“To simply dismiss school boards is misguided”

Provincial education Minister Zach Churchill is in danger of doing to the education system what has happened to the health system by eliminating school boards, South Shore Regional School Board (SSRSB) chair Theresa Griffin said in an interview.

Replacing all seven English school boards with a provincial advisory council is one of 22 recommendations contained in the report Raising the Bar that Avis Glaze researched and wrote for the provincial Department of Education/Early Childhood Development. Churchill has said the government will implement all the recommendations.

"We have a great example in the health-care system that centralization and bureaucratization does not lead to improvements," Griffin said in an interview with LighthouseNOW on January 25.

Griffin said she and her fellow board chairs met with Churchill January 24 and they are still digesting the report and its implications. But she was very clear about how she felt about the most controversial piece: "To simply dismiss school boards is misguided.

"We want both equity and excellence in education. It's the foundation of our democracy. Research clearly shows that restructuring is not what is needed. Building relationships and ensuring local voices are heard is the way to ensure excellence."

She said replacing democratically elected school boards with a minister-appointed provincial advisory board removes accountability as local voices are not heard, and the advisory aspect removes the ability to be a meaningful part of governance. She said it gives the minister and the central bureaucracy a way of dismissing any dissenting voices.

The report recommends the board superintendents become regional educational directors and instead of reporting to elected boards and being accountable to them, they will report directly to the deputy minister, she explained.

"Who is going to assure accountability?" Griffin asked. "Some things are worth fighting for and that's keeping the public in the public system of education... responsive to the needs of the community in the community context."

Griffin said using school-based school advisory councils as a substitute for school boards is flawed. Without a regional context of a board, the move will lead to more fragmentation and a lack of equity across the system as some school advisory councils are more able to navigate a bureaucracy than others.

She is in favour of keeping school advisory councils as strong local voices.

Griffin said she worries that people do not understand the importance of the school boards, which have been marginalized by the education department as decisions have become more and more centralized and the school boards have become the scapegoats for failed initiatives.

But she said there are a lot of good recommendations in the report, some brought by the school boards themselves. "We were not happy with the status quo by any means." Two examples she cited was removing principals and vice-principals from the teachers union and making schools a wrap-around facility where families can access a multitude of services based on their needs.

Griffin said she has no idea what the timeline will be for dissolving the school boards or introducing any of the other recommendations, nor what the impact would be on on-going issues like the challenge to the closures of Petite Riviere and Pentz Elementary schools currently under judicial review.

"It's too early to tell," said Griffin.

John Biebesheimer, chair of the School Advisory Council for Bayview Community School said it is too early to comment on the minister's plans to eliminate the English language boards.

"I'm not shocked but I'm somewhat surprised," he said. "It's too soon to make a determination of how everything is going to fall into place for the benefit of the children."

The Glaze report can be accessed via www.ednet.ns.ca/adminreview

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