McIsaac, school board make PD day decision without first consulting major stakeholders
© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Education Minister Alan McIsaac
Education Minister Alan McIsaac was busy writing a letter when he should have been on the telephone. The minister, teachers’ federation and school board are all seeking ways to make up classroom time for the 12 lost days this winter because of snowstorms. P.E.I. students lost an almost unprecedented five consecutive days starting last Wednesday and they would have been in class just twice this week until the minister and school board stepped in to cancel today’s scheduled professional development and parent-teacher day.
With the March break week holiday ending just as the storms were starting, it meant that students didn’t spend a lot of time in the classroom last month. Losing 12 days in one school year because of storms isn’t an historical event. It’s happened before and the school system got through it. But that was before the benchmark PISA test scores were released last fall, showing P.E.I. in last place in Canada for math, science and reading skills, and showing poorly against other countries rated by the international tests.
That put the focus squarely on more classroom time for students and additional PD days for teachers. Then, to make things worse, P.E.I. was lambasted with the most severe winter in 42 years. Worried parents and nervous students want results, putting a lot of pressure on teachers who have welcomed additional PD days to improve their skills and absorb curriculum changes.
Teachers might have quickly agreed to surrender today’s PD day but the way it was handled was unprofessional. The federation and its membership heard about it through social media or the press. Mr. McIsaac says he wrote a letter to Gilles Arsenault, president of the PEITF, on Wednesday to see if teachers would give up their scheduled PD day in May in favour of class time. Perhaps he should have delayed that letter and instead get a conference call going with Mr. Arsenault and school board officials the first thing Wednesday morning about today’s PD day. Once that was out of the way, then write that letter.
No one can blame Mr. Arsenault for being upset. The minister said in the house on Wednesday afternoon that a decision on the PD day in May is the teachers’ decision and he was hoping for a positive response. Well, why wasn’t today’s PD day a teachers’ decision instead of government and the board ramming it down their throats.
It seems the minister was under pressure to take some immediate affirmative action after that extended string of cancellations.
It did seem like the right thing to do, all right. But it could have been better handled. Unilateral decisions this week do not make for co-operative talks with all parties on options to make up lost classroom time. Options require the co-operation of everyone and it all starts with communication.
People need to be creative because time is running out on this school year. It was suggested that adding half an hour of classroom time to each day for the rest of the year might be an option. Moving
all parent-teacher sessions to the evening would help.
The bottom line is, get the job done. Everyone is well paid and well educated so solutions shouldn’t be too hard to come up with. Mr. Arsenault gives assurances that teachers can adjust and adapt to ensure students get the proper instruction. Before parents get too worked up, it should be noted that sports trips continue unabated with seemingly little concern or worry.
It was hammered home by government for months just how valuable PD days are and their lasting impact on students. Or has the minister already forgotten that?