HALIFAX, FRIDAY, APRIL 8, 2011
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Ms. Becky Kent
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will now come to order.
The honourable member for Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville on an introduction.
MR. MAT WHYNOTT: Merci, Madame la Président, je voudrais souhaiter la bienvenue a la classe de l'immersion française de l'école Sackville Heights Junior High aussi parents, les élèves et les enseignants..
Madam Chairman, I welcome the class of Sackville Heights Junior High who come from Sackville, students who reside in Lower, Middle and Upper Sackville. I'd also like to bring special attention to a student in the class who is the daughter of the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage, Taylor Wilson. Would you stand Taylor and receive the warm welcome of the House. (Applause) Of course, to the rest of the class, thank you for coming and watching the proceedings. Would the House would give a warm welcome to the rest of the class. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Madam Chairman, could you please call the Estimates of the Department of Education.
Resolution E5 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,135,237,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Education, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Education.
HON. RAMONA JENNEX: Madam Chairman, before I begin I would also like to welcome the class from Sackville. It's absolutely delightful to look up and see so many bright, young faces here today. When we're here in the House it's always good to have people from the public attend so it reminds us what we're here for and we're here for you and your future. It's delightful I'm able to begin my speech today with students from a school actually here as I'm speaking on education today.
I welcome the opportunity to be here today and to talk about the work my department is undertaking this year to maintain the high quality of learning in this province. I would like to thank my staff at the Department of Education, our eight school boards, teachers and school administrators, school advisory councils, parents, school volunteers and all other partners who, together, share the responsibility for educating our children and making public education work in this province.
Nova Scotia is an excellent place for young people to get their education because of the dedication, the expertise and the passion of the people we have working in our public schools. Everyone in this Chamber is well aware that the coming year will be a very challenging one for all Nova Scotians including those served by or working in education. We are in a time of serious financial restraint. Every sector, education included, has been asked to share in the responsibility of bringing Nova Scotia back to financial sustainability. That means making wise choices and spending what we have more effectively.
Our goal and the underlying challenge is clear - ensuring we continue to provide a quality education to all students while living within our means.
Madam Chairman, I believe we have a budget that successfully rises to the challenge and preserves what we value most in education. I certainly wish I could stand here and speak to a budget with increased spending but that will be for another day. What I can speak to and what I can defend is a prudent budget, a budget for our time, a budget that still protects learning in the classroom and puts children first, even at a time of rapid demographic change in an era where our resources are limited.
We are living in a time of dramatically declining enrolment, Madam Chairman, and that is bringing a great challenge to our public school system. I believe our public system is well positioned to take on these challenges and to seize new opportunities presented by our changing demographics. As the members of this House are well aware, we have almost 30,000 fewer students than we had 10 years ago. Over that time more teachers were hired, spending rose by more than 40 per cent and administration grew by 20 per cent, even though enrolments dropped 18 per cent. Today we have 144 students for every administrator, compared to a decade ago, when the ratio was 205 to one. This is a growth of 30 per cent.
Administrators do important work in our boards and within the department but in difficult times like this, when choices are difficult, we must, more than ever, protect the classroom. What is important to understand is that this enrolment trend and the fallout from it will continue and we will continue to see fewer and fewer students coming to school every year for the next 10 years. By the year 2020 we anticipate as few as 1,112 students, roughly - now this is very interesting - roughly the same number of students we had attending public school in 1910. This is a staggering reality. We may be going back in time with our enrolments, Madam Chairman, but we will continue to move forward confidently into the future with the quality of education we provide students. This year's budget takes some of those prudent, reasonable first steps to achieving that goal.
To position ourselves for that future, we need to take steps to better match our limited resources to the numbers and needs of our students. We must make sure we support today's students in today's classrooms. We cannot afford to fund a system built for students during the baby boom, those students have long since graduated. The reality is, without significant changes we would be facing a massive deficit and significantly compromised programs and services.
I think every teacher, every school board member, every family and every Nova Scotian expects and, more precisely, demands government live within its means. They do not want reckless spending nor do they want to see their government tightening the belt so tightly that we imperil cherished public services like education to balance its books. Madam Chairman, the fact of the matter is we are presenting a budget that closely matches spending to enrolment declines and provides boards with funding to maintain the current level of high-quality education.
Madam Chairman, school boards will be provided with $1.5 billion in the year 2011-12, a reduction of $17.6 million, or 1.65 per cent, still a significant investment and one that is manageable and reflects the 2 per cent drop in enrolment in our schools next year. Boards, as with every department and every publicly-funded agency - indeed like all Nova Scotians families - will have to manage their inflationary cost pressures. Even with the fiscal pressures facing education, per student funding will rise by more than $200 per student and to hold the student-teacher ratio at 15 to one, the lowest in a generation.
Our investment in students, guided by the parameters we set out for boards in February, will allow them to find a significant percentage of their savings through retirements and attrition. We have also directed boards to look to administration first and to reduce bureaucracy by 15 per cent.
We have made it very clear that special needs education must be protected and we ourselves have committed to holding our $125 million contribution at current levels. We have also ensured targeted funding for valued programs like O2, Options and Opportunities, which has been highly successful in re-engaging students with their learning and providing direction and support in developing a career life pathway.
We have also protected our investment in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, a program that challenges our most ambitious high school students. O2 and IB are key to our goal of improving student engagement, as is the expansion of a co-operative education for which the department will provide just over $300,000 in the year 2011-12. I acknowledge that this will be a very challenging year for our boards. They will have some very difficult decisions ahead of them but we have given them the resources that should allow them to protect learning in the classroom.
I can assure members that we will continue to keep the lines of communication open through the budget process. We have worked together to identify their cost pressures and we are providing them with as much direction and flexibility as possible to utilize their funding to the maximum benefit.
We will maintain the cap on class sizes in the early grades - Primary to Grade 3 - but for this year we are allowing schools up to two additional students per class in cases where this represents the best option to protect the quality of education in the classroom. This will help boards better manage their classroom staffing and to avoid increasing the number of split or combined classes. Primary classes capped at 20 can rise to 22 and in the case of Grades 1 to 3 classes, the number of students can increase from 25 to 27.
Madam Chairman, my government continues to place education among its highest priorities. Like all departments, we and our boards are doing our part to protect the taxpayers' investment in the education of our children. In every public school our goal is to help an environment where education and training are valued and achievement is celebrated. Although we are facing challenging economic times, those goals will not change.
Madam Chairman, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight just a few of the programs and other initiatives to illustrate our ongoing commitment on achieving excellence in student learning and student health and safety. In the year 2011-12 we will be expanding SchoolsPlus to the four school boards currently without this service model in place. This is very good news for Nova Scotia families. I hear people say they want more services available in communities and school facilities are an excellent place to deliver them.
With this expansion, SchoolsPlus will exist in all eight of our school boards. Schools in the boards supported by this model of integrated service delivery will have access to important services for students and families. This expansion means students in all of our eight school boards will have school-based access to an expanded range of valuable social services such as mental health, addiction, and justice.
For those of you who may not be familiar with SchoolsPlus, this is a program that supports the recommendation of the Nunn Commission. It brings together many government and community partners for improved coordination and improved delivery of programs and services for children, youth, and families. Timely identification of, and response to, children in need means students and their families get better care sooner. Swift intervention reduces or eliminates gaps in service and duplication, and it also enhances the use of school facilities beyond the school day. The help and intervention young people receive through this model of service delivery also improves their engagement in their learning and increases their success in school and, just as importantly, sets them up for success later in life.
Having good literacy skills is the foundation of success throughout life, Madam Chairman. The Department of Education recognizes the critical importance of early reading intervention for young students who need additional support building their literacy skills. Our goal is to ensure that focused, developmentally appropriate literacy instruction is accessible to all students. We know that some students require additional support to address their specific needs, and the best time to support students who have trouble reading is in the early grades. We are working with boards right now to develop an effective program that will benefit more students currently served by Reading Recovery, a trademarked program that the province has been funding in schools since the mid-1990s.
Reading Recovery has its merits, Madam Chairman, but it only serves a few students in Grade 1; it does not allow us to serve all the children who need support. I am also concerned that we are not seeing more success in our provincial early literacy assessments in Grade 3. In 2009-10, only 43 per cent of students who were either successfully discontinued or referred for long-term support from Reading Recovery in Grade 1 met the silent reading expectations on assessment. That's why the department is working closely with school boards and our literacy teachers to develop early reading intervention that is more inclusive, more effective, and gives schools more flexibility to meet the needs of students across more grade levels - parents would expect no less of us.
Nova Scotian teachers are very well trained in early literacy interventions. Their ideas and knowledge are being used to develop a flexible and effective framework to support students who need additional help with reading development. We have called upon educators from across the province to draw on their expertise and experience to develop reading intervention for our youngest students, including those students in Grade 1. I will be announcing the framework very shortly so that schools and boards can begin the work and plan to have it ready for students in September.
I want members to know that we are building on the collective experience and expertise of our highly trained literacy specialists. The program will be evidence based, cost effective, and will be based entirely on best practices. It will make closer links between board literacy specialists and classroom teachers, meaning fewer students will be taken out of the classroom - that means less missed class time for other subjects and, I would suggest, less impact on the self-esteem of students who are removed from their classmates on a daily basis.
Like Reading Recovery, however, there will be some one-on-one support when required, but the focus will be on teachers and students working in small groups within the classroom. Intervention in small groups within the classroom is proven to be an extremely effective way for young readers to develop strong reading and oral language skills.
I am confident this program will give young learners the support they need to boost their development and success as readers and writers. That said, I recognize that some parents are concerned about changes in reading supports. I want to assure them that our new Reading Intervention Program will put children and learning first.
Many people regard Reading Recovery as the only program but it does not help every child who needs intervention, and yes it is costly but cost is not the reason behind our decision to replace it.
My main issue with Reading Recovery is that it is not equitable, this has always caused me the greatest concern. There are children who have the same level of need and are at the same reading level as students in Reading Recovery but because of the limited number of spots available each year they have been left out.
As I have said, Reading Recovery is a very structured, prescriptive program that requires children to be taken out of the classroom for at least 30 minutes a day over a course of approximately 20 weeks. I believe there is a better way, an alternative that will help more students receive the support they need as they learn to read and write.
Madam Chairman, I am pleased to point out another area where there will be improvements. We are currently doing a great deal of work modernizing our public school systems for the benefit of all students. Education, like all sectors, is being challenged to look for ways to do things better. The information we are able to gather will provide government, teachers, school administration and parents with an understanding of how and where resources are being used and in turn will help make smart decisions to use future resources wisely.
Our new provincial student information system iNSchool is now up and running in 81 high schools across the system and the feedback is positive. The remaining schools will come on line in 2011-12 and 2012-13 schools years adopting the course system PowerSchool.
As a former teacher and as a Minister of Education I know iNSchool will have a significant impact on public education. Families will be able to help their children achieve their best in school by having access to more information about their school lives. The system is enabling parents to be more engaged in their children's education. Attendance, grades, homework assignments, teachers' comments, and school bulletins are now available through the student/parent portal in real time.
