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Board meeting 'business as usual' as province adds to education changes, NSTU sets date for strike vote

Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill.
Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill. - The Chronicle Herald

Union president says province is 'solving a problem that doesn't exist'

ANNAPOLIS VALLEY – The chair for the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board says it’s still business as usual following the latest board meeting Feb. 14 in Berwick.

Lavinia Parrish Zwicker confirmed that no further concerns were brought up last night by either board or community members at the meeting held at the school board’s regional office.

She also stated the board has no further comment on the current situation relating to the dissolution of seven school boards in Nova Scotia or the province’s decision to remove principals and vice principals from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

“It’s business as usual. We followed the agenda, received reports, spoke about African Heritage Month. We are fulfilling our mandate,” said Parrish Zwicker.

Numerous changes to education system

This meeting came just days after the province announced more changes to the education system, stemming from the controversial report authored by education consultant Dr. Avis Glaze.

Chairwoman of the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board Lavinia Parrish Zwicker. File.
Chairwoman of the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board Lavinia Parrish Zwicker. File.

On Feb. 13, the province announced its plans to move school principals and vice-principals out of the NSTU and create a provincial college of educators to govern licensing.

Zach Churchill said this change, along with the dissolution of school boards, was made solely with the benefit of the students in mind.

“At the end of the day, these changes are about unifying the system…, empowering our front lines and doing a better job of helping the kids,” he said.

The schoolboard meeting also followed the teachers union’s declaration of a strike vote set for Tuesday, Feb. 20. That announcement was made Feb. 13.

Parrish Zwicker said she and other AVRSB board members are not yet feeling concerned about a potential NSTU strike.

“At this point no, we aren’t concerned, because we’ve just heard about it,” she said.

No loss of local voice: Churchill

Education and Early Childhood Development minister Zach Churchill has spoken on how the new provincial advisory council will seek to better ensure local voices are brought to the table, saying advisory council networks – one provincial council and School Advisory Councils within each local zone – will make this happen.

The provincial advisory council will include representatives – no word yet on whether they will be elected or appointed – from each region, with Churchill specifying it will include several positions for African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaq voices.

New Executive Director positions are also slated – a first for the province – to ensure those voices are “enhanced,” and, “issues such as the achievement gap these communities face” are addressed.

A number for how many positions will be included within the SAC’s has not been confirmed, according to the minister.

“At the end of the day, these changes are about unifying the system…, empowering our front lines and doing a better job of helping the kids,” he said.

The department said they cannot confirm the current number of School Advisory Councils across the province.

President clarifies union’s issues with report

Union president Liette Doucet said there are several reasons the union is rejecting the Glaze report, and that overall, she doesn’t see any of the 11 recommendations the government will begin to implement “addressing any issues teachers talked about last year.”

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet speaks to the media on Wednesday about the union’s upcoming strike vote. ERIC WYNNE • THE CHRONICLE HERALD
Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet. ERIC WYNNE • THE CHRONICLE HERALD

Doucet said she disagrees with several specific points, including recommendation 14, detailing the creation of an independent body to deal with assessments, recommendation 12, giving authority on teachers’ professional development to the newly proposed College of Teachers, and recommendation 8, to remove school principals and vice principals from the union.

She said the union feels independent assessments will once again lead to standardized testing for students.

“Students aren’t standard, and this type of testing is geared up to one group of students. There are many issues – students who come from away, who deal with poverty, who have learning disabilities – that prove standardized testing is problematic,” she said.

And on removing the administration from the union, Doucet said “what they’re doing here is solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Administrators supervise and work together with teachers. In this new model that’s proposed, it changes the school climate and will affect the students,” she said.

Doucet said Tuesday’s strike vote – which is illegal until July 31, 2019 under the terms of the Teachers Provincial Agreement – will merely seek a mandate to strike, and that all teachers are fully aware of the legal situation.

“The vote will go ahead Tuesday, and decisions will be made after that,” she said.

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