July 2013: School Review Process Overhaul

Letter sent to School Review Process Committee, July 31, 2013:

Mr. Fowler and Committee,

My name is Cindy Littlefair. I’m with the Halifax Regional School Board. In offering the following comments I draw on my experience of school review as both parent and elected official. The two perspectives lead me to the same conclusion: the school review process can be retooled in a manner that is favourable to all.

My primary experience has been with a small, centrally-located school in Halifax. This June marked the graduation of my youngest child from that school and the last of 20 consecutive years of my family’s involvement. It has the unusual distinction, according to HRSB records, of being the most reviewed school in Halifax post-amalgamation and the subject of at least one review prior to that. Mine was an out-of-area family, one of the many that made up the school. That and its small size were the reasons it was viewed as surplus to the system. Otherwise it performed at or around capacity, successfully satisfying that requirement, and wanting only for specialty spaces. This is a school that despite living under the perpetual shadow of review continues to attract a loyal following, satisfying the needs of a group prepared to live with the uncertainty of the school’s future and see to their own transportation arrangements in order to attend. This is an example of the dedication and investment that is to be found in some measure in every school identified for review under the current system and the very energy that the school review process needs to understand and tap and put to more productive use.

The process needs to involve community in the challenges and the search for solutions from the outset. Boards need to attend to the issues confronting them with their inventory of schools and communities need to be a party to that understanding and conversation. Instead of making observers and reactionaries of community the process needs to include them at the table as true and equal stakeholders. Identifying schools for review and then waiting for the inevitable fireworks – conflict, division, anger, animosity, and hurt – fails to capitalize on an opportunity that is inherently rich with possibility given the magnitude of the energy at hand, all of which could be captured and used for more positive and practical ends. It wants only for the will of the Province and a new review process to make it happen. The methodologies for designing and managing processes of this variety are already at hand.

The other equally important element is the cooperation of municipalities, the Province, and local school boards in long term planning of capital projects. We are interdependent. We are unable to act separately without sacrificing effectiveness and efficiency. Money and time are wasted. Between the scarcity of resources and the need to make the most of what we have at every level and in every department of government there is much we can and need to accomplish in working together. We need alignment of relevant intra and intergovernmental affairs, of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Treasury Board, and Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, as well as the municipalities and school boards. We all need to be on and working from the same page in order to make the best decisions.

Yours is an important job and a potentially transformative one. Many people stand to benefit from your efforts. I wish you the best as you continue and look forward to seeing the results. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Cindy Littlefair

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