June 20th, 2018

The importance of locally-elected school boards

By Letter to the Editor on March 7, 2018.

Nova Scotia’s decision to dismantle its seven English school boards as per the recommendations of the Glaze Report “Raise the Bar” is not only disappointing, but gravely concerning. “Raise the Bar” was developed following a scant three week consultation last fall, and contains a number of concerning comments. For example, the report states that lack of turnover in trustees is indicative of disinterest and an inability to attract qualified candidates, when in fact, those who serve do so because they are passionate about our children’s education. In fact, the work is challenging, marginally compensated and critically important. Additionally, the report cites outdated student achievement data, places a disproportionate emphasis on standardized test scores and ignores a plethora of socioeconomic factors for which good governance can be a solution. In short, the Glaze Report, and the Nova Scotia government’s decision to dismantle school boards both fail to acknowledge the value locally-elected school boards bring to our communities.

As president of the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA), and on behalf of Alberta’s 61 member public, separate and Francophone school boards, I am saddened by the Nova Scotia government’s decision to eliminate locally-elected school boards. School boards have a long history of demonstrating value. By virtue of being locally-elected, school boards’ abilities to reflect community voices and priorities in decision-making has resulted in Alberta being recognized as one of the best education systems in the world. Well-governed school boards, connected and responsive to their communities ensure an education system that is best positioned to deliver value to the communities and families they serve.

For Albertans who do not have children in our school system, I would like to say that K-12 education impacts every person. Every day, each of us interacts with someone whose success as an adult was shaped by their educational experience. That is why school board elections where every citizen has a choice in determining how the K-12 education system is governed are important.

Unlike a centralized system accountable only to the minister, as the Nova Scotia system will be organized, school boards recognize the importance of working collaboratively with their communities, government, and each other as partners in education. Now, I acknowledge that governance decisions can be difficult; however, school boards, in representing the priorities of the communities they serve, often balance diverse and at times conflicting perspectives. What may appear to be dysfunction — as the report states — is more accurately school boards expressing their due diligence to make fully-informed decisions. As locally-elected representatives, they are connected with — and responsive to — their local communities, and are uniquely positioned to ensure the very best outcomes for all students.

As Alberta prepares for the next provincial election, all of the parties will have important policy conversations about K-12 education. ASBA expects the crucial governance role of locally-elected school boards will be invited, respected and honoured in those discussions and decisions. I urge each and every one of us as Albertans to strongly consider how our votes will impact our lives, and the lives of Alberta’s youngest citizens. Because their future affects us all.

Mary Martin

Edmonton

(The writer is president, Alberta School Boards Association.)

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