Efforts to save Arcadia Consolidated School during a school review process by the Tri-County Regional School Board earlier this year didn't work, as the board voted to close the elementary school. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
A school review committee continues to compile a discussion paper that will go out for public consultation, with the committee saying it is still aiming to meet an end-of-September target – or close to it – to have the document completed.
Once finished, the intention of this process, when it was first initiated, has been to send the discussion paper out for public consultation in the fall as part of the process of drafting a new school review process for the province.
As for what impact the provincial election – called on Sept. 7 to take place on Oct. 8 – might have on the process, the chair of the committee wouldn’t hazard a guess when asked last week, prior to the election call.
“I can’t speak to that and I wouldn’t dare,” said committee chair Robert Fowler.
Back in April, Education Minister Ramona Jennex announced that her department would be reviewing the existing school review process – a process she called flawed. Jennex said what was needed was a holistic, positive process that better meets the needs of Nova Scotians.
The public was invited in the spring and early summer to provide input to the school review committee as it prepares a discussion paper.
“I think we had approximately 50 submissions,” says Fowler. “They were everything from one liners to rather lengthy submissions.”
Fowler says the committee also held meetings with some groups, like the Nova Scotia Small Schools Initiative, and also met with school board representatives.
Asked if there were common threads in the submissions, or if they were all over the map, Fowler says they fell in both categories.
The school review process that exists now sets out specific timeframes that have to be met for the filing of reports by school boards and school study committees. Then there are public meetings held in advance of the boards making a final decision by a mandated date. While the reports of school boards spell out facts and figures in black and white, the public sessions and school study committee reports tend to bring emotion into the process as they, in the majority of cases, state their arguments for keeping a school open.
Fowler says in some of the submissions they received there was a suggestion that emotion should be taken out of the process. But he doesn’t see how that’s possible.
“If you’re affected personally, you can’t take the emotion out of it,” he says.
Asked if during the input the committee received anyone has said they’re satisfied with the review process as it has existed, Fowler says no one made that blanket statement.
“Most people found things they liked with it and things they didn’t like,” he says. “We certainly believe that at minimum, we can do some continuous improvement, in other words, there’s things that can be done.”
The consultation on the discussion paper that lies ahead is expected to include public meetings and a chance for people to provide feedback online and through other means.
“What we’re tying to do with the draft (of the discussion document) is to write it so it appeals to a broad base of people. People that live and breathe this stuff to people who are neophytes with it, to people who have a basic education to people who have PhDs,” says Fowler. “What we’re trying to do is make it a friendly document so when it’s taken out to public consultation it’ll generate the type of broad-based discussion that, if we haven’t come up with new ideas, will generate new ideas.”
Jennex had stated ealier this year that the intention is to have a new school review process in place by the spring.