By now you’ve no doubt heard about the changes to the way education is governed and organized in Prince Edward Island announced this morning by Premier MacLauchlan.
The new model, dubbed the “Learning Partnership,” has some significant implications for home and school associations.
First, the membership of the new Family of Schools District Advisory Councils will consist of one representative from each home and school association in the family, along with two students from each high school, and the family’s Regional Director of the PEI Home and School Federation. There will be eight of these District Advisory Councils (there will be a reduction in the number of families of schools, with Kensington/Kinkora and Morell/Souris amalgamating). The work of the councils will be aided by the establishment of a new “engagement officer” in the Department of Education who will act as the liaison between the councils and the department.
While the specifics of how District Advisory Councils will work have yet to be developed, the announcement describes their role being to “help shape an education system that is focused on and meets the needs of learners, by advising the Minister of Education, Early Learning and Culture on education matters.”
While home and school associations have been doing this for more than 60 years, having this role enshrined in legislation is, I believe, a reflection of the respect with which contributions from the home and school are held, and I recommend that, in that spirit, we greet this opportunity warmly.
At the same time, there is a responsibility on the behalf of government to accept and act on the advice of these councils. Not necessarily all of it, of course. But frequently and with enough enthusiasm to telegraph to the councils, and to our members at large, that there is an opportunity to make a substantial contribution, rather than simply a paper one.
In addition to the Family of Schools District Advisory Councils, two other consultative bodies were announced today.
The Learning Partners Advisory Council, which will include a broad representative from all walks of life, including PEI Home and School Federation, will, it was announced, “help shape a culture of learning on PEI to advance the prosperity and quality of life of all Islanders.” We anticipate that this council will focus on the broader, longer view of education.
The Principals Council, comprised of all school principals on the Island, will “enable focused conversations on learning perspectives and learner needs among principals.” I have seen firsthand, through meetings with the ad hoc Intermediate School Principals group in recent years, the benefit of principals collaborating, and I have hopes that new council will only improve that. We know that the cooperation and collaboration with the school principal is a key factor to a successful home and school association, and we hope that this can be one of the items the Principals Council focuses on.
The final announcement this morning was that the English Language School Board will, in effect, be absorbed by the Department of Education. Again, the specifics are to be determined, but as we understand the announcement:
- The Board of Trustees was dissolved last night, and replaced with a single trustee, former Eastern School District superintendent Ricky Hood, who will act in an interim manner as the board is wound down.
- A new “Public Schools Branch” will be created, under the Department of Education, that will assume the operational responsibilities of the board: employing teachers and staff, school maintenance and school bussing.
- The educational roles of the school board, including school effectiveness and curriculum delivery, will be assumed by the department.
We know from experience that many of the significant challenges faced by our members when confronting the education system is figuring out “who does what.” It is my hope that, in this centralization of roles, this is no longer the case. We will need to work hard as a home and school movement to ensure that the result of this change is clearer lines of responsibility, improved communication, and more resources where they are needed most.
Elected school boards, and local democratic participation in school operations, have been part of the administration of education on Prince Edward Island for more than 160 years. Over the last 50 years the form and number of boards has decreased from 412 in 1967 to the single English board of today.
Islanders have been well-served by those boards and the trustees and staff that contributed their time and efforts to them; while it may be time for a new model, an “alignment” as the announcement today terms the changes, we must remain vigilant that the historic connections between citizens, communities and schools are maintained and strengthened.
In the meantime, we owe the outgoing board of trustees – Fred Osborne, Jeffrey Chapman, Jason Doiron, Gary Doucette, Cindy McCardle, David Mitchell, Kent Nicholson, Sheri Ostridge, Colleen Parker, June Jenkins Sanderson, Lori St. Onge and Janice Whalen – a debt of gratitude for their service. Trustees have been valued partners with home and school in the education system, and have contributed thousands of hours of service to the governance and policy development of the English Language School Board. They will be missed.
These changes to the education system were developed and announced without consulting with PEI Home and School Federation nor with our member associations; Shirley Jay, our Executive Director, and I were briefed at 10:30 a.m. this morning just before the formal announcement.
There is some irony a model that seeks to enliven engagement and collaboration having been developed in an non-collaborative manner; I don’t believe, however, that this is reason to reject the changes out of hand, and I am encouraged by the degree to which the Premier and the Minister indicated that the contributions of Home and School to the Task Force on Student Achievement and the Education Governance Commission were consulted as this new model was developed.
There remain many unanswered questions about how this new model will be implemented; you are welcome to forward questions to Shirley Jay at the Home and School office (firstname.lastname@example.org) and she will work to find answers and forward them to you, and to use the answers to develop a “frequently asked questions” list for our PEIHSF website.
We’ve received the assurances of the Premier and of the Minister of Education and his Deputy that these changes will not disrupt the regular conduct of public schools in the days and weeks to come: they have committed, in other words, to keeping the trains running while changing out the engines.
The same thing applies for PEI Home and School Federation: while the District Advisory Councils will be a new venue for affecting education policy, we expect the work of the Federation and our member associations will continue uninterrupted. We will still develop policy resolutions, we will continue to meet for our annual and semi-annual meetings, we will continue to be the important “glue” that ties home and school.
Our next step regarding the District Advisory Councils is to request a forum for our members to meeting with the Minister of Education and his officials in the near future so that we can discuss more about the specifics; we have every confidence that the implementation phase for these councils will be done in an open, transparent, collaborative manner.
I look forward to working with all of you on working out the details of this new responsibility for home and schools; I believe that, working together as teams of parents, guardians, teachers, administrators and staff, we have much to contribute to the development of public education in the province, and I’m proud that this role has been formally recognized today.
President, PEI Home and School Federation
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