By Peter Rukavina (guest opinion)
If I have learned anything in my eight years of involvement with Home and School, it’s that public education is a complicated system with many moving parts: issues that appear simple “let’s extend the school day by 30 minutes,” for example are, in truth, a complex thicket of issues ranging from bus routes to union agreements to after-school childcare to the provincial budget.
What gives me great hope is that when all of the partners in public education parents, guardians, teachers, administrators, unions, boards, department work together, great things are possible.
We have only to look at the introduction of kindergarten to the public school system for an example of where a Herculean task was accomplished in a short time. And it worked. New classrooms were constructed. Policies established. Teachers trained. Buses adapted. It worked only because everyone involved was around the same table, helping to make it work, in a co-operative, collaborative spirit.
That spirit is at the core of what Home and School is about: a recognition that effective public education demands an ongoing dialog, focused on the total well-being of every child.
The last week has seen much discussion and debate, both in the political realm and elsewhere, of the education budget, of the number of teachers in the schools, and on the proper roles of the Department of Education and the school boards.
The role of Home and School in this discussion is not to cry foul or fair about the specifics of these issues, but rather to work to ensure that all discussion is focused on ensuring the best possible education for every student, and to ensure that all of the parties involved in making that happen are working together toward that goal.
There is ample evidence to suggest that in the last week we have lost sight of the co-operative, collaborative spirit that has, in the past, allowed us to achieve great things together: our boards of education, the Department of Education, our public officials, and our unions are speaking through the media, appearing as combatants rather than as allies focused on the common good.
As the leader of the P.E.I. Home and School Federation, representing, through local home and school associations, more than 30,000 parents, guardians, teachers, administrators and staff in the Island’s English-language schools, I call upon all parties to sit down around the same table, minds open and focused on students and learning.
In 1968, Minister of Education Gordon Bennett convened a broadly-based Consultative Committee of all those involved in education, characterizing the role of his department thus: “The policy of the Department will be to provide leadership by defining the objectives of education and to work out plans - to study, to define, to foresee needs and to make decisions at the provincial level. At the same time, change that is imposed seldom is effective. We tend to change merely the packaging and not ourselves. As initiators of change, the Department and its co-partners, must study together the needs of each region and find practical solutions.”
It is to that spirit that we must return; our children deserve nothing less.
- Peter Rukavina is president of the P.E.I. Home and School Federation and the parent of a 14-year-old son attending Birchwood Intermediate School.