This portal replaces those that previously existed in some schools, offering some of the same features in a more user-friendly way. Parents can also access the portal at home, work, school or the public library, wherever there is an Internet access.
Parents like the fact that they can be more in tune and involved in their children's education, and teachers like how easy and fast it is to manage their information and be able to communicate with students and parents.
This aligns with our attendance strategy promoting student engagement, the report of the Minister's Working Committee on Absenteeism and Classroom Climate. To have more effective parental involvement, iNSchool is about leveraging technology to better support student achievement.
Teachers too are enjoying the benefits of this new portal, they are now able to record and communicate marks instantly and have the flexibility to perform certain tasks from home. Teachers also have access to better student data that will enable them to deliver tailored learning strategies and programs which will result in a positive impact on student achievement.
In the classroom, teachers will be in a better position to identify at-risk students more quickly so we can intervene and act more swiftly. At a provincial level, educators will have access to a wider range of student and program information which will help them and us make informed decisions on student learning. Students will benefit from stronger programs and policies, parents from increased access to information about their children, and teachers and school administrators will have better information about their students and schools. School boards and the Department of Education will benefit by having access to a wider range of student and program data for program and policy decisions.
Madam Chairman, a modern, province-wide, information management system has been a long-time priority of government because it will provide school boards to meet and demonstrate education program, service and performance standards in relation to school student achievement and overall school performance. Educators at all levels of our provincial education system need to make smart decisions. They need to make effective and efficient use of our resources while continuing to prepare our students for the 21st Century and we are well on our way to achieving that goal. This $14 million project was approved in the Fall of 2009 and this year represents an investment of $4 million in the coming year.
We are also modernizing the way we deliver courses so that we support more students to succeed by using our resources more wisely. The Nova Scotia Virtual School is an excellent example of that. Distance education has continued to grow and evolve in Nova Scotia. Beginning in the Fall of 2011 and over the following two years the Nova Scotia Virtual School will expand to meet the needs of more students, including adult learners. There will also be an increase in the number of on-line school courses in English and French.
At a time when we are trying to find creative solutions to ensure quality of access and opportunity for all students, the Nova Scotia Virtual High School will help ensure that all students, regardless of where they live, are provided with the same access to courses that they need to graduate. The Nova Scotia Virtual School, NSVS, is a co-operative project between the province's school boards and the Department of Education. This project expands on-line learning opportunities for our province. It provides for the delivery of public school and correspondence courses, on-line extensions of school-based classes to students and adult learners, and also supports professional development and on-line meetings for teachers and other board and department staff.
Currently about 400 public school students are served annually through on-line high school courses offered by NSVS. Twenty-five high school courses are offered by boards through the virtual school. These include advanced math 12, chemistry, accounting, calculus, visual arts, political science, African-Canadian studies, and law. As part of the government's commitment to expand learning opportunities for more students, the department is ensuring sustainable funding to the school so it can increase course offerings and accessibility with a special focus on students in smaller schools where course selection is limited due to declining enrolment. This year we will be investing $1.1 million to support the current number of students receiving on-line learning. Funding will increase for the development of new courses, the conversion of correspondence courses to on-line and the updating and review of current on-line courses to meet NSVS standards.
The department, through NSVS, will this year provide some targeted hardware funding to school boards. An evaluation model for the virtual school will also be developed in the coming fiscal year. Further expansion of course offerings, increased funding for seats and investment in hardware and technical support will follow in following years. Investing in on-line learning opens the doors to new opportunities for Nova Scotia students, especially in small, rural schools where they may not have the number to provide a wide variety of courses available in urban schools.
Speaking of small, rural schools, we are all sensitive to pressures facing rural and small towns in Nova Scotia. Government supports community schools. We recognize the value of these buildings as centres in communities. Government has committed $2 million to provide targeted support to community schools. This investment is there to support the enhanced use of school facilities by students, families and the community. Soon we will be announcing targeted investments reflecting government's commitment to afterschool programs to give youth positive alternatives and to promote healthy active living to both students and the community groups. We want to continue to promote our schools as centres in their communities. Our Schools Plus expansion, which I spoke about earlier, will also play a part in broadening the use of under-utilized schools.
While we offer help to expand the use of schools, we will also be investing in more effective use of schools so they are greener and more energy-efficient. As we saw in South Shore Regional School Board recently, investments in energy efficiency by the department and other partners resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in fuel and the electricity savings for that board. They were able to achieve through a series of measures from and including upgrading their lighting to solar hot water to improve ventilation. We plan to do more of that and will make available $2 million for energy retrofit projects. Helping school boards realize significant energy cost savings will mean increased investment in children and learning because every dollar we can save in oil or electricity is a dollar saved for the classroom.
In addition to making our schools more energy efficient, we are also investing in new and current school facilities. To ensure that all of our efforts in programming are successful it is important that we invest in building and renovating schools to provide the students with an effective, safe and healthy learning environment. This year we have a total of 69 school capital projects currently underway in the province, including 14 new schools, nine of which are actively underway. Our plan includes $83.6 million for school construction and renovations, including the construction of new schools in Bedford, Lunenburg, Lakeview and Yarmouth. In this budget we are finishing construction of two new schools, Kings County Academy in Kentville and Yarmouth High. This is money well invested in the future success of our children.
I would like to take a moment to talk a little bit about our vision for the future. I have touched on the challenges we face currently and on some of the approaches we are using to manage through these difficult times. Education is at a crossroads in this province and it is important that we begin to look to the long-term and plan for the future. We joined the NSSBA and our other partners last Fall to consider the implications of learning in the 21st Century. The committee is comprised of superintendents, Department of Education representatives, school board members, parent groups, the NSTU and the First Nations through the Mi'kmaq Kina'matnewey. Our ongoing discussion will help us determine our next steps as we work to meet the current and future challenges of public education and how we can best seize the opportunities that lie ahead for our students.
We must always ask ourselves, what are the skills students will need to succeed in the future and how do we equip them to succeed and adapt to an ever-changing and increasingly competitive world place? Part of that future direction, we expect, will come from the recommendations that we will receive from Dr. Ben Levin, a highly respected educator and former Deputy Minister of Education who has a great deal of experience in areas of large scale educational reform. As everyone in this House is aware, we contracted with Dr. Levin in late December, seeking his advice on key areas where we could become more effective and efficient against a backdrop of fiscal pressures and social realities we face in this province.
His report will focus on a number of broad themes, including: student and parent engagement; rural and urban schools; school, family and community relationships; the effective deployment of human resources; the optimal use of our schools and other capital facilities; improved teaching and learning and assessment practices.
I believe his advice will be welcomed as we take the next important steps towards maintaining quality student learning and ensuring an education system in Nova Scotia that meets the needs of tomorrow's students. Certainly one of my key areas of focus now, and into the future, will be to improve student achievement and performance. A major part of that goal will be keeping students engaged. Engaging students in their studies, especially in those middle years, keeping them interested and looking forward to coming to class each day, is one of the greatest challenges facing public education today.
Good teaching and helping make schools relevant to students is the key. My staff are continuously looking at the skills needed to prepare students for the 21st Century and how those skills align with the current curriculum. At this Grade 9 level this work includes five curriculum development projects: new arts education, family studies, healthy living, social studies and technology education. All of this curriculum is cutting edge and will work to better engage adolescent learners.
We are also taking steps to reduce the troubling issue of student absenteeism. Last Fall the department accepted most of the recommendations from absenteeism and class climate study. Work is well underway in the department and boards to address the issue and implement various staged interventions to support students and to encourage them to attend school regularly. Poor attendance can be a complex issue, Madam Chairman. We must work together to improve attendance and break the cycle of low student engagement.
Before I take my seat, I want to pay tribute to our teachers and students. Nova Scotia is very fortunate to have highly-talented teachers and our students are among the best in the world. They proved that in the most recent international assessment in reading, science and mathematics. The 2000 PISA results demonstrated again that our students can score above the international average in each of the three key subject areas. We also significantly improved our performance against other Canadian provinces, which is also a very important benchmark.
Our IB results, too, were extremely impressive. Nova Scotia students outranked North American jurisdiction and much of the world in this past year, too. The PISA and IB results are, of course, Madam Chairman, just one window, one measure of how our students are doing, but those results certainly indicate that Nova Scotia is doing a lot of things right. Our public school system is also well-served by the fact that while we celebrate the achievements of our students in school, we are also equally swift to call on the system to improve. This sentiment speaks to the high regard we put on excellence and why we as parents, teachers, business people or legislators are always advocating strongly for improvement in public education.
Madam Chairman, let me conclude by saying I am indeed honoured to be minister to a department overseeing such a crucial service to children and families. Whatever challenges we face now and into the future, I believe we are well equipped because of the riches of our educational offerings and their accessibility for all Nova Scotians.
Madam Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to share the highlights of the Department of Education's financial plan for the rest of the fiscal year and look forward to answering questions from my colleagues. But before I end I would also like to say I welcome here today, and I will be having Frank Dunn, I have to look to where I am here, the chief operating officer, and Dr. Alan Lowe, senior executive director of public schools, who will be assisting me in answering your questions today and with that, thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Colchester North.
HON. KAREN CASEY: Thank you, Madam Chairman, for the opportunity to speak. Thank you to the minister for what I expect to be a very informative session where members of both Parties get a chance to ask questions for clarification and for information. I would like to acknowledge the support staff who are here with the minister and I look forward to their guidance and direction to the minister. I understand, I know from experience how important it is to have two resources, one on either side. If I could say on a lighter note, although I certainly valued and appreciated the support from my deputy minister when I was there, I used to often have to ask him to stop talking so I could hear the question from the member. So there are pluses and minuses to having those two sets of voices beside you. I do also want to thank the minister for prior communication and sense of co-operation with some issues that have come before her and that she has shared with me as Education Critic.
I want to reflect a little bit on an example that we saw in the House this morning and that was an example where the Premier, the Leader of the Official Opposition, and the Leader of the Third Party came together with a resolution that was supported by all members in this House. I believe that that's what our mandate is here in this House, is for all 52 members to work together towards a common cause and towards something that is better for all Nova Scotians. I mention that because all too often that does not happen and I believe education is one of those areas where we do have an opportunity to work together.
I would want to acknowledge again the excellent sense of co-operation that I received when I was minister from two of the Education Critics who spent a fair bit of time as critics when I was the minister - the member for Kings West and the member for Timberlea-Prospect. Thank you for that. I believe, and I've stated this to both those members, I believe that the legislation and the policies within the Education Department that were developed during that time were strengthened because of the conversation, the co-operation and the expertise from those two critics. I will always be sharing that, I have in the past, I will continue, because I believe that's what our role here is. So I would like to again thank those critics for that input.
Having said that, I believe that sense of co-operation is something that I would ask for and I believe that as an educator, there are many educators in this House and there are many people who are parents in this House, and we all understand the importance of education. I think we all have something valuable to contribute and, again, I will make a public offer to the minister that that resource is here, it's at her fingertips, and I would strongly advise her to take advantage of that.
