Bay Roberts meeting on K-12 education system full of ideas
The first public consultation for the premier’s task force on improving education outcomes in Newfoundland and Labrador’s K-12 system featured lots of suggestions on what to do.
Some ideas speakers mentioned last Monday at Ascension Collegiate in Bay Roberts are likely familiar to many in the Conception Bay North area. There were calls for decreased class sizes, the replacement of Coley’s Point Primary, improved student transportation and more resources for teachers.
Kim Crane, a parent who serves on the school council for Holy Redeemer in Spaniard’s Bay, said funds made available to schools are not going far enough when it comes to supporting the work of teachers.
“Every time I’m at school, which is a lot, whether it’s volunteering or picking up chil- dren or what have you, I always see (teachers) trying to manage something,” she said. “Trying to manage an issue, trying to manage a concern, trying to manage getting something for a student or the school, and that’s very frustrating to see because their focus is not teaching anymore. It’s not supporting one another, even though they try their very best to do that.”
Noel Hurley, a former school board superintendent who now teaches education students at Memorial University, believes the move towards a single entity responsible for the entire English school system was a mistake. He’d like to see a return to a model with multiple boards and funds for those boards to allocate in the best interests of their region.
“Nova Scotia has about twice our population,” Hurley said. “It has eight school boards. They function very well. Now and then the education ministers had to disband boards. It’s not perfect, but it’s democratic and it’s local.”
Joy Brown and Nancy Reid both spoke about inclusive education. Brown was part of the initial pilot project that preceded the implementation of inclusive education across the province. Brown said the inclusive model works great for kids, but she’s not impressed with how it’s being managed today.
“On the outside looking in, I’m sad,” she said. “Sad because I know a better way that works. Sad because I fear there are more children than ever falling through the cracks. But mainly concerned with the sustainability of my profession.”
Reid, manager of strategic initiatives for the provincial Coalition of Persons with Disabilities, addressed the need for physically accessible schools. Based on information she found on the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District website, 104 schools were not accessible out of 257 as of last September.
“We’ve got incredible teachers,” said Reid. “We’ve got an incredible group of parents and volunteers out there, but the buildings themselves don’t allow this group of people to do their work.”
Registered psychologist Helen Paul spoke about the mental health of students and the need to change how comprehensive assessments are handled in schools. She said only educational psychologists should be tasked with this work, and not guidance counsellors.
“Guidance counsellors do not require a legislated, licensed system to practice as a guidance counsellor. Guidance counsellors do not require post-graduate supervision or a national examination to maintain the use of the title of guidance counsellor. Thus, the quality and value of the comprehensive assessment depends very much on the training and qualifications of the lead assessor.”
Kathleen Burt, a retired educator, believes the current system fails to promote engagement in a participatory democracy, which she would like to see happen.
“First of all, there’s been an erosion of importance of the social studies component,” she said. “In grade school, the teaching of social studies is usually left to the late afternoon, and all other areas of the curriculum can and do supplant it … In high school, the social studies component has become a history, geography and business component, rather than a civics component.”
She also spoke wearily of treating education as a business, stating business principles should not inform how the system is managed.
Hayward Blake suggested a certification program for teachers with continuous learning opportunities to upgrade skills is warranted in Newfoundland and Labrador. He also recommended expanding distance education to more urban parts of the province.
Alice Collins, who chairs the five-person task force, commended the speakers for their presentations, suggesting they’ve set a solid standard for the remaining consultation sessions scheduled. Task force members met with students and teachers earlier in the day and are scheduled to submit a report to government this spring.