By Dr. Avis Glaze
I am imagining myself now, sitting next to Nova Scotian primary students, perched at their desks on the first day of school, thrumming with excitement over the possibilities of the years ahead.
I imagine my view from those desks, looking around their classroom in awe. And I wonder: How can we help them thrive during their educational journey? What can we do to support their teachers, the math specialist, the mental health counsellor, and the principal?
I consider the books, the technology, the roof that might need repairs. How do we support those things that keep our schools running?
I began considering those questions last October, when the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development asked me to review the governance and administration of the school system in the province. The review is a complementary next step to other initiatives already underway, from curriculum changes to the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions to the Commission on Inclusive Education.
I travelled across the province, consulting with hundreds of passionate Nova Scotians during 91 meetings. I wanted to know what should be done to improve the existing model of the department, seven regional boards, one provincial board, and 372 public schools.
I heard consistently that administrative and governance roles and responsibilities were unclear, relationships needed repairs; any structure must put student learning and achievement first; and resources needed to be better deployed to support teachers, principals, and students.
Against that backdrop, national and international assessments tell us that Nova Scotia students are not achieving their full potential. Nowhere does Nova Scotia even approach Canadian national averages. And achievement for African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw students is lower still.
As an educator, this is the issue that concerns me most. Our schools must ensure that students achieve to their true potential, regardless of geographic, linguistic or cultural challenges. This also means that in the short term, our primary focus has to be on enhancing the learning, academic achievement and wellbeing of every student in Nova Scotia, with a sense of urgency.
The recommendations in my upcoming report are designed to build a more coherent, better-aligned system. A system that allows frontline educators to be empowered and responsible for what they are supposed to be doing: being instructional leaders and driving student achievement.
Governance and administration may not be subjects that ignite conversation for everyone. But it would be a mistake to confuse a lack of widespread excitement with a lack of importance. How we govern and administer our schools is absolutely fundamental if we are to build a more robust education system in this province.
Ultimately, the report is about those children at their desks – and the grown-ups who must work together with common purpose, ambitious objectives, clear responsibilities and robust resources.
Let us all remember that view from the desks, as we build an education system that surrounds the 118,000 Nova Scotian students with the support they need, equitable outcomes, and excellence in teaching, learning, and leadership.
Dr. Avis Glaze is an internationally recognized education leader, who has advised governments from Canada to Norway, Scotland to New Zealand. Her report, Raise the Bar: a Coherent and Responsive Education Administrative System for Nova Scotia, will be released in the coming days.