The Schools Recommendations Are Only As Good As The Implementation
Posted January 26, 2018
There is a lot to like in Dr. Glaze’s report on improving our school system. Minister Churchill’s announcement endorsed the report generally, and eleven of the recommendations specifically. The overarching theme is getting more resources into the classroom.
Good ideas on their own are not enough. The implementation must be well planned and executed.
Some early commentaries were inclined to dismiss the whole package as bound to fail, pointing at the problems with primary care following the amalgamation of the health care regions. This is a superficial analysis.
The problems with inadequate pay for family physicians have nothing to do with the amalgamated health authority. The cumulative recruiting shortfalls largely occurred when the Department of Health and Wellness was responsible for it. Stand-alone physicians are independent entrepreneurs and are not employees of the health authority; they have no counterpart in the schools.
That said, the amalgamation of the school boards and the other changes being contemplated represent a complex exercise that should be handled with care. It is important for government to separate the things that must be done immediately from those that can wait.
(1) Legislate elimination of the seven regional School Boards, resulting in better governance and administrative savings that can be put back into teaching.
(2) The seven former superintendents (rebranded as Regional Executive Directors) report to the Deputy Minister, who already has seven direct reports. Later recommendations would add several more. The total could be close to 20.
This unwieldy structure is likely to lead to administrative chaos and decision-making bottle-necks.
Identify a structure that will get the total down to less than 10.
(3) Negotiate a new collective agreement with the NSTU to replace the ones dealing with local issues that have been in place with the school boards.
(4) Develop a unified set of operating policies. The Boards have created a patchwork of different choices across the province, on items that should be the same—allergies, student travel, cleaning classrooms, when to play the national anthem, and dozens more.
Do Soon After
(5) Remove principals and vice-principals from the union; clearly, they are management. Provide them more scope to determine teachers’ development programs.
(6) Create a provincial College of Educators, a self-regulating professional association, for teachers. This follows a successful model in Ontario and elsewhere. The NSTU, whose job it is to serve teachers, is not the right body to manage disciplinary affairs.
(7) Move teaching support specialists (literacy leads, math mentors) out of regional education offices and into classrooms four days a week.
(8) Create School Advisory Councils to strengthen the local voice in schools. Appoint a corresponding province-wide Council, including Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotian voices, to vet proposed operational policies and to advise on other matters.
(9) Give teachers and principals the responsibility for the selection of text books and learning materials, while following the provincial curriculum. Give teachers the mobility and choice to work anywhere in Nova Scotia
without losing their seniority.
(10) Centralize (preferably not in Halifax) the management of facilities and finance functions, including accounting and facilities employees in schools. This will free up principals to spend more time on student success.
(11) Identify the policy framework that will be used to evaluate school closures.
When The Previous Matters Are Largely Completed
(12) Centralize (mostly outside of Halifax) other support functions: human resources, payroll, information technology.
(13) Create a coordinated professional development system for teachers and principals, tied directly to teaching standards, student achievement, curriculum priorities.
(14) Particularly in rural areas, make schools “wrap-around” facilities, where students and families can promptly access other government departments serving students: mental health professionals, health care providers, social services, etc.
(15) Where practical, include CSAP schools in the centralization of support functions and the application of uniform operational policies.
(16) Halifax has more than 48,000 students. Of the other regions, the largest has almost 20,000 students and the smallest less than 6,000. Redraw the boundaries to create a more equitable distribution.
(17) Evaluate the other recommendations in the Glaze report.
There is considerable risk of the bureaucracy having too much sway. The ad hoc Council to Improve Classroom Conditions showed how to have those on the front line conspicuously involved in making policy choices. Use tools like this as much as possible. A good place to start would be the unification of operating policies.
The present system is flawed. The direction the government has chosen is a good one. But if the implementation is badly handled we will be worse off than before.
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