Minister of Education Cliff Cullen held a phone in session for the media, geared particularly to address concerns of rural schools. The stated purpose was to clear up misconceptions about the Manitoba government’s proposed education changes laid out in Bill 64.
The call was held Thursday, May 6. The Empire-Advance, along with a handful of city media attended this call.
Minister Cullen said a few introductory words outlining four pillars planned to support the new framework for education. (Although his communication could be heard, it was unfortunate that the sound for the minister’s voice was of poor quality.)
He said the strategy is built on four pillars: improving learning and outcomes; the second is about making sure students are engaged and in order to build their competencies for future careers.
“We want to make sure our teachers and school staff have the knowledge, skills and tools to make sure they can teach in the classroom; and the fourth is governance, (and it) is clearly getting all of the attention, but there’s a lot of work going on and lots of discussions to come with educators and parents about how we can make the system better here in Manitoba.”
The Empire-Advance asked the minister how parents, who are not educators, could be expected to be decision makers regarding curriculum evaluation and matters of professional education. Cullen explained there would be a parental engagement officer in each school to help with that.
We also asked if there was a plan to keep small rural schools open, schools where graduation numbers may be eight or nine students. How would he ensure that children weren’t spending hours riding a school bus?
Cullen referred to his own roots in a rural school and the fact that his father had driven a school bus, assuring that he was well aware of the importance of small rural schools and that there was no plan to close small schools.
A recent question came up in Elkhorn School regarding how to get the senior grades back into full-time learning rather than spending alternating days at school and at home. The concern came through the chain of responsibility - school principal to Fort La Bosse Superintendent Pitz to the Board of Trustees. Action was taken to respond to parent’s concerns and find space within the school that enabled students to distance sufficiently to attend classes daily.
We asked the minister how these unique situations would be handled under the new structure where the actual authority would be a person in Winnipeg, while councils at the school and area levels are merely advisory. He suggested that a principal would handle those kinds of decisions.
A Brandon Sun correspondent pointed out that the school of Waskada, as an example, was not able to find enough parent advisory council members. Yet this would be an important part of the new structure.
In answer to this and to the Empire-Advance’s question of whether parent advisory council members would be paid, the minister responded that there would be resources available for the advisory council positions. He once again pointed to the work of a parental engagement officer within the school, which sounds like a paid, professional position, aside from a school administrator/principal.