NOVA SCOTIA promotes tourism through a Doers and Dreamers Guide. But when it comes to guiding our schools, we seem to have many dreamers, theorizing on everything from long-term vision to long division, and too few doers to fix student problems, in real time, when they arise in the classroom.
Are we too harsh? Consider our story of the Shelburne Regional High Grade 12 math class that had seven teachers in one school year, part of our governance series’ focus on school boards this week. Only one student passed the provincial math exam, and the average mark for the class was 24 per cent.
The students interviewed knew they weren’t getting the subject. They and their parents pleaded with the school to find a solution. But it didn’t happen.
No one at the Tri-County regional school board or the Department of Education was able to flag this as an urgent problem and come up with a quick intervention to ensure these teens had a stable, consistent learning environment so a crucial year of education wasn’t wasted.
The board still doesn’t seem to get it. One official contacted for our story said the board has made Grade 12 math a priority and the school did everything it could. Another said students’ school marks, which averaged 63 per cent (with 70 per cent based on class work), showed they learned the required material. One student said she was baffled by class marks that were much higher than assignment scores.
No marks or excuses can hide the reality that the system failed these students and can’t admit it. That’s bad enough. But this failure also undermines the rationale for school boards — that they are closer to local conditions than the provincial department and are better able to respond quickly to needs at the front. In this case, there were no effective doers at any level.
Losing touch with classrooms is bad for boards, too. All three dismissed in recent years were fired over internal conflicts and administrative failures. All were too wrapped up in their own institutional world. But even the department is just coming around to making teaching quality and time its priority.
If that doesn’t happen, students need a champion to act quickly. It should be school boards. But if they’re too bureaucratic, maybe the answer is more authority for local school councils, as Charles Cirtwill of the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies advocates as a way of giving communities true ownership of schools. Whoever does it, the best educational dreams won’t come true unless there’s a doer minding the store down at Grade 12.