HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's school system is failing its students, according to a provincially ordered report that recommends all English-language boards be scrapped in favour of a single "aligned model."
Education consultant Avis Glaze released a report Tuesday that says the system is not working because of a "lack of clarity and coherence," and as a result, students are in many cases performing below average compared to the rest of the country.
Glaze says the administrative system should be realigned to reflect a unified and province-wide focus on students, with any savings directed back to classrooms.
She said she heard a lot about mistrust within the province's school system during the course of her consultations across the province.
"They (people she consulted) said they had made recommendations in many cases and they have not been listened to. They have said that too many of our actions were political, and people mistrust when they think there is a political rationale rather than an educational rationale."
Glaze, who formerly served as Ontario's education commissioner and as advisor to that province's education minister, was hired by the province last October to look at all areas of administration and operations.
Under one of her 22 recommendations, the seven regional school boards would retain their boundaries and names but operate as regional education offices.
The province's Acadian school board would retain its current structure while following provincial curriculum guidelines.
Glaze said local voices would be maintained through the creation of school advisory councils with input from parents, students, principals and community members.
Asked whether eliminating elected English-language boards could be seen as undemocratic, Glaze said that was for the government to decide.
"People feel the status quo is not working," Glaze said. "We have had an opportunity to improve the achievement of the children of this province and it is not happening. They felt that they need a new structure in order to make that happen."
But those involved with school boards said they were shocked by the recommendation.
Hank Middleton, president of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, said the boards "embrace" change and agree with many of Glaze's recommendations, although they feel she is going too far in saying school boards should be eliminated.
"Those school boards represent individuals in communities," said Middleton. "I don't think that somebody in an office in Halifax is going to have that understanding."
Gin Yee, chairman of the Halifax Regional School Board, also said he didn't see the move coming, although he admitted the province would likely save money if it eliminates seven boards.
"We provide an elected voice ... we advocate on behalf of our constituents," Yee said.
Glaze's report also recommends moving teaching support specialists such as literacy and math mentors from board offices into classrooms four days a week, with the fifth day dedicated to assessing student progress.
She says assessment responsibility should be taken away from the Education Department and given to a new independent student assessment office.
She also recommends the establishment of an education ombudsperson to investigate and resolve concerns or complaints in the education system.
She would enhance the roles of the Council on Mi'kmaq Education and Council on African Canadian Education, giving them more leeway to directly advise the education minister.
"This is a made-in-Nova Scotia model which I think should be looked at and further fine-tuned to make sure that it works," Glaze said of her overall recommendations.
Amy MacKinnon, a parent from Barrington, N.S., who sits as a member of a school advisory committee, said she particularly likes the idea that learning specialists be freed up to be in schools more often.
"For a child that has a learning disability, to hear that specialists will potentially be coming into the school more often is a really positive step forward," she said.
Glaze also calls for a provincial college of educators to license, govern, discipline and regulate the teaching profession. She says the independent body would help improve public confidence in the education system.
Another recommendation would see principals and vice-principals removed from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and into a new professional association.
The recommendations were quickly dismissed by the union, which called them a "recipe for chaos in our public education system."
"What this report lays out is essentially the same failed experiment the current government tried with health care," union president Liette Doucet said in a news release.
"This does nothing to help students or teachers, all it does is create a larger centralized bureaucracy while bringing division to our schools."
Doucet also said removing principals and vice principals from the union would not benefit students.
"Our current collegial model places emphasis on conflict resolution and healthy staff relations, this creates a positive work environment that benefits teachers and their students," she said.
Education Minister Zach Churchill is to give the government's response to Glaze's recommendations during a news conference on Wednesday.
"Our government is focused on building a stronger education system by putting more resources in classes. Student success is our singular focus," he said in a statement Tuesday.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press