The minister spoke about the education system that we have in the province and I agree with her that it's one of the best but I also agree with her that there are always ways to improve. Some of the programs that have been identified as being new or continued, I believe are there with the intent that it will make the outcomes for our students better. I do want to suggest to the minister that in order again to make those policies and legislation stronger and to make sure that we do the best we can for all the students we have, that she take advantage of the expertise, not only in this House but very much outside. The minister has acknowledged the importance of classroom teachers and that is, in my opinion, one of the strongest, most valuable resources available to any minister.
There is also a very competent staff at the Department of Education and I think we should not forget the elected board members, the senior staff in our boards and the parents. When decisions that are being made have such a dramatic effect on the lives of our young people, I think we would be remiss if we did not take advantage of consulting with all of those people who have that expertise and who can, at the end of the day, make a valuable contribution to the decision that is being made.
We recognize that someone has to make the final decision. The minister has to make a final decision, but the minister's decision is stronger if it has included the consultation, the advice and the discussions with those people who make a difference. Any decision that is made will stand the test of time if the people who are about to go out and criticize your decision have been part of it. It's a lesson that I learned as a principal, it's a lesson that some people here have learned, and I think it's probably one of the best lessons that any minister in any department can learn.
I would like to make a comment before we start talking specifically about budget and that is the economic conditions that we have in the province, and to recognize, and I have said publicly, that I believe there are savings within any department and I think we have to look long and hard at where they are.
The minister has suggested that her goal is to protect the classroom. I couldn't agree with her more, and so some of the questions that I will be asking, and others, will be directly related to how the decisions that have been made will protect the classroom. I just want to state that, I guess.
The other thing too is some economists have said, and I believe they are right, that when economic times are tough, the last place that you want to cut is education. Those aren't my words, I've read those, I've heard them. People much wiser in the economics of the world than I, stated that. So I found it very difficult when this government announced first of all the budget reduction exercise, which became a fiasco, because at a time when our economy is fragile, if we can't invest in the most important resource we have, that being our young people, then I think we've missed the mark.
I would appreciate the minister understand that. I know the minster is one of many, and takes direction from Cabinet, but I also know that the minister has an opportunity to stand up at Cabinet and speak passionately about why education should not be cut. However, that decision has been made, and we are where we are, but I think it flies in the face of what the economists say.
If we had a progressive economy, if we had unlimited revenue coming in, we could look at how are we sharing that revenue with the Department of Education and with our students. But we have limited resources and we have limited revenue. The economy of any province or state or country is very much dependent on the strength and education of its people.
I'm worried, I'm very worried that we may lose a bit of the advantage that we have. We are recognized as being the university capital of Canada because of the number of excellent universities we have here in the province. We don't want to lose that credit we're getting for having done something right in our public schools over the last number of years.
There are many challenges in the education community and I've listened to the minister talk about some of her initiatives and the reason why she is supporting those, and again we will be getting into some detailed questioning about that.
I do want to speak a little bit though to something that is being shared in the public and not being explained to the public and it is the link that is being made between declining enrolment and increased spending and we've heard it. We've heard it when the Minister of Finance is speaking; we've heard it when the Minister of Education has been speaking. We hear it a lot and I think it's misunderstood by the general public. Unless you have had a child who has benefited from some of the programs that we've put in place, you may not understand how increased spending and declining enrolment both can exist at the same time.
It's true we have declining enrolment. It's true we have to look at different ways of delivering our programs, but it's also true that many of the programs that have been put in place have nothing to do with declining enrolment. They have all to do with what we have in this province, which is a policy of inclusion. The policy of inclusion is a Department of Education policy and school boards are asked to respect that policy and they're asked to carry out their mandate, which is to provide programs for all students. We know, as educators, as parents and as members of this Legislature that the challenges that are presented to the classroom teacher as a result of a policy of inclusion are huge. School boards and the Department of Education have been working hard and have been working with a great deal of success to provide programs that meet the needs of that diverse population that we now have.
Some of us remember - some of us are old enough to remember - when the policy of inclusion came into effect. I see some people nodding. I'm glad to know I'm not the only old person in the House here. There are people who will argue for and against the inclusion policy. This is not an argument for or against; it's a statement of reality. We have to respond to the needs of those students in our public schools. That is our responsibility and our mandate. We know that many of those interventions are costly. We know that many of those programs to support students with a broad range of abilities are costly. Many of them are delivered in a one-on-one or in a small group setting. Once you start doing that, you are adding costs to your teacher allocation, you are adding costs for resources, you are adding costs for non-teaching supports.
I believe that this Department of Education and this province, over the last 10 to15 years, has done a great job of accommodating and helping those students progress to the best of their ability, but I go back to the original comparison, which I think is unfair and not understood. You cannot provide those supports for those students without increasing your funding in education, it cannot happen. That's the challenge that we have. It's the challenge that this minister has. It's a challenge that will always be there as long as school boards are to respect - and school boards do respect - the policy of inclusion.
I will be anxious to - and I will - be asking questions of the minister about how those programs, which support every child in the school, if there is a way for them to be delivered at less cost. I would be anxious to hear that because I've been there, I've seen it. The minister is a classroom teacher. She has seen it and she knows that the challenges that are there require additional human and material resources in order to support those students. It's a situation that we have and it's a situation that we have to deal with.
The minister spoke about the report from Dr. Ben Levin and some of the recommendations that we're expecting out of his report, I will be very interested to see if that particular population is addressed in that report. I will also be interested to see if there is an approach to a delivery model of education that allows us to focus not on dollars and cents but on students. I think we need to get our priorities straight here. We know that delivery of programs is costly. We know that people talk about students outcomes. We know that when kids graduate from our high schools, we expect them to have certain skills and certain competencies.
I'm hoping that Dr. Levin's report will look at what it is that we expect of our students when they graduate. The second step to that is - what programs do we need to have in order for students to achieve those outcomes? Thirdly - and the last thing that needs to be considered in my opinion - how do we fund those programs? If you start from the bottom and talk about how much money you have and then you have to juggle things around to see how you can best use that money, we're losing sight of what we really are all about in education and that is student outcomes. I am hoping that there will be something in his report that addresses that because if we are looking at educational reform in this province, and the minister has suggested that we need to do that, then I would be anxious to see if there is something from an expert like Dr. Ben Levin, who can give the department and the minister some direction as to how we might achieve that.
I want to make mention, before I start asking some questions, about the business of funding to school boards. We know that funding is down. We know that boards are being asked to do some very challenging and sometimes difficult, and hopefully not impossible, things to do with the funding that they have without - as the minister has said - hurting the classroom, without impacting on students in the classroom. Perhaps if I could get to my first question for the minister, when the allocation of funding was shared with the boards, there was a reduction in funding for all boards. I see the minister is shaking her head so perhaps the minister can tell me, was there a reduction in funding to all boards?
MS. JENNEX: Just to clarify that, the CSAP school board did not have reduction in their funding.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, I stand corrected. The English-speaking school boards have all received a reduction in funding. My question is, how was that determined?
MS. JENNEX: The honourable member opposite suggested that basing the budget allocations on declining enrolment was problematic. The sheer fact of the matter is that we have been funding a system for children who are not in the system anymore and so what we looked at is the enrolment of all of the school boards. That is exactly how the budget was built - on the enrolments that the school boards have.
One of the problems over the last number of years in education is that we've been adding to many programs and many services, maybe without being mindful of the outcomes and the success of that. This was an opportunity for school boards to take a deep look at - were they spending their money in the most effective and efficient way. I think that it was a very stressful time for school boards when they were going through the exercise, but I did get feedback from a number of members from boards and from superintendents that it gave them the opportunity to look at things through a different lens and to create efficiencies where there hadn't been any before.
To answer the question for the member opposite, the school board funding was based on the enrolment piece and how many students we have. Now one of the issues, too, we're also looking at is over the next number of years, because of our declining enrolment, we were also given information about the number of teachers who are going to be retiring. In many jobs throughout Nova Scotia and around the world, people leave their jobs for different reasons. We're looking at attrition. Those numbers, we're looking at are not affecting the numbers of people working in the system because the number of people who are going out actually match with the numbers of our declining enrolment. The budget was built on the information provided from the school boards, the information on the attrition retirement based on the numbers of students who have left our system.
We've asked boards, as I said, a very difficult job, but we asked them to reduce the administration by 15 per cent and look at reducing the consultants in the system by 50 per cent over three years. We want to make sure that the people who are in our system are serving the needs of the student directly in the classroom. We gave them a big job and they came back with their information to the department and we were able to build the budget based on the information that they gave us, declining enrolments. So there were a number of factors. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: As a follow-up question, is the Hogg formula now no longer used?
MS. JENNEX: The Hogg formula is used and was used, yes.
MS. CASEY: My knowledge of the Hogg formula is that it includes and incorporates the component of declining enrolment. I don't believe it speaks to attrition but perhaps I could be corrected on that.
MS. JENNEX: The Hogg formula does look at the issue of declining enrolments. That was factored into the building of the budget.
MS. CASEY: I understand what the Hogg formula does. My concern is that the percentages of reductions across boards range from -1 per cent to a -2.4 per cent. Can you please explain that?
MS. JENNEX: The individual board reductions were based on budget parameters and no board would have a percentage of more than 1.5 times the provincial average. That was based on the total funding using the Hogg formula. No board will see an increase in funding above the 2010 level. That was all taken into consideration.
Are you interested in the reductions? Annapolis, their funding change was 1.87 per cent, Cape Breton was 2.47 per cent, Chignecto declined by 1.69 per cent. As I mentioned, CSAP had no reduction. Halifax was 1 per cent, South Shore 2.47 per cent, which was the same for Strait and Tri-County, they all had exactly the same which was a total provincially of 1.65 per cent reduction in funding.
MS. CASEY: I certainly am speaking from that document, I'm well aware of what the percentages are, that's what precipitated my question. Can you explain to me why Chignecto Central is reduced by 1.69 per cent and why Annapolis is 1.87 per cent? The application of the Hogg formula, I believe, would have been a consistent percentage.
MS. JENNEX: The question was between Annapolis and Chignecto? Those are the two? Annapolis had class size capping and their literacy mentors, math mentors were all taken into consideration and Chignecto - that was the differences in the percentages. I guess I'm not sure of the question exactly that you're asking, is it why the difference in percentages? It's based on their class size caps, literacy mentors and math mentors.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, I'm still a little confused because I understood it was the Hogg formula that was applied in order to determine the funding for boards. I don't believe math mentors and class size caps and things like that are part of the Hogg formula, so I think I need another explanation.
MS. JENNEX: There are targeted funding reductions and then it is run through the Hogg formula, I guess I'm unsure of exactly how to answer that question. This is based on targeted reductions for each of the boards and then it is run through the Hogg formula and that is exactly how the percentages came out, why it was different in each of the boards.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, so it is not just the Hogg formula, that's the answer that I needed to hear, because I don't believe application of the Hogg formula would have given you those results. So, just to be clear, it's the Hogg formula and it's targeted funding.
