Education Minister tours province to outline sweeping changes to education system

Education Minister Zach Churchill is travelling around the province meeting with teachers, principals and School Advisory Councils about the changes his government is making to the education system.

'We’re meeting with as many people as we can to have a productive conversation,' says Zach Churchill

Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill. (Canadian Press)

Education Minister Zach Churchill is touring the province to meet with teachers, principals and School Advisory Councils about the sweeping changes his government is making to the education system. 

He will walk educators and parents through exactly how the provincial education system will work without its seven regional school boards.  

The trip will not be an easy one. 

The public has been divided ever since the province announced that it would eliminate all the English-speaking school boards and haul principals and vice-principals out of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

Those are just two of 22 recommendations that were put forward to the government by education consultant Avis Glaze in a controversial report released in January.      

Avis Glaze's report was embraced by the government. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Churchill believes getting rid of the school boards will unify the education system in the province and improve students' grades. 

"We're meeting with as many people as we can to have a productive conversation about the report, about its implementation, about other ideas to improve the education system, and this is happening in every single region of the province," said Churchill. 

'A little bit betrayed'

Michael MacDonald has a daughter at Boularderie Elementary School in Cape Breton. He said the government should have started talking with teachers and the public before it decided to start making radical changes. 

"People are feeling a little bit betrayed by the simple fact that they're not holding any public discussions or referendums on these possible changes," said MacDonald. 

"Is this the best-case scenario? Or should we look at in a long term and work at it piece by piece and see if we can get the puzzle together as a whole?"      

Dartmouth South MLA Claudia Chender says the province is failing to consult with parents and educators as it works to meet the recommendations in the Glaze report. (CBC)

Even with Churchill's tour around the province, people are still being left out of those conversations, according to the provincial NDP caucus.

The caucus said in a news release that all chairs of the School Advisory Councils in the Halifax Regional School Board were invited to meet with Churchill. They were later told that due to the high volume of people looking to take part, only randomly selected council chairs would be allowed to attend. 

"The Liberal government failed to ensure Nova Scotians were consulted properly to create the Glaze report and now they aren't consulting properly to implement its recommendations," wrote NDP spokesperson for education, Claudia Chender, in the news release.

'You're fighting for access to the minister'

Teacher Richard MacLean has more fundamental problems with the province's plans. He said the government hasn't put forward any evidence proving that school boards need to be eliminated.

The Halifax West High School teacher has worked in education for 25 years and is on a local executive of the NSTU. 

MacLean said getting rid of school boards is a bad idea and will pit schools against each other. Elected school boards prioritize the needs of a region, he said, whereas under the new model, "300 and some-odd groups are going to be petitioning the minister for a share of the pie."

Richard MacLean is a teacher at Halifax West High School and on the local executive of the NSTU. (CBC)

"You're fighting for access to the minister, you're fighting to have the voice of your school heard."  

The NSTU also opposes the elimination of school boards, stating it will not have a positive impact on students.  

But not everyone opposes the changes. Dolores Atwood is a member of the Tri-County Regional School Board in southwestern Nova Scotia. She said it's time for the boards to end.

She said many board members would form cliques to stop new ideas and would often turn the public away when people came forward with real issues.  

The Liberal government plans to make changes to the Education Act to eliminate school boards and move principals and vice-principals out of the NSTU during the upcoming spring sitting of the legislature. 

With files from Information Morning and Mainstreet Cape Breton

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