New South Shore parent’s group calls for greater accountability within education system

by Brittany Wentzell

Email: wentzell.brittany@radioabl.ca

A new group is calling for accountability in Nova Scotia's newly restructured education system.

Simone Chia-Kangata recently started the Facebook group called Accountable Leadership in NS Education.

The parent of two children at Bayview Community School, says the group started after school principal Lamar Eason was put on administrative leave without parents receiving notification of that fact.

Parents of students at Bayview originally started a Facebook group to address the issue, with many believing Eason was unjustifiably removed; partially because the complaint made against him went well beyond the 90 day limit on when complaints can be filed.

The complaint surrounded a matter that occurred when Eason was still coordinator of race relations, cross-cultural understanding and human rights.

But as time went on Chia-Kangata says it became apparent, Eason's removal was just a symptom of a bigger problem.

"There isn't any clear recourse for when an abuse of power is happening at a Regional Centre for Education or even higher," she says.

Chia-Kangata believes the province needs to make clear what mechanisms are in place to deal with conflicts involving senior administrators.

She says much of the power seems to lie in the executive director of the Regional Centres for Education - the person who would have been the superintendent at the old school boards.

"If somebody has a direct conflict with leadership, there isn't really a clear channel for that to be addressed."

Chia-Kangata admits the old school boards weren't always transparent.

But she says that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvements with the new system.

For his part, Education Minister Zach Churchill says the parent's concerns are no different than ones brought up when school boards were in place.

He says the executive director position at Regional Centres of Education also hasn't changed.

"In terms of the authority of the regional executive director from the previous governance model to the current, nothing has changed in terms of their operational authority so they're still the leader, operationally in the region."

Churchill says senior administrators answer to the deputy minister and adds the department is developing new standards to help keep all employees accountable.

He says the department is open to hearing from parents but notes some situations, like with Bayview's principal, are an issue for human resources.

"We're happy to receive information on employees if community members have it ... but we also can't make HR decisions on people's personal opinions of individuals as well."

Churchill says he has confidence in the new system and believes student success levels improve under it.

In an email statement to CKBW, Deputy Minister Cathy Montreuil also characterized the dispute as an HR issue. "I realize that in not sharing information about the issue, members of the community are speculating as to the details however, the details will continue to be private and will not be shared now or in the future.

"What I can tell you as per our process, is that each person involved in the HR matter is well supported by a representative – Union or otherwise - who is ensuring their interests are represented throughout the investigation process."

Montreuil added: "I know that incoming Regional Education Director, Paul Ash, has reached out to the community with a commitment to meet with stakeholders to discuss areas of opportunity, strengths and concerns. He is looking forward to engaging with the community to support the best interests of students and families."

Ash issued a letter to parents in early January in which he wrote that his focus on the South Shore will be on "supporting our students, teachers and administrators by engaging the entire school community in our shared goal of helping students succeed."

Ash said as part of his entry plan to the SSRCE he will visit classrooms and schedule meetings with SAC chairs, principals, staff and student groups to "hear what is great in SSRCE and what needs to be strengthened.

"Following, I will share with our educational community areas of celebration and areas for growth so that we can move together with a common vision to support our students in ways consistent with the inclusive education report, Students First. I truly believe that by collaborating, communicating and listening to one another, we can continue to make great things happen for our kids. I look forward to these discussions."

With files from Charles Mandel

CKBW/Country 100 and LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin are collaborating together on education coverage on the South Shore.

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