MS. JENNEX: Thank you very much for the opportunity. This is the way that the budgets have been built every year; there is no difference in how this budget was built compared to any other year. Targeted funding has always been a consideration and then run through the Hogg formula. There's no change in how the budget was built in that respect.
MS. CASEY: Well since the minister has mentioned this, perhaps we can talk a little bit about math mentors. I understand there was some conversation, perhaps some information that was shared with respect to math mentors. Can you tell me the status of math mentors in this province for the upcoming budget year?
MS. JENNEX: The funding for the math mentors was cut by half.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, a question to the minister, why?
MS. JENNEX: As everyone in this Chamber recognizes, we did ask school boards to undergo a deep analysis of where they could make efficiencies and we looked at all areas of retirements, attrition, we were looking at administration and where efficiencies could come back from. We need to make sure that we have a system in Nova Scotia that is going to be sustainable.
The issue of reduction in funding for mentors is based on making sure that we meet the needs of the students in our classroom and that's where efficiencies were recognized and there are still math mentors in the Province of Nova Scotia. We value the work of our math mentors and we value the work of teachers who receive that support and the students who receive that support. We did not take math mentors away but we asked for efficiencies around that. We want to make sure that the children in the classroom are not affected by making sure that we have a system that is sustainable in the future.
This is a situation where probably no one wants to be standing, in a time where public education, which I value, and every other person values, but we have to make sure that we make these decisions now so that we have a sustainable system in the future. If we don't make these efficiencies now, we're going to have to make them later and this is the opportunity, this was a challenge that we have put forward to the school boards. They came back with information that we are able to work with. They are doing a very good job at the work that they've been asked to do, which is reducing the 15 per cent administration, the 50 per cent of the consultants within the system. We are making sure, and the boards are making sure, that the education of the child who sits in the classroom is not affected by this budget. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, I don't think there would be any member of this House who wouldn't remember, and have spoken passionately about, the math scores in our province. They have been terrible. There have been some initiatives by the Department of Education to try to address that. One of those initiatives was to have math mentors. There were no math mentors when I was teaching. There are math mentors now, and teachers are most appreciative of the fact that they have supports because they recognize that the math scores of our students are unacceptable. If the department recognized that within the last five years, and the math scores have gradually started to improve, but they certainly are not acceptable, my question to the minister would be why would you take away a support when the need was obvious?
MS. JENNEX: I have to choose my words because I don't want to be misinterpreted there; we value the work of the math mentors. We're not losing our math mentor person, the people with the expertise in this, from our system. They're going to be back in our schools working with the children. We still have math mentors within school boards. We also have the expertise of the Department of Education that teachers are able to utilize.
Also over the last number of years, with the emphasis on excellence in math and making improvements, curriculum and ways of teaching have been revisited and looked at. There has been a lot of in-servicing around the issue of math. Now, we still have the math mentor, we have the expertise of the department, as I have said, and we are going to also recognize that teachers learn from each other and they also ask questions of each other. They are a collaborative group within a school. So if teachers are having questions around the teaching of math or anything to do with curriculum, there are people to go to either within your own school, within the school board because there still will be math mentors and consultants there, and also they have the expertise of the Department of Education that they can call for that.
Now, the department over the last number of years, and I know that the member opposite recognizes this, when there was an emphasis placed on math, the province stepped up and made sure that they looked at how our children are learning and they looked at the curriculum and improvements are being made based on evidence-based and research-based and that work is still going on. There are going to be new curricula coming out. At the same time there has been an awful lot done in schools that when the department made the changes to support our children around their math scores and to make sure we had our students being very good mathematicians and understanding math, the resources came out to the schools.
Our schools right now in the Province of Nova Scotia are rich with resources. Every class has been supplied with all of the things that they absolutely need, the unifix cubes, to geometric shapes - they came out in tubs out to schools to utilize. There are the resources. Over the last number of years the department has done a very good job in making sure that the resources are available, so we have the resources available. We still have math mentors in our system. We have math mentors who are now back in our schools. We have teachers who know how to ask questions and work with each other. We have a system now that has recognized that we need to make sure that our children know what math is and how to think mathematically. There has been a lot of work done within our communities, talking with our parents. Learning how to learn math is different now than it was many years ago because we know that children need to be critical in their thinking of math, they need to think math, they need to talk about math, and they need to have the component of drill aspect of that, you know, knowing their numbers and their facts.
There has been so much research and so much work done already in our school system. We are not taking away every component of support for our teachers but, yes, we have reduced the dependence that we have built up on that and we still have all of those people with all of that wonderful expertise in our system. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, I believe the minister said that they would be cutting math mentors by 50 per cent, but I think I just heard her say all of those people will still be there. I think I need an explanation on how you can cut math mentors by 50 per cent but have all of those people still there?
MS. JENNEX: You know when you're up and talking about things sometimes you can be misunderstood. The people who are math mentors are still going to be in our system, the people with that expertise will be going back into the classroom, they will be in our schools. So they might not have the lapel pin that says math mentor but they will have the lapel pin as classroom teacher Grade 3 and their expertise will stay with them, and teachers work together collaboratively in school.
I know that in my school - am I allowed to mention names as I speak in this forum of colleagues?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Just one moment please, I'll check that.
MS. JENNEX: Well, I can do it without. One of my dear friends and colleagues when I was teaching has a passion for math. Okay, I can use her name. I have a friend, her name is Lois Boudreau and I used to always enjoy watching her teach Grade 7 math. I have never seen anyone who had such a passion for math, she loves math. And, if I had any questions about math I would go and have her work with me to work through how I could teach a concept to a child who might be having difficulty.
We have people in our school system, like Lois Boudreau, who are passionate about math and the teaching of math - something that not only is a passion but she provides her expertise with other teachers. Now Lois is one of the people who did go to a board as a math consultant or mentor, I'm not sure exactly of her role. She is still within our system but maybe not with the name or the title that she did have. We're not losing the people who have the expertise and passion with math to work with our teachers; they are just in different roles within our school system.
If a math consultant or a math mentor has left our system it's probably because they are one of the teachers who would have been on the roll for retirement. We do have people in our system with the expertise that even though their names might have changed and the role that they play within our school board, they are still within our system. As I said, teachers are collaborative creatures and they like to ask each other and work with each other, and if they have a problem around teaching and how to reach students they talk with each other.
Through professional development teachers can ask for their administrators to provide professional development in one area. They can call the department, they can also call the school board and they can work with each other. Because that is a part of teaching is that when you have something happening in your classroom, if you have a child who is having difficultly learning a concept you reach out and ask the question. Every teacher doesn't have the answer for everything and that's why we need to work together on this. The expertise of our consultants and mentors is still in our system.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Before I introduce the honourable member I'd just like to answer the question of the minister. It is okay to mention a name of someone in the public, of course, and just to remind you that a member in the House has to be recognized by their constituency.
MS. CASEY: The answer is just as I expected; the math mentor responsibilities are now in the hands of the math mentors who are classroom teachers with all the responsibilities of a classroom teacher. It would be very difficult for a classroom teacher, and the minister would know this, very difficult for a classroom teacher to take on all the responsibilities of her class and still be considered a math mentor after school, after supper and before breakfast.
It's very unfair for classroom teachers to be expected to do both of those jobs. I would suggest that the support that goes out to teachers from a classroom teacher who has all of those responsibilities and who takes them seriously, and I'm sure every math mentor who is now back in the classroom is going to do an excellent job in the classroom. I'm not sure how much time they are going to have or how much time we should expect them to have to mentor other teachers at the end of their hard, working day.
The 50 per cent cut in math mentors, to suggest that those people are still in our system, they may still be in our system but I guarantee they will not be able to provide the support for math teachers that have allowed math teachers and classroom teachers to work to improve the outcomes of our students. I would ask the minister, would she please provide for me the number of math mentors who were not in the classroom this past year and who will be in the classroom next year?
MS. JENNEX: As the member opposite would know, that is something that I would have to get to her because we would have to do the work within the department to provide that information to her. I just want to say before I take my seat, 50 per cent means that the other 50 per cent are still within our school boards, working with teachers. It is a reduction, however, we still have the service, and the teachers have the ability to still work with our consultants and our math mentors within the system. As I said, that is information that I cannot provide as there are eight school boards and all that data would be sitting within the school boards. But I'm sure that through the course of time, the department personnel will be able to compile that information for the member opposite and we have absolutely no trouble providing that.
I do want to very strongly point out to the member opposite that we still have the expertise within our school boards, with our mentors and consultants, 50 per cent are still there to work with our teachers. I would never suggest that a math mentor who took a classroom position, we would never consider them still being a math mentor as part of their regular duties as a classroom teacher. Teachers are collaborative and when they meet in the staff room or in the hall - professional development doesn't need to take an hour or half an hour. At times, it can be a clarification of a concept, that we have those people we can ask. The same as I would, if I had an issue, with trying to get my head around how do I get a certain concept to a child who just was not able to grasp it. I would go to Lois and have a conversation and she would clarify that. Maybe it took four or five minutes sometimes, it could have been over a cup of tea at the end of the day in the staff room. Never would we ever suggest that our math mentors, who have gone back in the school system, would ever take on the extra challenge of mentoring everyone on their staff.
Every teacher comes to school with a certain expertise and every one of us as teachers get asked different questions. Professional development is an ongoing situation that we take the time to do in time periods, we take time to do it around themes. Professional development takes place every day when we talk with each other and collaborate. I want people to be mindful of the fact and not to be an alarmist coming from the comments, that we still have the expertise in our system, we still have math mentors in our system and teachers still can tap into the expertise that they need.
MS. CASEY: I would appreciate getting the information from the minister, but I would expect her staff would have that because earlier I was told that math mentors were one of the things used to determine funding to boards. What dollar amount, if we don't know the number of teachers, what dollar amount?
MS. JENNEX: I would like to apologize, I'm very sorry. I couldn't listen to what she said as I was also receiving information at the same time so I apologize but I missed the question.
MS. CASEY: The question was, in response to how funding was allocated, the response that I received was that math mentors were factored into the funding to boards so my question was, if in fact that did happen - and I'm not questioning your information - the dollar amount, if not the number, of math mentors must be known to your staff.
MS. JENNEX: Yes, the numbers are known. Right now the school boards are in the process of staffing and therefore when we get the actual numbers and people we will provide that. The overall budget numbers were taken into consideration, absolutely, but we cannot provide what you are asking for until after the school boards do all their staffing and then we'll be able to provide you with the exact numbers of math mentors who are back as classroom teachers.
MS. CASEY: I understand the number of math mentors, but my question was what is the reduction in funding to boards when you factored in math mentors?
MS. JENNEX: It was $1,050,000 reduction for math mentors for this budget.
MS. CASEY: So if you take $1,050,000, how many FTEs is that?
MS. JENNEX: I will have staff give you a rough estimate. As the honourable member opposite knows, teachers don't make the same salary, so the actual number of the FTEs would have to be calculated and we can provide you with that information. I can see Dr. Lowe is doing some math for me now. It looks as if maybe we needed to have a mental math exercise here. (Interruptions) We'll bring a mentor in to do that, yes, thank you.
