By JENNIFER DUNVILLE
As published on page A8 on October 27, 2006
Fredericton – A former superintendant for Edmonton Public Schools hopes to inspire school districts across the province. Angus McBeath, an Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) senior fellow, held meetings Thursday to discuss public-education reform, site-based decision making and improving student achievement.
Officials from districts 17 and 18 attended the meeting and said theywere impressed with what McBeath said.
“This was an opportunity for us to learn about a well-functioning school district like the Edmonton Public School system,” said Jeannine St. Amand, chairwoman of the District 18 Education Council.
“We still have some things to work on in our district. I wish there were more meetings like this.”
McBeath told education stakeholders that students in Edmonton can choose what school they attend based on which one interests them the most.
Many of the schools are specialized or have unique programs to attract students.
He mentioned schools for hockey and performing arts as well as schools with Jewish and Christian programs.
“It’s been a very positive experience for our schools,” he said during a meeting at the Delta Fredericton.
“There’s a standard curriculum they must all have, but they also have these opportunities so every student can find something that appeals to them.”
McBeath said it’s helped challenge the students, improve their grades and lower the number of dropouts.
“It’s a wonderful idea that I’m sure boosts student confidence as well as their overall performance in school,” said Gaye Kirkpatrick, chairwoman of the District 17 Education Council.
“It’s something I wish we could do, but we don’t have the numbers Edmonton does.”
Kirkpatrick said many of the things McBeath talked about have been added to her wish list.
“Every district struggles with how to get parents more involved, and he suggested some good ideas in that area I think will help,” she said.
“We certainly don’t want kids dropping out, so we’re always looking at innovative ways to keep them in school.”
In Edmonton, financial power was shifted from the districts to the principals and teachers.
McBeath said it’s a way to let those in the classrooms make grassroots decisions about things like professional development and staffing.
“Empowering the actual schools is a good way to go,” St. Amand said.
“We have many dedicated teachers who understand what needs to happen in schools and we need to give them the tools to move forward.”
One of the things McBeath stressed was the importance of provincial examinations.
He said it’s a way for schools to measure their successes and see where changes are needed.
“The data is collected and given to teachers who are trained on how to use it to improve teaching,” he said.
“They are absolutely critical to know if you’re getting better or getting worse.” Kirkpatrick agrees.
She said she found the examinations useful and she was sorry to see them go.
“It’s great (McBeath) is meeting with the education minister too, because some of these ideas are valuable ones,” she said.
“It’ll be interesting to see what everyone does with the stories (McBeath) has shared.”
McBeath said he doesn’t come to Atlantic Canada to tell people what to do, only to share his experiences.
“I’ve never seen an education system that couldn’t be improved,” he said.
“I’m just hoping to generate more conversation about education. I can talk about what I’ve done and New Brunswickers can decide what to do with the information.”
McBeath said he also planned to meet with Education Minister Kelly Lamrock on Thursday.