Westman educators, parents push province for local control at K-12 review

Fort La Bosse and Park West school divisions were well represented at an educational roundtable, the K-12 Education Review, held at a Brandon hotel last week, May 9.

The message that night couldn’t be clearer: local people want their tax dollars spent locally. It was heard from a number of attendees.

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Commissioner Jean-Vianney Auclair, coordinator of the review process, said organizers expected 200 people, but a crowd of over 250 attended.

Initially people broke into small groups to discuss some 25 topics. Later, individuals had their say at a large sharing circle.

Kent Reid, secretary-treasurer for Fort La Bosse School Division (FLBSD) explained in a small group setting including elected municipal officials, division executives and teachers from elsewhere, how FLBSD met local needs and got results.

“We have Reston and Elkhorn school… supported locally. There’s no government money. We do that so that those kids don’t have to leave their communities to graduate.”

Small schools in FLBSD offer video education to expand the opportunities within K-12 institutions like Elkhorn School. He says it has proven very effective.

An educator from a Hutterite school explained that while a colony’s community school, such as his with 18 students, might be the smallest in Manitoba, the building is owned by the colony and the school is run with economic efficiency.

“There are no custodial costs, no busing costs, so if there is any pressure toward closing smaller schools, I would like the commission to recognize… they are not a financial burden.

“Also, I fully agree with keeping the governance local. As the schools take on more of the social level (for example, breakfast programs) they need to be plugged into the community, to understand what is going on. Making a decision in Winnipeg is not realistic.”

Parent Cindy Branum from Oak Lake spoke of the community care and accountability provided by local governance. “This is the number one issue here. If we lose the local governance… children are going to fall through the cracks.”

Reeve of the RM of Wallace–Woodworth Clayton Canart, a young father, said in small group discussion, “If you give your school away, you will also lose your shops and businesses. They think they’re saving money by taking a school away, but not realizing that destroys community.”

An educator from Winkler spoke of rapid growth in his community and the flexibility of local governance to respond. “They decide, yes we can afford it… or no, not this year. In a way, our communities decide how much our taxes go up and down.”

There were six key issues listed in the K-12 Review discussion paper:

•           A long-term vision to prepare students for a rapidly changing world

•           How to achieve excellence in student outcomes

•           Equipping teachers and school leaders with the tools they need to be successful

•           Introducing stronger accountability structures to ensure students are succeeding

•           What governance structures are needed to achieve better outcomes for Manitoba students?

•           How to fund the system to ensure it is sustainable and that money is going where most needed? 

Topics discussed Thursday evening included: teaching excellence, equal opportunity for rural schools, arts/music education, Indigenous supports, student assessment, inclusion/special needs, home schooling, sex education and poverty.

Trustee for the Park West School Division Lisa Makwebak of Waywayseecappo First Nation said curriculum throughout the province needs to reflect the true history and culture of First Nations and should be taught from K-12 province-wide.

Makwebak, who is also raising her four grandchildren while working full-time, said that some of the answers reside within the grandmothers and grandfathers, loving families and the values they teach their children.

“We have four parts, our mental, physical, our emotional and our spiritual.” Attempting to fulfill all those needs is “a big weight on teachers’ shoulders, and on curriculum.

“Those are the things that are important when we talk about mental health, we talk about poverty, we talk about all those academics and the social skills.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, several people thanked the commissioners for the round-table think-tank, hoping the views expressed would be listened to. One participant said, “What I’m looking for from the commission now is… making sure recommendations to our government are really representative of what you have heard, not just here tonight, but across the next couple of weeks.”

Garry Draper, FLBSD board chair, spoke about outcomes. “If the government wants to increase our test scores compared to other provinces, I would ask, does every province get the same tests. How do we know that everybody gets the same information? We don’t.”

He urged the commissioners, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater when you’re looking at changes. We have an opportunity to tweak the system… we can be leaders here in Manitoba.”

Commissioner Auclair noted that those who discussed governance at the Brandon meeting “tended to be more protective of the current structures.”

He said there are several other ways the commission will receive feedback. “We have a survey for teachers, we have a survey for the public at large, Manitobans are invited to provide written submissions to the commission and to submit briefs. It will be interesting to see how data through other mechanisms will align with what we are hearing in the public meetings…”

Briefs must follow the template available online at: https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/educationreview/consultation.html.

Written submissions can be emailed, faxed or mailed to the commission - guidelines online at: https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/educationreview/submissions.html



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