If you don't mind, I will provide that number at a later time if that's okay with the member opposite.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, I will give Dr. Lowe some time to do his math but I believe there's an average of $56,000 salary that's used to calculate teacher salaries. I understand they're not all earning the same amount of money.
I will leave the math mentor bit now, but I'm certainly disappointed in what I'm hearing. My next question is can you give me some information about literacy mentors for the upcoming budget year?
MS. JENNEX: I'm just going to clarify, if that's okay, with a nod. You're looking at the number, the reduction in cost? Okay. The reduction for literacy mentors for this budget, 2011-12 is $773,000.
MS. CASEY: If we could just add that to Dr. Lowe's list, if he could come up with some numbers on that as well. My follow-up question - very similar to the math mentor question - is the expectation of the department and of the minister that those literacy mentors will now become classroom teachers and will still be, as the minister has said, in the system, but not dedicating their time to literacy mentoring?
MS. JENNEX: Yes, we still have literacy mentors within boards. We have literacy specialists in the department that classroom teachers can call on and we support. You're absolutely right, we have the expertise within our system and those people with expertise are now going to be in our schools as - I wouldn't say 100 per cent that all will become classroom teachers. I know some of the literacy mentors and math mentors, as I'm hearing - because as you know I taught for 30 years and many of my friends are still teaching in the system or working within the system and they're moving into other jobs within the education system. Some of them will be going back as regular classroom teachers and there's nothing more important than having that classroom teacher in front of their children in the classroom. That expertise travels right back into the school system.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, I understand the answer. There was a 50 per cent reduction in math mentors. Is there a 50 per cent reduction in literacy mentors?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, yes, it was a 50 per cent reduction.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, I think the picture is pretty clear that support for teachers who are working directly with students in the classrooms has been a target for a reduction. My question to the minister would be this, has a similar percentage of reduction been felt at the department level?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, I would like to say that, yes, the department has undergone the exact same exercise that we expected every school board to do. Actually the Department of Education reductions are at a higher level than we've asked school boards to take. As you know, we have fewer people so the percentages, even though when you look at the numbers they seem lower, the percentage is higher. So, yes, there are six FTE reductions in this budget for the Department of Education, and other reductions. So overall, I'm just going to look - it is a 3 per cent reduction in the department. (Interruption) Oh, it's a 4.4 per cent reduction in the Department of Education's budget for the year 2011-12. The department underwent the same exercise and our reductions are at a higher level.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, how many of those six FTEs were unfilled positions?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, now this is interesting because one of the things that we asked school boards to do was to look at retirement and attrition and those are retirement and attrition jobs. Those FTEs are people who have left our system through retirement, so we were able to meet those reductions without layoffs, which is the same expectation that was done at the school boards based on the number of retirements and attrition. That is what we were looking for, school boards to manage the reduction in staff.
It's exactly the same scenario, it just happed that because of a lower number of people working within the system in the department, based on the higher numbers of people across our boards, it looks like a lower number of people but the percentage works out, as you know, much higher. So, yes, the department has undergone exactly the same exercise and there are efficiencies made throughout the whole system. We undertook the same. Every department in government, actually, has been asked to do the same exercise and every department is undergoing that. Now, there is a three-year plan and over the next three years there will be 20 FTEs going. We are going to be reducing the department by 10 per cent over the next three years.
MS. CASEY: My question to the minister is how many unfilled positions are there currently at the department?
MS. JENNEX: Thank you and if you heard me off mic, that is a good question because that is an answer that I would have to - none of us at this table right now can answer that. We will be asking for that information and providing that as soon as we receive that here at the House.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, and I will look forward to that information. My question, when I originally asked about the percentage of reductions at the department, was directly related to a comparison with the 50 per cent reduction in math mentors and literacy mentors Again, I'm looking at an impact that is being felt in the classroom and in the schools as opposed to the department. I know the numbers are different but the percentages are what concern me. If we're expecting the supports for our teachers in schools working directly with students to take a 50 per cent hit, why would we not expect the staff at the Department of Education to take a 50 per cent hit? Can you explain that to me, please?
MS. JENNEX: I'm going to try to make this very clear that even though we were looking at targets around certain areas, the targeted funding, the reduction to school boards is overall a 1.65 per cent reduction. The Department of Education's reductions are at a much higher level. I know that we can talk percentages and you can make percentages say all sorts of things, but I just want to be clear that we've reduced the funding to our boards provincially 1.65 per cent. Declining enrolment, we're losing 2 per cent of our students this year.
Now, I want to go back to the point about should we reduce 50 per cent, our consultants and our experts, our specialists in the department around math and literacy because we've expected that to happen within our school boards. The Department of Education does a different job within the whole look of education. The department is where teachers, school boards, administrators seek support. We are the ones that the Department of Education have the specialists within the system. We need to keep our specialists in math, science and literacy intact. We have to have a complement there so that the teachers and the school boards have experts to draw on and mentor to provide direction. We at the department have reduced 4.4 per cent in our funding for the year 2011-12. The school boards, we've asked them to take a reduction of 1.65 per cent provincially.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and to the minister. I understand the role of consultants and staff at the Department of Education. I understand the role that they have in supporting people out in the schools and in the boards. I guess I'm questioning who they're going to support, if you're taking 50 per cent of the consultants and 50 per cent of the math and literacy mentors out of the role that they are currently in, where they do work closely with the experts at the department to provide support for teachers. Those people who are getting that expert advice from the department are no longer in that role as a math mentor or a literacy mentor. My question is, if you have 50 per cent fewer people out delivering that service, then does that justify keeping all of the staff at the department when they're providing support for 50 per cent fewer consultants out in the field? How does that correlate?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, I guess I'm a little bit confused. Is the member opposite saying that we should take away the capacity at the Department of Education, to lower it to the point that we wouldn't have the experts available to provide the expertise? I'm a bit confused because the Department of Education is over a $1 billion budget and the department has the responsibility to make sure that the school boards and all of the services of the school boards are running the efficiently. If you take away the capacity at the department, I'm just wondering how, if I'm hearing this question right, the member opposite feels that we should be taking 50 per cent of the capacity of the department away? I'm confused. Could I just ask for clarification?
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, I'd love to clarify that. My question is very much focused on the classroom, it's very much focused on the supports that we have for our teachers in classrooms. It's also directly related to capacity of which the minister speaks. The capacity that exists within the Department of Education may need to be revisited because - and the minister I think should know this - if you are providing supports for 50 per cent fewer people, do you need to have the same number of support people there? Their work is going to be reduced by 50 per cent because they are dealing with 50 per cent fewer people out in the field. Perhaps the minister could explain that.
MS. JENNEX: Even though there may be a reduction in the number of math mentors and literacy mentors within the system, the expertise at the department does more than just work with math mentors or literacy mentors. People at the department who are working in those curriculum areas are also working with school boards and other initiatives, they are working with curriculum, developing curriculum; they are working with classroom teachers.
I remember when I was a teacher in the system and I was working on an idea, I worked with people at the department. Now that I have the honour of being minister in the department, there are so many initiatives going on that the people within the department are juggling all the time. Believe me, there are so many initiatives that I don't know - we need to prioritize. Every single day there is somebody in this province, or around the world, who will contact the department - I know the member opposite knows this - with an innovative idea or a suggestion and we need to take the time at the department to look at that, to collaborate. So even though there are fewer math mentors, the people in the department who are working in the curriculum, that's not their whole job, to work. They are still going to be working with the 50 per cent who are there.
Now would it be appropriate at this time to answer a number of the other questions that the member asked, for which I now have the information, through the magic of BlackBerrys and also through the magic of pen and paper? Would that be okay? I would just like to provide the information that the member opposite asked.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: It's the minister's prerogative.
MS. JENNEX: Thank you. The reductions for this year, in terms of people and FTEs, literacy, we're looking at approximately 11 FTEs across the province and math, approximately 15 FTEs. That would be the FTE reduction based on that.
The question around vacant positions within the department, as the member knows, that is very fluid with people coming and going. There are actually at this time, today, 19 vacant positions within the department. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. The time has elapsed for the Official Opposition's questions. At this point I'd like to just mention that it would be customary at the two-hour mark to take a five-minute break to stretch our legs. It has been suggested that perhaps we start that before the Progressive Conservative Party stands. So if it's okay with the minister and others, we'll take a five-minute recess. Thank you.
[11:18 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[11:25 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.
HON. JAMIE BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, I just want to say right off the top that I intend to share my time with the Education Critic for my Party, the member for Argyle. Having said that, I want to thank the minister and her officials who are here today. I recognize that although I am a new member and new at estimates, she is a new Minister of Education, at least, and picked up the portfolio at a very difficult time. I want to commend her for the good start that she has made.
As all members will know, the Department of Education and school boards have been going through a very difficult exercise and we were in the middle of that exercise when this minister started her job. I just want to recognize that, because she's trying to put together the conclusion of an exercise that got off to a rough start. I want to recognize that.
I also realize that the minister is from the education profession, having been a teacher, and I do appreciate that. I am a parent myself and I know how important teachers are to the kids but also to families. As I've travelled around the province, particularly over the last few months when school board budgets were so much in the news, I met with literally hundreds of parents who were concerned about the future of school board budgets and so on, but the level of praise for their own teachers was very gratifying to see. I do want to share that with the House.
The teachers we have in our schools are very professional people, they work very hard, they do far more today, they're expected to do far more today than perhaps ever before in our history. They do it with the best interest of the children at heart and they do it with a high degree of professionalism. I appreciate that. Having seen it in my own family, and now having seen it in the eyes of parents and children actually around the province, it's great to see.
In fact, I got letters in my office, either as an MLA or as Leader of one of the Parties, from kids who are in the school system who were concerned by what they were reading in the paper; these were even elementary school children. Some of the letters are very touching, I'm sure the minister received some letters. They always went out of their way to say that they really liked their own teacher and I think that is important to know.
I'm here to start our time. As I indicated, I'll share it with the Education Critic because I can't think of a more important part of our system to get right than our schools, in particular our public P-12 schools. It is to that end that I want to make a few general remarks before I begin my questions. All of this is aimed not at creating any kind of confrontation, that's not our way, but rather to do our bit to try and get to the right answers in a whole host of areas so that we can design the best public education system for the 21st Century as we possibly can.
For example, as I indicated, the minister started at a time of a pretty intense and public drama in the school system as school boards were working their way through a budget exercise that by their calculation may have ended up, over a number of years, in a 22 per cent cut in funding. I know the department had different numbers around that, and I acknowledge that, but certainly that was the school board view.
In the case of my own school board in my riding, Chignecto-Central, they held public meetings at the high schools of the area of Colchester County and Cumberland County where they laid out what that would mean.
