions, some of which came from local teachers, regarding the Glaze Report and why the Liberals see it as an improvement to the education system in the province.
When asked if the government would pause their plan to implement 11 of the recommendations immediately, beginning when the legislature opens on Feb. 27, until the Inclusion Commission report comes at the end of March, Churchill said the two are not connected.
“We are committed to moving forward with the administrative changes,” said Churchill. “We ran on an election promise to conduct a review of the admin system, and we’ve been provided with recommendations to improve it so we’re committed to moving forward with it.
Churchill said government is looking forward to the Inclusion Commission report being submitted.
“It’s really going to provide us with a blueprint to improve the model of inclusion in the province in many positive ways and ensure that we’re doing a better job meeting the needs of a diverse student body,” he said.
The MLA for Yarmouth was asked why he thinks getting rid of elected school boards, as was tried in B.C., N.B.,Alberta and Saskatchewan, could be successful here while elsewhere it wasn’t and those provinces reversed their decision over a short time.
“What has been consistent across the country is having a model of education where there is independent authorities, and different educational systems being delivered from one end of the province to the other has created issues,” said Churchill. “That’s why other jurisdictions have had to ask tough questions around school boards, and have tried to make adjustments to improve the delivery of their education systems.
“Here, what Dr. Glaze has diagnosed is that the fractured nature of our system, having nine independent authorities, has resulted in our inability to adapt as quickly as we need to the changing needs of our students. It has resulted in a lack of coherence in terms of education delivery from one end of the province to the other.
“Our goal is to unify the system with common purpose and common focus on student success and achievement in school, and helping them be prepared to succeed outside of school.”
When asked how he would ease teachers’ concerns and fears that implementing the Glaze Report will leave the system in crisis and more chaotic then it was during work-to-rule, Churchill said level heads need to prevail.
“We have to maintain a sense of calm and order through this,” he said. “People have to ensure they avail themselves of good information. It’s incumbent about the education department to make sure accurate information is getting out to our teaching force and our principals.
“This is about empowering them and improving a system that we know isn’t achieving the best results from an achievement standpoint, or the standpoint of our front-lines. We know that teachers are frustrated; principals are frustrated.
“We know that, and now is the time to make some changes to assist us in better delivering education to our kids.”
He explained that paying the elected school board members until 2020 was something that made sense since they were unaware this was coming down the pipe.
“We think it’s about fairness for these school board members,” said Churchill. “They have, in some cases, put years into service. This is not a commentary on their work … it’s a commentary on the system.
“These people put their names on the ballot and had the expectation they would be doing that work for four years, and they didn’t anticipate at that time this particular policy change. This is about treating them with respect during this process and fairness.”
Churchill talked about why principals and vice principals would not be allowed to form another union, but rather an association. He said that is to address the conflict of interest that is inherent in that relationship.
“We’ve heard from principals themselves what they really experienced, last year, where they were getting some directives that placed them in an uncomfortable position where they didn’t think they could execute in all of their responsibilities that they had,” he said. “No leader or principals in our schools should be put in that position.”
He said the top two or three performing provinces in Canada have gone to where there is a separation between principals/vice-principals and their teachers union, and it is working quite well in those areas.
There are certain things that have to be done in restructuring the system with feedback from several groups that entails legislation, but upon implementation they have to do it in a way that presents the positive impact they want it to, Churchill said.
“Consultation with all of those groups (SACs, members of the African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw communities, and the NSTU) is absolutely key in terms of implementing this in a way that’s going to be successful.”
Churchill responded to the harsh comments the Glaze Report has received from teachers since it was released. Some of the comments included that it was “full of lies”; “spin doctoring”; “fake facts”; and “people weren’t being fed the proper information.”
“I think the Glaze Report speaks to a lot of the real issues that are in our education system,” he said. “The fact we have a fractured system that hasn’t evolved as quickly as it needs to. It speaks to the fact that teachers themselves have felt a loss of empowerment over their course materials in the classrooms, over curriculum, and what they have to teach.
“This is about unifying the system, empowering our frontlines, including our principals, to give them the autonomy to be instructional leaders and supervisors.
“I believe at the end of the day these recommendations will help us do a better job providing for our kids when they’re in the education system.”