About 85 parents, students, teachers, school support workers, local politicians and community members spent more than two hours Thursday night discussing the future of public education at Sackville Town Hall.
In response to their ideas and concerns, the participants heard about the provincial government’s latest proposals for reform from George Daley, the deputy minister of education for anglophone schools who was appointed in mid-November, just over two months ago.
Daley, a veteran teacher and vice-principal, who served a two-year term as head of the teachers’ union, was a last-minute substitute for Education Minister Dominic Cardy who was ill.
Daley noted that the province’s 25-page discussion paper on education released last fall calls for a complete review of the system every 10 years and agreed with participants who said that was a good idea.
“We’re also going through a new planning model with districts and schools because our intention is to try to actually turn the system upside down so the planning starts in the schools and the teachers and the administrators will determine what the needs of the schools are,” he said.
“It is a new way of thinking,” he added, referring to what he called the previous “top-down” model of decision making.
“We’re going to try to flip that. I hope it’s going to work,” he said. “When we get to the point about how do we involve communities and how do we engage,” he added, “we have to put decision-making and some authority in our communities.”
Daley’s comments appeared to support the efforts of Sackville 20/20, the non-profit group that is lobbying for local, community-based learning involving partnerships that would integrate all of the schools and the university in a “community learning campus.”
Daley said later during an interview that while he’s familiar with Sackville 20/20, he hasn’t followed what the group has been doing in the past year.
“I don’t have an in-depth knowledge of it, but I know they’re here and their references pop up quite a lot,” he added.
Hunger in schools
On other issues, Daley repeated the position outlined in the discussion paper that ways have to be found to improve French immersion so that anglophone students can speak the language by the time they graduate from high school.
He also said he recognized the need for better mental health services in schools as well as the crucial importance of food programs to eliminate hunger.
“Our students have got to be in school first, they’ve got to be fed, they’ve got to be safe, we have to build relationships with them,” he said, “after that’s done, then we can start teaching.”
Daley added he was hired as deputy minister to do things differently.
“One of the things I said is, ‘that what we’re measuring, we’re going to change’ because I don’t think we’re measuring the right things and I do believe one of the things we need to measure is the breakfast program,” he said, adding that, at present, food security programs are not funded by the province.
Daley said he couldn’t promise that he could get funding for every school food program.
“But I do think that is one of those conversations we’ve got to have.”