I can tell you, Madam Chairman, and all members present that I attended as many of those as I could. I'll give you one example at the Oxford school, which is a beautiful new school in a town of 1,100 people, 150 people show up for the school board meeting. That's more than 10 per cent of the town, that's a pretty impressive turnout in Oxford on what was a snowy night to see the presentation.
Unlike a lot of presentations, when the time for questions came, parents lined up several deep at the microphone. Where I'm going with this is that they wanted to make sure officials who were there knew how important education was to them for their children. There were some heart-wrenching stories about children with special needs and the attention they were getting in the schools today and so on.
If I can just add a little personal aside, Madam Chairman, I was, as members on the government side occasionally point out, involved in the Hamm Government. One of the projects I worked on heavily in the early 2000s was the first Learning for Life plan, which a previous Minister of Education, Minister Purves led. It was really the start of a lot of the programs that we now have in place, like Reading Recovery, like math mentors, like consultants that are there for special needs children. I guess I should say I hate that word consultants in this context because it really is misleading, and I think that's probably one of the lessons of the last few months.
But having said that, in Oxford one of the parents got up to the microphone and actually held up that first Learning for Life 1, it was tattered and pointed to the programs that his child was now benefiting from. It was a great way to see how far our school system has come in the last 10 years.
Because of the extra programming that we provide - like O2, Options and Opportunities, that otherwise were not there - because those programs are there the kids that would have struggled earlier in their school years, kids that may have dropped out at some point along the way or lost interest, which is what O2 is all about, are now being mentored along through systems and graduating from Grade 12 and going to do other things.
As the minister I'm sure knows, our graduation rates are up substantially over the last decade. Our test results on standardized testing, national and international are up. In most areas, if not all areas, over the last decade we've made real progress. This is very important and I think this is why the budget exercise caused the reaction that it did because people deep down had the sense that we are making progress in our public schools and they didn't want to see that put at risk.
I say that to get to my point about measuring the effectiveness of programs, that unfortunately - and I'll use Reading Recovery as an example - everyone now I think knows the cost of Reading Recovery, the $7 million cost. But of course that has to match up against the benefit in order to make a good decision.
I'm not here to criticize the minister and the decision, I just want to point out we need a way to measure and make public, not just in Reading Recovery but for all programs and probably no better place to start than in our schools to have some measure of the effectiveness of those programs. Whether it is in graduation rates, in standardized test results, whether it be class participation or the classroom experience, whether we have anecdotal examples of kids who would have drifted off and are now back in and so on, we need something to measure the $7 million against for that program and for others and the department does some of this and I acknowledge that. But parents I think deserve to see those results so that when these kinds of decisions get made they can put the decision in context. When we don't do that, Madam Chairman, it appears to be all about the money.
If there is one area where we can't be all about the money, it is in our public schools where many people wisely see it more as an investment in the future than as a line item expense in a budget. That is what got lost, I think, unfortunately, during the great debate about the 22 per cent.
I will also add that I think it is unfortunate that the whole turmoil appeared to turn into a battle between the department and school boards on things like the accumulated surplus of school boards and so on, which the department was quick to point out had existed and then school boards had to defend and so on. I think it's important that we come together on items like that. Even the use of the word consultant, as I think we've learned in the schools, a consultant isn't the same as a consultant in other areas, that there are specialist teachers who have extra training who can dig deeper in math and reading and other things, deeper than a teacher who is a generalist in a classroom is able to go, particularly with a child who needs extra help.
We call those specialist teachers with that deeper training consultants, but unfortunately in the political world when we lump all consultants together we've done a disservice to those teachers and so I'm hopeful that we'll be able to come to a place where we either come up with better terminology for the consultants who are actually doing very active and important specialized work in classrooms, or we try and avoid politicizing that word, in this case, because it's not helpful to the education system.
I do have a number of questions for the minister, after having made those few general comments. I think I've introduced my first one, if I may, which is, do we have information that can be made available to the public on the effectiveness of programs like Reading Recovery and math mentors and Options and Opportunities that we can put out there along with the costs that can allow parents to make informed decisions about the validity and the long-term value of those programs?
MS. JENNEX: I think I'll take this piece by piece and I might need a reminder just to be able to get all of the points in. Thank you very much for those comments. I value your input on that. Before I answer the question on the cost, I just want to make a comment. The member opposite mentioned parents and how impassioned they were when they were speaking about their schools. One of the things around the issue of education, the involvement of parents is crucial. Parents are partners in the education of their children and so when we're talking about school boards, parents, and also children, need to have input too on how they envision their schools. Of course, when you ask an elementary school child, the points that they bring up are rather interesting and we can take those under advisement, but I really feel that by the time a child is in their junior years and senior years, they recognize their education and they have a valuable voice that we need to listen to around education.
The member opposite is absolutely correct that there was turmoil and unfortunately that did happen, but it did create an opportunity for, I think, everyone to take a deep breath and just look at what our public education is providing in the province and I think there is much value in having an exercise where people can have discussion. Unfortunately I hope we never have a discussion around the money aspect and the fear that was evoked during that time period, but the voices that we need to hear, we need to continue to hear as we move forward and make sure that we continue to have a quality education system in the province.
Now, the question around, do we have the data around how the cost of a program and the outcomes are measured and is that information that can be provided to the public? I would like to answer first on the Reading Recovery piece. Just in the last number of years, the measure around the ELLA - it's unfortunate, we end up talking in acronyms. That's the Grade 3 assessment in literacy, we call it the ELLA and the one in math is called EMLA, so it's kind of funny. Teachers have jargon, which is unfortunate because sometimes we don't know what we're talking about. We know what we're talking about but because we use jargon - the ELLA is the Early Language Literacy Assessment in Grade 3 but over the last two years we were able to measure Reading Recovery. Before that we had the assumption that it was what the outcomes of it were. Because we have that standardized measure now in place, yes, we actually can now provide that information to the public and be accountable for that.
That is one reason why it caused me great dismay to find out that the data on Reading Recovery was not where we thought and, I think, what people think it is, that at the end of a successful completion of the Reading Recovery, by the time the children were in Grade 3, over the last two years - I'll round it out - only 50 per cent of the children who were fully served by Reading Recovery were successful, at a baseline measure of where we wanted them to be at Grade 3. So having that assessment allows us to go back and evaluate the effectiveness of programs.
Going back to a comment that the member opposite made that these discussions around money, we have to make sure that we do get value for our money and Reading Recovery is one of those areas that met the needs of so few students and then we're finding out that those few students that we felt were progressing through and had been given the resources and the ability to move forward, only 50 per cent of them were actually at a level that we wanted them to be at in Grade 3. So Reading Recovery, based on not capturing the children in as many as we wanted them to be captured, it's only the lowest 20 per cent in a Grade 1 class and not all of the 20 per cent are captured, just some of the ones, so you could have two children, one gets Reading Recovery and another one doesn't.
We now know that the outcomes were not where we would want them to be. We would want to see at least 70 per cent or more of those children successful by the time they are in Grade 3 and as they carry on through the school system.
The Options and Opportunities that the member asked about, in terms of the data, I don't have that at my hand, but I can tell you one thing, Options and Opportunities, when I've asked about how it is meeting the needs and its effectiveness and that, actually what I'm hearing back - and I don't have any data to support this - I have that anecdotal comment, it's a lifesaver. When you have something that's in our school system that people recognize as being able to capture the youth who are disengaged with our school system, who need the option and the opportunity to be able to be successful in our school and in society, I don't have the measures for that, but I don't need the measures to know that that is a good way we spend our money.
Now I will ask the department to see if there is data to support that. I haven't asked for the data because that was not an area where we were looking at taking away funding. We want our children who are disengaged - we want every child to be engaged in school but some children do disengage for various reasons and we need to be responsible, as a society, to pick them up and to provide supports that are going to continue to make them successful as they move through their life.
I responded to Reading Recovery and I responded to Options and Opportunities, this is probably where I need a little bit of clarification. Was there one other area around data? Anyway, I appreciate the comments that the member opposite made. Just to recap, it is so important that we keep parents and students and everyone engaged in the dialogue around education. That is how we can work together to make sure that we have a system that continues to improve. Any data that is needed, I will definitely look to staff to providing it if I don't have it at my fingertips at this time, so thank you.
MR. BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, I want to thank the minister for her thoughtful answers to those questions. I agree with her anecdotal information on O2, for example, I met many but I'll just share one. There is a young woman in Parrsboro who had all but given up on school, but thanks to the consultant actually who worked with her through Options and Opportunities, they identified that she was interested in being a chef some day, that she loved to cook, and they designed a program through the high school that allowed her to do that as part of her education from that point forward. She graduated from Grade 12 and has now gone off to the start of a wonderful career as a chef and probably would not have gotten through high school otherwise. So I know that's an example of one and I'm asking for real data, then I provide you an anecdote, but there you have it. That's what we have for the moment and hopefully we'll attract these things and then make those good decisions compared to the cost.
I do want to ask this, budget related, however, originally the whole budget planning exercise was designed, I believe, to give school boards sort of a three-year look at what their budgets would look like so that they could plan, so that they could make decisions that were more than just of an annual nature, I think that was how the 22 per cent was ultimately calculated, or whatever number we want to agree on. At the end of the day we know about the 1.65 per cent which is just for the current year and it appears we've lost the opportunity to plan ahead. So I'm wondering if the minister could clarify if there are targets for year two and year three of that three-year plan, financial targets for our school boards.
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, that's a very good question. As you know, I entered into this portfolio when there was a lot of anxiety within the community and I felt it was very important to get the information out to the school boards as quickly as possible. So the department and I embarked on working with the budget and getting it built and getting that number out to school boards in February. That has never been done ever before, that we've ever given a school board a target so very early on. Actually to tell you the truth, interestingly enough, when the honourable Minister of Finance read the budget on Tuesday, there are many in the school system forgot that the budget hadn't actually been read because they had considered the target that I had given them in February to be their budget. So we have actually been working with that number in February and March, so a full two months out they had this information.
The building of the budget provided an opportunity, as I said, to work with this year's budget but part of that budget actually targets over the three years and that is 50 per cent of, and I share with the member opposite, it is how we use our words. The group of people within a school board that does the mentoring, consulting, the ones who are not directly impacting the day-to-day business of a child in the classroom, those are to be reduced over a three-year period. So that is that visionary look over the next three years and the issue about looking over a three-year period, I hear what the member opposite is saying on that and I would like to take the opportunity, now that this budget is passed and we're working with the school boards, that we will start working on next year's budget and the year after that in a very mindful way. I also am looking forward to the advice of Dr. Ben Levin.
We don't want to be premature to start building the expectations or a budget, or that visionary look ahead, until we have that input from Dr. Levin and we've had a good engagement with the community around that situation. So I'm very mindful of the words that the member opposite has presented and he's absolutely correct that it was at one point we were looking at three years. We stopped that, made sure that we were able to get the numbers out to the school boards. Provided them in a time that has never been done by any government, to give the school boards their targeted number so early on, which gave them the opportunity to do their planning around that.
