Government should be facilitating, not obstructing school board efforts - Local leadership, governance are the keys to student success

By
Debbie Horrocks, Audrey Acteson, Moira Bell, Steve Bletas, Michael Chiasson, David D'Aoust, Angela Mancini, Michael Murray, Jean Robert and Suanne Stein Day

MONTREAL, May 5 /CNW Telbec/ - Staying in school. Mastering French. Adapting to changing technologies and learning styles. Acquiring the tools and sensitivities of global citizenship.

These are the kinds of priorities that Quebec's nine English school boards have set for the 105,000 students we welcome into our classrooms each morning. Addressing those priorities is a challenge as well as a cherished opportunity for the teachers, administrators, professionals and support staff employed by our school boards. There is, of course, a coordinating and financing partner - the Ministère de l'Education, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS) - upon whom we must depend to discharge our daily duties. With increasing frequency, and to our growing frustration, that partner has been behaving more like an adversary than an ally. If this continues, our students will sadly bear the consequences.

Here are but four current examples that the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) and its nine member boards have identified:

  • Quebec school boards were informed last week - without warning and despite budget promises to the contrary - that they must absorb an estimated $110 million in cuts over the coming year. The news was delivered with a directive as unnecessary as it was inappropriate: do not touch services to students. Unnecessary? Our school boards are local governments that consistently deliver services to students while maintaining the lowest administrative cost ratio of any public network of establishments, including municipalities, hospitals and the provincial government itself. We don't need to be told that direct service to students is always the budget priority. Inappropriate? With close to three-quarters of school board costs allocated to staffing and salaries - an operation that collective agreements require us to have virtually completed by now - it will be extremely difficult to find the marge de maneouvre to implement these new and unforeseen cuts. Will their impact be felt ultimately in the classroom? It is unrealistic to expect otherwise.

  • Recent government announcements regarding investments in classroom technology and intensive English second-language immersion at Grade 6 were made with but a modicum of discussion or debate with school boards or the educators we employ. The initiatives might well prove positive but will we get to tailor those technology investments to the local needs and diverse stages of progress at each of our boards? New smartboards are interesting but with new budget compressions, will the necessary support for installation, professional development and curriculum development be in place? Will our students and teachers be included in reciprocal French exchanges as part of the Grade 6 initiative? We are now actively seeking answers but should have been at the table long before such announcements were made.

  • Education Minister Line Beauchamp convened a summit last Fall on the major issue of how Quebec schools are addressing the subject of students with special needs. She is about to convene another summit, in conjunction with the Minister of Employment and Solidarity, on aligning vocational education with marketplace needs. In the first case, English school boards have fought to make sure that the delicate balance we have largely achieved is maintained between inclusion of all students and effective and tailored learning to account for individual needs. We trust that the Minister's expected orientations to be announced in June will only come with our full involvement in and cognizance of their contents. In the second case, English school boards must continually struggle to adapt to a one-size-fits-all government approach to vocational education that is leaving our students with huge gaps in program opportunities and our regional communities deprived of a source of skilled and bilingual workers. QESBA and its member boards will make these arguments and raise these concerns when they are assured of seats at the table at this summit.

  • Quebec's current school board members were duly elected for a four-year mandate in 2007. A law delaying scheduled elections this Fall was adopted last year. Ever since, there has been nothing but silence and ominous speculation about when and if our school board members will again meet their electorate. For our English school boards, who enjoy constitutional protection while representing the only level of government directly accountable to the English-speaking communities they serve, this vacuum is cause for concern.

Student success is, first, the fruit of hard work, dedicated teachers, facilitative administrators and enlightened school board governance. Here is just a sampling of innovations that have been implemented in the English sector as a result of this long-standing and effective partnership:

  • Canada's only one-to-one laptop computer initiative (Eastern Townships School Board)
  • an integrated youth and adult distance education program, rendering complementary courses accessible to all students at a school board with a territory that equals that of Belgium (Western Quebec)
  • a constantly updated French second-language approach at the world's birthplace of French immersion (Riverside)
  • a school success rate of 83 per cent - about 20 per cent higher than the French school board on the same territory (English Montreal)
  • Canada's first system-wide program in "digital citizenship" (Lester B. Pearson)
  • a system-wide focus on Community Learning Centres, making schools the active hubs of their communities (New Frontiers)
  • a shared governance model of English and French school facilities (Eastern Shores)
  • a systematic and continuous mentoring program ensuring that school principals master pedagogical leadership (Central Québec)
  • the only hands-on career exploration lab in the system (Sir Wilfrid Laurier).

Quebecers count on their government to support such innovation and leadership, not stand in its way. Our school boards ask for no more.  We will settle for no less.

Debbie Horrocks is the President of the Quebec English School Boards Association. The following are Chairs of their respective school boards: Audrey Acteson (Eastern Shores) Moira Bell (Riverside) Steve Bletas (Sir Wilfrid Laurier) Michael Chiasson (Western Quebec) David D'Aoust (New Frontiers) Angela Mancini (English Montreal) Michael Murray (Eastern Townships) Jean Robert, Vice-Chair (Central Québec) and Suanne Stein Day (Lester B. Pearson)


SOURCE QUEBEC ENGLISH SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION

For further information:

Kim Hamilton
Director of Communications and Special Projects
514-919-3894

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QUEBEC ENGLISH SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION

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