Minister defends education overhaul

By Lois Ann Dort    

The province’s plan to implement the Glaze report — with major changes to the education system — has resulted in a furor of opposition from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and other stakeholders. On Thursday, February 15 the Minster of Education and Early Childhood Development Zach Churchill spoke to The Journal about the province's plan and addressed concerns raised about the recommendations over the past week.

That includes the declaration by some principles and vice-principles that if they are forced out of the NSTU, as proposed in the Glaze report, they would resign their posts and go back to the classroom.

“People will have to make important decisions in relation to this and we want to make sure they have all the information possible and some time to make the decision as well,” said Churchill. “We think that we'll let the situation calm down, give some opportunity for our administrators to see how the new model will work and give them assurances that they will be protected; that their salaries and benefits and seniority will be protected...We do believe that there is a conflict of interest with that union membership.”

One of the oft-repeated complaints about the roll out of this new administrative model is about a lack of consultation with the public and education stakeholders. Churchill stated that the Glaze report was based on extensive consultations and worked from the springboard of an earlier report on the issue by Myra Freeman tabled in 2014. That report, which consulted nearly 20,000 Nova Scotians, also recommended that administrative staff be removed from the union. “This is the second independent report that tells us this is the right thing to do.”

Churchill added, “Two out of the three highest performing provinces when it comes to student success and achievement, British Columbia and Ontario, have this model and it works well...I think this will strengthen leadership at our school level. It will give more autonomy to principals and give them the independence to lead their staff and to be instructional leaders to teachers and our kids in the most effective way possible.”

On Tuesday, February 20 the NSTU held a strike vote, the results of which were not available at the time of press.

“I understand that there is concern out there,” Churchill said about the vote. “I understand that there is disagreement. But I don't think that disruption to our students' education is in the best interest of our kids. And I really think that at the end of the day, all of us are trying to do a better job for our students and if we focus on their needs we'll be able to move forward in a productive manner, even in times of disagreement like this.”

The speed with which the Glaze report recommendations were accepted and the failure to communicate a clear path forward for their implementation contributed to the backlash against the government's plan.

When asked to address these issues, Churchill said, “Decisive action is needed. The status quo is not an option. We can do better for our kids. How many reports that have been brought forward to the Department of Education have sat and gathered dust on a shelve because governments were not willing to move forward in a decisive way? We want to get through this period of uncertainty. Change is tough for people, it's concerning. I recognize that there are uncertainties here but we'll work our way through that.”

Churchill said the success of the new administrative model will be be measured by the success of students. He added that changes to administration are not taking place in isolation and that other measures have been taken to increase student success and achievement.

“This is part of a bigger plan for the education system. Dr. Glaze specifically looked at the administrative model and how we can better fix the system of education delivery to better meet the needs of our kids.”

Churchill noted that changes were being made in areas such as the creation of the pre-Primary program, which was rolled out across the province this year. Funding models for schools will also be reviewed, which is of vital importance to rural schools with small populations. There is also a report due out in March, addressing the issue of inclusion in the classroom. These actions, said Churchill, are “about strengthening a system that currently isn't providing the very best supports to our teachers, our principles and our kids.”

Consultations have begun across the province and will continue in the coming months as the government works to implement the first 11 of 22 recommendations in the Glaze report.

“I think at the end of the day we will have a stronger system as a result of this,” said Churchill.