Now, one of the things that the member opposite did bring up is the fact that I am a former educator. I don't necessarily believe that any Cabinet Minister needs to have had prior knowledge of a certain portfolio to be a good Cabinet Minister because we have the expertise in the departments as they provide a Cabinet Minister with any of the information that they need but I do have to say that I feel very honoured to be in a portfolio where I do have a very intimate understanding of the system and how it works. I taught for 30 years. I had the opportunity to be a classroom teacher. I had an opportunity to do some administrative work. I had the opportunity to work at the school board and in a secondment capacity. I have been a secondment with the department.
I feel that I've been in many different aspects over my career, my 30 years, and I feel very honoured that I was able to bring that perspective. But it is only my perspective so I never feel that any of the decisions that I make should be based on only that perspective. I need the advice of the department and I also need the input and the advice from people who are impacted by our education system, as I said earlier, by the parents, by our students, by other stakeholders. That's how decisions are going to be made as we move forward, that we'll all be working together.
Coming back to Dr. Ben Levin, his report will be coming to government very soon and as soon as that report is made available, we will be having a discussion and we'll be discussing that within the broader community. Everyone will have a part and a voice in that and then we will be having our discussions on how we build the budget from that point on, thank you very much.
MR. BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, I appreciate the minister's answer. Let me say this - which is not off topic but it's not where I was planning to go - I did make reference to the minister's professional background and I meant in a complimentary way. I do agree with the minister that it is not necessary that a minister have a background in the profession for which they are minister.
In fact, a famous Conservative thinker and former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Lloyd George, has written on what he looked for in good ministers and he came up with a phrase that has always stuck with me and maybe someday I'll get to put it in action or maybe I won't. He said that what you really want in a good minister is a set of gifted amateurs because they don't run the department, they oversee the department, they're trustees of the department on behalf of the people. You want a minister who is able to ask good questions and to think critically and to have the people's needs in mind and so on and then allow the professionals to do their job. I do agree with that, so it's not exactly related to the estimates, but it came up, so I thought I'd just give you my thoughts on what makes a good minister and I appreciate that we're of like mind on that.
Having said that, I am a believer in multi-year budgeting and although I didn't agree with the minus 22, I did think that was a good initiative to at least provide a longer viewpoint for school boards to have. It used to be done with the district health authorities so that they could plan in a multi-year way. I am disappointed that we didn't get that far along this year, or the government didn't. I encourage them to get back to that three-year window. Unfortunately, because of the way this unrolled, when we were originally looking at three and then only one year came out, it has created a sense of fear and uncertainty about what the real number is for next year and the year after. As if we were looking at minus 22 and we ended up in minus 1.65 for year one and then there was no guidance for year two and year three, you can just imagine the scenarios that people would be playing out at the school board level or at the school level in their own minds.
Having said that, the department itself was also provided, I believe, with the three-year funding reduction target of 5 per cent and 10 per cent, it was asked for both scenarios. I'll deal only with the 5 per cent one. I can see that the answers are ready to come and that's probably because it's an anticipated question. My understanding, or our understanding, of the 5 per cent target was that it would be 3 per cent and then 1 per cent and then 1 per cent over a three-year period. I just want to confirm if that's correct. If so, I don't see where the department at the departmental level has actually achieved that reduction.
I am looking at the Departmental Expenses Summary in Supplementary Detail. I'm wondering if the minister could help me with our math over here because the areas like Senior Management, Corporate Policy, Corporate Services, all appear to be up over the forecast. We're a believer that you compare actual results to the new budget. The department may feel otherwise, but if it could just show us where the 3 per cent - if 3 per cent is the right number for this year, I guess that's my first question and whether the department is hitting its own targets at the corporate level.
MS. JENNEX: Yes, the department did go through the same exercises. Every department in government was asked to go through the 5 per cent scenario and the 10 per cent scenario. We do have the budget for the department, it definitely did reach its targets and overshot actually the expectations based on our mandate given to us from Treasury Board.
The reduction to administration has totalled 4.4 per cent and I can give you the exact number figures if you're looking at the reduction of - there was a reduction of six full-time equivalents which was over $500,000 and reductions to operations at the department were over $700,000. I trust if that does not satisfy the answer, I will definitely provide more detail. We did meet our reductions and we've overshot this year. We were given, as every department in government was given, an exercise to look at 5 per cent and 10 per cent and over a three-year period.
Looking at 3 per cent-1 per cent-1 per cent or how it works out, our expectations for government is that we will have reductions overall in the system. Thank you.
MR. BAILLIE: I again thank the minister for her answer. I would like further details on that actually, either today or in writing in the not too distant future. I cannot square that with what the Estimate Book says. I'll just ask for today this of the minister, she speaks of a six FTE reduction. Is that six real people who are actually working now that she foresees no longer working for the department, I'm trying to put FTEs into the easiest language I can think of?
Secondly, where is the $700,000 operational reduction? By a scan of the Estimate Book, it's not possible to see that. If that's too much detail for today then perhaps we could just get that provided to us in more detail later on.
MS. JENNEX: Absolutely. We are going to provide you with the detail around that.
The reductions were 4.4 per cent plus there were additions in the department for some other incentives. We did meet our target reduction of 3 per cent. Some of the examples, we have business support, community use of schools, SchoolsPlus, Virtual School. Those were initiatives that added to our budget line. With the reductions and with the initiatives, it's a 3 per cent reduction for this year. But, as I said, we will provide you with that information, with all of the information all clearly outlined that will probably clarify the question that you've asked, but staff will have that to you as soon as possible. Thank you.
MR. BAILLIE: Just so I'm clear then, I'll ask this of the minister. I believe what she said was they had achieved a 4.4 per cent cut in departmental budget, but then added another 1.4 per cent to lead to a net 3 per cent reduction which was the target provided. Okay, then we don't need to get up and down on that, I just wanted to make sure I understood. I look forward to receiving that information as soon as practical.
If I may, rather selfishly for my riding, I would like to ask a few questions that are in the Education capital budget if that's appropriate as well for today? I am interested, as the minster knows from our previous discussions, in the plans this year for River Hebert District High School. I see it listed under buildings in the education part of the capital budget, it doesn't have a number attached to it or exactly what is being done there. I know what the community believes is being done there and I wonder if the minister or an official can give us an update on the plans for this year for River Hebert District High School?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, that was not the question that I was expecting because I have information . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Answer the one you expected.
MS. JENNEX: I know everything that's going on in one of your high schools - okay, I'll hold that then.
Just while I have Mr. Dunn going through to get that information - because I'm going to tell you right now that that list is so fine that there are a lot of things on it that I actually might need a magnifying glass to actually find the information for that - while Mr. Dunn is doing that work, I just would like to table the information that the member has requested. I had it in my binder and I'm more than willing to have that tabled so you can have a copy today, so thank you very much for that.
I have - now here's the problem, River Hebert, design is underway so we have to demolish the old portion of the existing school - and if you saw how small this is you would recognize why I am struggling. There is an addition and alterations to accommodate students from elementary school. So the design is underway.
I see that the year for the completion for that - okay, now I need you to read that for me - 2016, look how small that is, it's beyond small. I hope that that satisfies the answer on that particular school. Thank you.
MR. BAILLIE: I'm assuming that it is Springhill Junior Senior High that the minister tabled - correct? (Interruption) No? You mentioned the others that you thought I was going to ask about, but I didn't quite catch . . .
MS. JENNEX: Thank you very much for clarification. I was actually tagging along on your last question, which was around the reductions at the department. What I've done is in my binder it has all that very detailed information, and what I've taken from my binder I have tabled so that the honourable member can have a copy of that very detailed information about the department reductions and additions today.
Now the Springhill information - that was what I was expecting the question to come from, and if it's the next question, I'll wait until he makes it. But I wasn't prepared to on the other one, which I now know - I will have to ask the department to please make sure the font is at a size that I can read.
MR. BAILLIE: Thank you. Madam Chairman, I do intend to ask about Springhill Junior Senior High and I look forward to the minister's answer on that, but maybe just before we leave River Hebert, this school there - well there's actually two schools because there is a stand-alone elementary school next to the junior-senior high - the plan is to create a P to12 school and demolish the old elementary.
I know the font is very small - and I'd be very nervous if I were a minister and I was handed a schedule with a font that small, so I encourage you to get the department to find an appropriate font.
Having said that, the answer I heard was that the plans are being developed and we're looking at a completion date of 2016. I think that's news to the community because it sounds a bit late. I'm wondering if the minister can confirm what the original completion date was for that school and how 2016 compares to that completion date?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, I now have recognized that the font was actually very small for Mr. Dunn, too. You are absolutely correct, member opposite, that does appear late, and the reason it does is because it is not 2016, it actually says 2013. So I apologize for that misinformation. We recognize that bifocals are in order; some clarification is needed on our eyes. I apologize for that bit of misinformation on that - it is 2013.
I think the reason the font is so small is that the school capital project update is quite extensive, and so to get it on a number of pages they have done it in this way for me.
If there's any information you need around the work around River Hebert, I am more than willing to get it provided to us here during estimates, or I would be more than willing to meet with the member opposite in the department, and with staff, so we can go over the design or any information that he needs around this. I see that Darrell MacDonald has joined us today who is the person in charge of our capital work at the department. It would be my pleasure to offer that meeting to the member opposite around any of the schools in his area, especially the one that he has just brought up.
MR. BAILLIE: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and thank you to the minister. I would like to take the minister up on that offer of a meeting because of the importance of this particular project to the River Hebert and Joggins area. This was a school plan that has been worked on, actually, for a number of years by the local committee, by the previous member for Cumberland South and by previous ministers. I appreciate that it looks like it's going to take a big step forward this year, which will be of great comfort to the community. We will, of course, have to make sure that as the construction begins, we find a way to minimize the disruption to the students, considering we're actually demolishing an old elementary school and moving elementary children into what will now be a P-12.
I just want to share, out of interest with the minister, that the enrolment at River Hebert is down this year, but it's projected - obviously they know which students are coming in - to go up for the next couple of years. It is a very timely project that is underway.
I think I will now turn, for a moment, to the Springhill Junior Senior High School, which I think the minister was anticipating I might ask about. We're now in Phase 3 of the Springhill Junior Senior High School renovations, a very important project to Springhill, and has been going well so far, so I'm just asking the minister if she can confirm that they will see the final phase of that high school complete. Again, it is listed in the capital plan without a dollar amount attached and so I'm wondering if the minister could provide that to us in whatever font the department has available for her.
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, this is in the font that I can read and thank you for bearing with me with that last question around the information. I do know about the Springhill Junior Senior High School addition and renovations because the member opposite brought this to my attention a while ago and I appreciated him doing that. Things are on target there, Phase 3, the renovations to the kitchen, the cafeteria, music room, second floor of the junior high wing, as well as the paving, access way and parking are going to be completed on schedule. Phase 4 design drawings and tender documents for the gymnasium, tech production lab and locker rooms renovation and expansions are currently underway and will be ready for tender late this year.
MR. BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, I have one more related to my riding and I again recognize how selfish I am being on behalf of my constituents, but I see that Oxford Regional Education Centre is listed in the capital plan - and again without a dollar amount attached - and I'm wondering if the minister could share with me what the plans are for Oxford Regional Education Centre for the upcoming year.
