What do you see as the role of the school board in the education system?
Elliott Payzant was the first to respond to the question and said school boards have several responsibilities, including providing leadership, oversight, a fiduciary responsibility, communications, advocacy, policy development, resource acquisition, strategic direction, risk management, ethics and public accountability
“Under accountability is holding the system accountable for the performance of students,” he said.
Payzant said if school boards work on those responsibilities students would be better off.
Coutney Wentzell said the role of a school board is similar to other boards and committees, which is to function in its mandate.
“The ultimate mandate I think is for the betterment of all the students. You have to work with the board, you have to work with the staff, you have to work with the parents,” he said.
He added that’s how he hopes it will operate.
Karen Ohrt said the school board should not only be the administrator but also a connection between staff and parents.
“We need to get parents interested,” she said.
Getting parents and community members involved is an important step in helping students, added Ohrt.
A Queens County school board member doesn’t only represent the county but South Shore Regional School Board as a whole, said Allan Foster.
As the only representative on the board from Queens County (because of the redistribution of seats and population shrinkage) how will you represent the entire county and how will you ensure your voice is heard on the board?
“I think it would be the board member’s responsibility to talk with parent groups and teachers to understand all the issues before you speak,” said Wentzell.
Having one person from Queens County is going to be difficult, he said.
Wentzell said the board’s mandate should be met from the people – the citizens - first.
Ohrt said she has access to email, a vehicle, and she has the time.
“So I would hope to keep in contact with anyone who needed contact of a board member,” she said.
Ohrt said she went to introductory meetings and understands the job will take a lot of preparation, but she said she is ready to do it.
“It’s important to keep in touch with all SAC members, members of council and schools in the district,” said Foster.
“You’ve got to work as a board member, not as an independent.”
Payzant said he met with the Utility Review Board and tried to make a case for at least two representatives.
“I think that I’m pretty familiar with all the schools in Queens County, having been a board member from Queens County for as many years as I was,” he said.
Keeping in contact with people in the community is important, added Payzant.
He said he has the time, interest and hasn’t really been out of education since he started school.
What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the education system?
Ohrt said a strength is the availability of technology so students can learn to function in today’s world.
She named finances as one of the weaknesses. Another weakness, said Ohrt, is not being heard in the “political arena.”
Foster reiterated Ohrt’s point about technology for students. He said another strength is teachers’ training, so students are getting the newest teaching methods.
“Too much (political) interference,” said Foster, referring to a weakness.
“I think one of the real strengths of our education system in Nova Scotia is the dedication of the teachers that we have working for us across the province,” said Payzant.
He talked about finances as a problem, but he said it’s important to see how far education has come.
Payzant said those students not being served well are the ones who have special needs and those who are “at the top,” and need additional school work to keep them engaged.
Wentzell also named finances as a weakness.
“We have so many learning institutions that we can feed from,” said Wentzell about a strength.
Considering the shrinking financial resources and the challenges that creates for school boards, how can the system ensure that students in rural communities are provided an education compatible with those in larger urban areas?
“They dole the money out in a funny way,” said Foster.
“If you’ve got little classes, you’re not going to get a whole lot of money.”
He said people in the community have to “step up to the plate,” to help teach the programs.
Payzant said financial restraints aren’t unique to schools in Nova Scotia and talked about virtual learning – learning by Internet.
“I do think we have to insist that students graduating from every one of our high schools in Nova Scotia are on equitable footing,” he said.
He said he wants students to be equally prepared to face what comes their way after high school.
Payzant said board members must find innovate ideas so things are fair.
“Education shouldn’t suffer because of any difference in your population size,” said Wentzell.
He said it’s important to ensure all students are being treated equally in terms of the availability of education.
“I think that in light of finances you have look to other areas,” said Ohrt.
As a way to decrease schools’ financial burdens, Ohrt suggested utilization – renting spaces to community groups.
Ohrt also talked about transportation problems. She said relooking at bus routes might also help to alleviate some financial problems.