March 2013: School review recommendation comments

The following comments were delivered during debate of the staff’s recommendations of schools for review during the 2013/14 school year.
The truth about school reviews is that they represent both threat and opportunity. It is hard to see the opportunity in the threat. But it’s there. Opportunity for school communities to look at themselves, to really examine what it is that they have, what they want to preserve and how they want to preserve it, and entertain the notion of what change might look like. To really and fully explore it before arriving at a conclusion.

Board staff, in identifying schools for review, are doing what they’re meant to do: naming the things that they see as being in the best interests of children. It is their call and one with which we may or may not agree and it is not arrived at lightly. It is community’s role to respond to that call with all it sees as being in the best interests of children. The two roles are surprisingly similar but they typically produce opposing views.

I have great difficulty with this process, a process that is by its very nature adversarial. I am, for all intents and purposes, a product of school reviews. I am standing here now because of how I feel about school reviews. I am not a fan. I have railed against the tight confines of this process for most of my children’s time in school. In the end, the community with which I’ve worked has been heard. That is not to say that the process is, therefore, a good one. It is not.

I have a toolkit at home. It contains a small and inadequate assortment of tools, a number of which I use in ways not intended. As a result of its shortcomings I routinely find myself using my putty knife as both screwdriver and paint scraper. It is not ideal but it’s what I’ve got. Section 89 of the Education Act, the School Review process, is a putty knife that we’re using as a screwdriver, to explore opportunity, because it’s what we’ve got. I wish there was, right now, at our disposal, a better way for all of us – staff, community, and board – to contemplate how to best use our resources in the service of children but that is not what the Education Act gives us. But inelegant though it is, structured and presented though it is to seem to drive at only one outcome, permanent closure, it is what we have and what we must work with. It is, at the moment, the only way to contemplate opportunity and change that may be in everyone’s best interest or may, at the end of the day, be found to be unacceptable. Flawed though the mechanism, it does allow for all voices to be heard.

Believe it or not we are where we now find ourselves for honourable reasons. With respect to Joseph Howe and St. Josephs A. MacKay the previous board acted in what it felt were the best interests of the north end community in putting it on the capital projects list; a list that features the areas in greatest apparent need and satisfies the DoE’s desire to concentrate its spending commitments only in areas where communities are in agreement. The shortcoming in this arrangement, and it’s a significant one, is that it allows only for absolutes. Yes or no. Without alternative.

There is no guaranteed outcome in this process. From that you can both take comfort and feel unease. Comfort because it is not a foregone conclusion that staff’s recommendation will prevail and unease because there is no assurance that community will triumph. That is where we, the governing board, come in. This governing board, elected and appointed by due process, is capable of working its way through difficult issues and producing balanced and principled decisions. There is not a person among us who does not bring everything to bear on the contemplations before us. We are the products of the communities that elected and appointed us as well as associates of those who now advise us, answerable to the DoE. We are a synthesis of all, a blend of reason and feeling, a mixture of head and heart. And we are the group that, if required by tonight’s decision, will be receiving your responses to the impact assessment report.

Board staff has done its job. If required by tonight’s decision, community will do its job. And lastly the governing board will do its job. If review is the result of tonight’s vote please view it as opportunity, burdened though it is by the language of threat, and tell us everything you can, making sure to hear and reflect all of the voices in your community.


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