By Ed McHugh

“We’re #2 ! We’re #2!”

That’s usually not a cheer that sparks much pride among any student body, but a recent survey sure did! The sixth annual report card on high schools conducted by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) ranked most of the high schools throughout Atlantic Canada – including 65 in Nova Scotia. Topping our province’s list was Cape Breton Highlands Academy in Terre Noire and coming in a solid second was C P Allen High School of Bedford.

Last Friday’s Chronicle Herald featured the smiling faces of CPA students Jacob Greenslade, Bryan MacQuarrie, Kelsey O’Neill and Kaitlyn MacIsaac celebrating their school’s finish.

It was Kelsey I spotted first as she and her parents (Blair and Susan O’Neill) are about to move to Edmonton at the end of this school year. That will be a huge loss to our medical and residential communities.

When something like this is done, it is bound to create some negative and positive feedback. The good news is that it creates focus and dialogue. And there has been plenty of dialogue about this report card.

My professional background contains significant marketing and communications experience – including some marketing research. Any time you hear the results of any survey, you must always increase your intellectual curiosity. Was the research qualitative or quantitative? The instrument that was used can be a major factor in influencing the data. Where and when was it employed? Other factors include the sample size and selection and who is actually interpreting the data.

Interestingly AIMS has a very solid international reputation in the world of research and policy analysis. The organization has been around since 1994 and is a non-partisan, independent social and economic think tank.

I will admit I have a very soft spot for teachers and schools. When something goes wrong in society, the media (primarily television) is first blamed for all of our woes. The second culprit is usually the schooling system. Many times the quick criticism of both of these institutions is not fair or accurate.

On the surface, I applaud the initiative. There is a need to monitor how schools are managing the ever-changing task of educating our children for their lives ahead. Increasingly, we have “helicopter parents ” – those of us who hover over our children in all their endeavours, especially education. I know of parents who make regular calls to their kids at college some mornings to ensure they are out of bed for class! That’s a little extreme I’d say.

I once asked the principal of a local elementary school if hovering parents were bothersome. His response was quick and to the point, “I would take that any day over parents who abdicate much of their responsibility to raise their children and rely on the schools to handle it.” Good answer.

I have always had a good impression of CPA. I have visited the school regularly since it opened in the early 80’s and it has graduated a number of strong alumni through the years. My sense is that there are competent people in many positions. I have had the pleasure of personally and professionally dealing with many of the staff in a variety of roles through the years.

It is like a chicken and egg scenario. For any great school, are strong staff attracted to the place because it has a solid reputation or is a school fortunate enough to attract great people throughout the years who turn it into a thriving and successful community?

CPA is academically strong with a very solid extra curricular program. In an age when it is too easy to criticize every institution, there are times to stand up and applaud when something good happens.

Sure, through the years there are stories about events that should not have happened. But every school is like a micro-community of society and there will be behavioural elements that will occur and have to be dealt with. But, on balance, things have been very well handled.

Current Principal Jeff Lewis took over from Gary Walker a few years ago. Both of these leaders brought differing styles into that position but both have managed to keep the place on the right path.

What’s the future? I read somewhere that the long term plan is for CPA to be turned into a junior high but that appears to be a long way off. The building itself needs a bit of a sprucing up, but there are schools in our neighbourhoods that are in greater need of some maintenance and repair.

Finally, the AIMS report card is in the next edition of Progress magazine if you would like to learn more. More data still needs to be released to AIMS by some of our school boards to ensure more accurate research in the future. The other Atlantic Provinces are providing better data than we are.

“We have said from day one that the more the public knows, the better the schools will get,” explained AIMS Executive Vice President Charles Cirtwill. “An in-depth study in 2007 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found a direct link between a country’s achievement on the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) and the publication of performance results at the school level. The performance improvement was significant even when socio-economic and demographic variables were considered.”

“Two years ago Nova Scotia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Review Officer ruled that the release of student achievement data was in the public interest,” Cirtwill says. “Yet some school boards still do not publicly report school by school data. What is it that they do not want the public to know?” Buy Progress or explore the performance of all 312 Atlantic Provinces schools across all of the categories on the AIMS website ( If you are going to hover, you may as well have a little fuel to keep you airborne.