Liberals look to Zach Churchill for change
There is hope, and it springs from the minds and young hands taking the reins of the provincial government as it moves into its second term.
The kid from Yarmouth is a case in point. Zach Churchill was elected in 2013 with 80 per cent of the vote. In Yarmouth, that means his opponents got most, but not all, of the vote from close friends and family. Six weeks ago, his take of the popular vote slipped to 68 per cent as Tory and NDP candidates were able to coax back cousins and add some nearby neighbours.
The wise folk of Yarmouth see something special in this guy.
Now, as minister of education he has, in one month, pried open windows in Halifax’s stuffy old Trade Mart — home to the education department since before his birth in 1984 — and let a welcome breeze blow through.
After the oppressive years presided over by Karen Casey, there is oxygen flowing back into the brains of education department staffers. Trade Mart bureaucrats are permitted original thought again, and are being asked to focus on improving the education system rather than waging political war on teachers. Ms. Casey may be better suited to her new role as government Grinch over at finance. Time will tell.
Back to Zach. (The rhyme is pure coincidence.)
He has remained completely cool under some incoming fire from a Halifax School Board committee that reviewed the schoolhouse situation out Cole Harbour way.
That could be because he read and understood the Liberal election platform.
After an annus horribilis in public education, the Liberals wisely put a wide education plank in the centre of their reelection agenda, including a promised “complete review of the administrative structures of school boards.” Hallelujah.
The platform said, and the minister reiterated, that all school review processes will “pause” until after the system review.
The review is to be completed by the end of this year, so the pressure to perform is on the minister, the bureaucracy, and whatever outside expertise is called on for help.
Fending off criticism for doing what his party promised is child’s play for an education minister who doesn’t have to strain to remember his own childhood. His big test comes later.
First, he has to take his refreshing style beyond the bureaucracy and give hope to teachers, parents and students that reforms initiated by the teacher-led Council to Improve Classroom Conditions are real and mark a beginning.
If and when he reaches outside the system for advice, he needs to eschew the usual sources — the big consulting firms, Liberals who once drove by a school, and freelance gurus.
Who, beyond teachers, are the real experts on education and how to effectively deliver education? Look to the fount of knowledge. Nova Scotia has a wealth of the stuff tucked away in more universities than the Ivy League. There are four university faculties of education in or within a couple of hours of the capital. Put an end to the bureaucrats’ disregard for and disrespect of this expertise.
Next, Churchill needs to prepare the public for whatever changes he will make. One of the most common mistakes of government is fixing stuff people didn’t know was broken. He needs to define the problem and sell the need for change before making it.
And finally, he wants to be ready for the vociferous opposition to come from every interested party that perceives a pin-prick to its sacred ox. Change draws resistance. The record of Stephen McNeil’s government suggests this often comes as a surprise, or worse, is received with an arrogant disregard for critics.
If the new kid on the block is serious about fundamental, progressive change in education, he will engage in and even welcome the inevitable debate.
Nova Scotians are about to find out if “new” is more than skin deep in education and maybe beyond.