It’s been one year since Avis Glaze presented Nova Scotians with her “Raise the Bar” report, and the education minister says things have gone relatively smoothly so far.
Glaze, an internationally-recognized education consultant, was commissioned to review the province’s public education administration in October 2017.
Her $75,000 report was due back within three months. A day after its release, the department of education accepted “the spirit and intent of the recommendations.”
It was immediately panned by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) and opposition parties, who focused their frustration in large part on three of the 22 recommendations: the elimination of English-language school boards; the creation of an independent College of Educators; and the removal of nearly 1,000 principals, vice principals, and administrators from the union.
All three were among the 11 priorities set out by the department of education.
Education Minister Zach Churchill says everything on that list is underway, with the exception of creating a College of Educators.
“These are the most significant changes to education that we’ve seen in 30 to 50 years, and the fact that we’ve been able to achieve them and complete the list of original priorities that we identified from the Avis Glaze report in the first year of implementation, I think is something we can feel quite good about,” he said.
But there are accusations that the government is cherry-picking recommendations from the report.
NSTU president Paul Wozney says it’s causing confusion for teachers, who are fielding calls from frustrated parents who no longer know where to turn.
“The not knowing who people should talk to and who’s accountable for decision-making in public education, the uncertainty around that has made it very challenging for teachers and principals to do their jobs,” Wozney said.
“There’s sort of additional burden.”
And despite the premier’s promise that communities and teachers would now have a direct line to the minister, that’s not happening.
WATCH: What happened to the ‘direct line’ of contact between teachers and the minister in Nova Scotia
Eliminating English language school boards
The English school boards were eliminated in March 2018 with the passing of Bill 72, the Education Reform Act, in the legislature.
In their place is a Provincial Advisory Council on Education (PACE), a 15-member panel appointed by government and including representatives from the African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaq communities, and the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP).
It has been the target of criticism for its closed-door meetings.
Interestingly, the advisory council is actually not recommended anywhere in Glaze’s report.
Education consultant Paul Bennett, who was a vocal supporter of the Glaze Report’s recommendations, says it doesn’t make sense.
“You’re replacing elected bodies with provincially appointed bodies,” Bennett said.
“There aren’t enough of them to be effective and their role is strictly advisory, so the Provincial Advisory Council on Education is essentially a very weak body without any authority.”
The education minister says PACE was created to ensure there isn’t a “void in regional representation and regional input” in decision-making.
“While I think eliminating the boards is necessary — I think it’s modernizing our system, it’s allowing us to be more responsive and better meet the needs of our students over time, and I do think the evidence, the data on student success and well-being will support that over time — we do risk losing a regional perspective on things,” Churchill said.
Glaze’s report calls for enhanced School Advisory Councils (SACs). She recommends the government review and clarify “selection and participation of the SACs, including specific mandate, term limits, membership, and other role expectations.”
It was to come with quarterly progress updates, accountability sessions, and annual meetings with the minister.
The education minister says government can only ask so much of the volunteer councils.
“Governance and managerial responsibilities and all the liabilities that come with that were not something that our SACs were interested in taking on,” Churchill said.
NDP education critic Claudia Chender says SACs were told they’d have an expanded role back in August, and didn’t learn what that would mean until at least October.
“They were given this responsibility, then they were given no information about it. So I think it’s been incredibly unfair on those volunteers,” she said.
SACs are now given a budget — $5,000 as a base plus $1 per student in the school — and guidelines on how to spend it. Each region has a dedicated human resources position to help allocate the funding.
“I thought it made sense that the power should be closer to where the decisions are being made on a day-to-day basis,” Bennett said.
“But instead, they just sloughed it off and they actually weaseled out of any commitment to enhanced and empowered school advisory councils.”
For her part, Chender never supported the elimination of school boards.
“We had an elected, accountable, remunerated body of professional people. Were there problems with the school boards? Absolutely,” she said. But she maintains the government should have tried to fix the system it had.
Removing principals and administrators from the union
After discussions with the NSTU last February, the province announced that the new association representing administrators would be affiliated with the union and pay union dues for one year.
The NSTU had warned that removing principals, vice principals and administrators from its ranks would result in a breakdown of what it called the “collegial” model in schools.
But the creation of the Public School Administrators Association of Nova Scotia (PSAANS) hasn’t had that effect — at least not immediately.
“Speaking in my capacity as a principal of a high school at Halifax West, I can say that the collaborative nature of my work with teachers is unchanged,” said PSAANS chair Tim Simony.
“Speaking as chair of the PSAANS I haven’t had any information coming to me that would allow me to give a perspective on that, because it hasn’t come to me.”
Simony says the association has been working to establish its own structure and develop a memorandum of understanding with the province.
It recently hired its first staff member, former Strait Regional School Board superintendent Ford Rice, who will be interim executive director.
Next month, PSAANS members will hold a vote to decide their future within the NSTU. Simony says it will be held at the end of month, and meetings with the union are ongoing to sort out what an affiliation, or lack of affiliation, may mean.
In other jurisdictions, Wozney says, the impact of removing administrators from the union has been felt within five years.
“We didn’t necessarily project that there was going to be an instantaneous landslide of problems,” he said.
“So we are doing our best to kind of mitigate any kind of animosity in the relationship, but fundamentally it’s really early in the relationship. It’s too quick to say it’s going to be fine.”
But key recommendations of the Glaze Report were spiked by the government after protests from the NSTU.
We’ll examine the fallout of the decision to drop recommendations related to accountability on Thursday.