MS. JENNEX: I hope that people understand that there are many projects across the province that are underway, in design phase, and it's my understanding that the Oxford Regional Education Centre, which is a brand new school, is open. Yes, so I guess in trying to get the information and not understanding that, I guess that maybe I missed your question. If you could ask a question around that again, I'm sorry, I have it clarified that it's a new school and it's open but I missed the question, I apologize.
MR. BAILLIE: It is a new school, it is open, it's a beautiful school and a great addition to the community. I see it in the capital plan and I'm not aware of any intended additions to the school because it's new. I'm wondering if perhaps it's the amortization of the construction costs into the next year or just to be sure if there is something new that's going to be done there. That's my question, thank you.
MS. JENNEX: It's interesting when you get asked a question and you're trying to gather up your information, I actually should have just referred to my memory because I have actually been in Oxford and I have seen this beautiful new school. I was there when I was Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.
The reason I feel that it is on the capital plan has everything to do with the demolition of the old site, that is why I think it's there, it's nothing to do with the new school. I think it has to do - and the honourable member will know there has been significant concern over the demolition of the old school and where it is. I'm just bringing that forward from my conversation with mayor of Oxford that I did have the opportunity of visiting Oxford and it's a wonderful, beautiful community. I have to say I'm looking forward to spending some time just to go back and just to enjoy the small Town of Oxford.
It's one of those gems that - I think I have gone down the road so many times and have gone by the sign that says Oxford blueberry capital - you are greeted, when you go into this community with this absolutely gorgeous park and water area. The buildings are beautiful downtown too, it has that look of old Nova Scotia with those vintage and heritage buildings. The new school, which is up on a hill, I did get a chance to drive around and it's a beautiful new school. But I think this is on the capital plan because of the demolition aspect of the old site and some concerns around that and I think that's why it's still there.
MR. BAILLIE: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and again thank the minister for her answer. I will ask again one more time if we could be provided with further detail on the demolition plans because it is an area of great concern to the Town of Oxford. There are in fact two old sites, the old high school and the old elementary school, both of which were replaced by the brand new P-12 school. There are some environmental issues with one of those two sites.
The town's concern, I'll just share this with the members present, was that the town would be left with those sites and that the demolition and clean-up and the environmental remediation of those sites would be an expense of the town. The town is not in a position to actually incur those costs and believes that they're properly an expense of the province before it returns the land we so reclaimed to the town.
I've been chasing this around government for a little while as MLA for the area, and had been led to believe that the expense for demolition actually would reside in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. I believe they'll probably do the work as opposed to the Department of Education. But if the demolition costs are actually in the Education budget that is good to know so I appreciate the minister's answer. I know the Town of Oxford will appreciate the minister's answers, but if I could just have that with a little more detail in writing at a later time, that would be great. I'll certainly share that with the mayor of Oxford and the Town of Oxford and tell them that the minister has done a good job on their behalf in this area.
That is my final question for today for the minister. I had indicated that I would share my time with my colleagues and so I will take my place but I just before I do, Madam Chairman, I do want to say a thank you to the minister and her staff for their thoughtful answers. I look forward to working with them as we continue along through the estimates and wish them, and through them the school system, a successful year.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes.
MR. KEITH BAIN: Thank you very much, Madam Chairman, and I want to thank the leader for sharing some of his time with me. I just have one question before I turn the floor over to my colleague, the member for Argyle, and it's about the renovations at Baddeck Academy. I'm just wondering if the renovations are on target because I know that some parents have been hearing that there have been reductions in the work that's actually taking place. That would be my question, is everything going according to Hoyle?
MS. JENNEX: Sorry, I can't put my hand on exactly the figures but it is in the alterations in our budget for the coming year, and I will provide a little bit more detail as soon as staff is able to put their hands on that exact line item.
MR. BAIN: Thank you, Madam Minister, if we could just get that information to ensure that the work that was actually being proposed to be done is being done, I guess that's the biggest concern. So if your department can provide that to me, I would greatly appreciate it. With that, I'll turn it over to my colleague, the member for Argyle.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Argyle.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and I apologize for that little move. I know that the member for Victoria-The Lakes did want to get that question in before the weekend as he travels back to Cape Breton to spend a few hours in his constituency.
First of all, I would like to welcome the minister to this game we call estimates. I always enjoyed my time as minister and being able to answer questions and always thank the staff for their input and their knowledge in that. It's a very complicated department. As much as we look at learning as being kids going to school, when you try to understand the intricacies of that department, they are very difficult.
I just wanted to start off with asking a quick question around the loss of the higher education pieces and the impacts on that because we see in the budget documentation, there's a couple of places where there are As and Bs that show up instead of actual numbers, so I just want to get a straightforward answer of what is the cost of those two misses, the higher education piece and the NSCC. What did you lose out of your department and transfer that off to higher education?
MS. JENNEX: I am able to provide that information. The transfer of the monies from Education going over to Higher Education was $34 million - is it okay if I round this off - it's almost $35 million. The Library component that went over was over $2 million and the Regional Library Board Grants, rounding it off to about $14 million; and the Community College was $127 million, almost $128 million. Then there are other figures in that, so it added up to $185 million, approximately, that went over from the Education, moving it out to Advanced Education.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Thank you very much, minister, for that because I think it sort of creates an apples to apples kind of discussion because if we look at a lot of the budget documentation, that was all in there last year. So if you're looking at some of those estimates and some of those forecasts, there is a gap of $185 and some million, so it's good to basically talk about that.
I think I would be remiss if I didn't spend a couple of moments talking about Reading Recovery before we finish off today and then maybe what I'll do is I'll come back and ask some more questions and some budgetary issues that I see within the estimates. I think we've talked about this a number of times, either here during Question Period or otherwise, the issue of Reading Recovery. For us it wasn't necessarily the loss of the program. If you can show that a program is not working or you can show that you're creating a new target to somehow influence or touch more children, then it's one that I think that we can support. But the issue really, in our mind right now, is that as we hear from communities, parents who have had the opportunity to have their children go through Reading Recovery, they look at it as being a very good program. I have heard from very few parents who had the opportunity to go through Reading Recovery of saying it wasn't a good program or their children didn't improve. Maybe they didn't complete the program completely, but necessarily they've at least gotten some benefit out of that program.
I'm just wondering, maybe just a general discussion around Reading Recovery. What do you envision as being the new program? We are saying that a $7 million program, which was Reading Recovery, which had a whole bunch of people trained up to be those mentors of those individuals, and now we're talking about a $5 million program that will influence more children from Primary to Grade 3, so just maybe have a general discussion like that. We only have a few minutes left before our time expires.
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to address this very important issue. I want to start by saying that Reading Recovery is a program, a trademark, copyrighted - however people want to understand - program for which the Department of Education pays licence fees and the budget line says $7.1 million, but I also want to add that there are professional development components of Reading Recovery that teachers would tap into their professional development, so it would be more than $7.1 million.
Reading Recovery, I just want to clarify because I think that there is a misunderstanding within the community and I know that the member opposite has an understanding of what Reading Recovery is. People think Reading Recovery is something for all grades, because I have had that comment. Then they thought it was for Grade 1 students, but actually it is for the 20 per cent - a child comes in Grade 1, I'm going to back up - comes into Grade 1 and the very first month, a full month of school, the Grade 1 teacher does an observational survey and they check the children, every child in the class, on where they are with their vocabulary development, with their reading, their comprehension and we do a running record. Those are all teacher jargons, but it's the way we evaluate a child and where they're reading and then all of that information, those six components of an observational survey are all tabulated and put into a grid. Then the teachers meet and if it is a school that has two Grade 1 classes or three Grade 1 classes or four, the teachers all meet and then we look at the lowest 20 per cent of those children and then we have a discussion. They use a term of where they are, where their stanine is, so that particular number.
Here is the dilemma. You have 12 children in that line item and all considerations are taken, you are now deciding which four of those children in that school - with their allotment - they can have four children served by Reading Recovery. There's where the first problem comes is that four of those children are going to benefit from one-on-one intervention with a program, which I will never criticize is a good program, but it meets the needs of those four children. Now those four children will enter into Reading Recovery and one of those little people, unfortunately, is not able to advance to a level at a certain point - it could be 12 to 14 weeks - the teacher then says, that child is successful in Reading Recovery and they're referred, which means they are now out of the program and they will pick up another child along the way. At the end of the year in any school, we would have - I'll use my own past experience with three Grade 1 classes - you'd have approximately eight children served by Reading Recovery, maybe nine, whatever, average. I'm looking at those children who did not get served by Reading Recovery.
When people are talking about Reading Recovery, they've got to recognize that it is only for a small number of students. Now I'm going to use a school that you do all of the evaluations, the observational survey, every child in the Grade 1 class is put in their grid and we look at the lowest 20 per cent and you have a certain reading level. Another school does theirs, every school had the same lowest 20 per cent in your Grade 1 class, but you know not all schools in the Province of Nova Scotia are the same. Some schools have more needs than others, and some schools, because of either where they are located or their involvement with the community, it's hard to say that the lowest 20 per cent can actually be higher than the middle of another school.
In terms of an equitable approach to learning how to read, some of those children in another school who are having a lower per cent are not being served and children who have a higher per cent are being served. We have an issue of a program- as I've said it's a good program but because of the very strict and prescriptive rules and guidelines around that, and the lack of flexibility, we're leaving kids out.
The children who were getting Reading Recovery, there are other issues with the children with Reading Recovery. We now are able to track the data on that, it's not where we thought it was going to be. Because doesn't it make sense that if you have a little person going out with a specialist teacher for 30 to 45 minutes a day, that on that one-on-one that they're going to be successful in that program and those skills that they learn are going to carry on with them as they are going through school?
Unfortunately we are finding that only about 50 per cent of the children are retaining that information. Looking at what way we can best benefit the reading of our children, well we now know and we've always known - as anybody who knows children - when they're little you get in there. Early intervention reading with children that we're looking at, what's happening to those little ones in Primary who probably could have had some support systems, so we're only looking at Grade 1, a very small component.
I know you're looking at me as if my time is up but if you could bear with me please I would like to continue on with this because I know the member opposite does have an understanding of what I'm talking about in this respect.
I also want to add, as I've said, coming from a background as a Grade 1 teacher does provide me the insight and my perspective. I want that just to be taken into consideration that that's only one part of what comes to my job is that past experience. Because I have people around me to also tap in to their expertise and also research and other voices that I've heard on this issue.
I think that there has been an unintended consequence of a child in Reading Recovery, I don't think that was recognized and that is what happens to the child who is taken out of a classroom for at least 20 weeks, they're missing chunks out of their learning. They're missing pieces of their math, or it could be social studies, or it could be something that is happening in the classroom. A discussion that could have been one of those teachable moments they've missed. They go out with the teacher, they come back and they stand there and I will say this is from my personal experience, "where do I fit back in?" because in 45 minutes in a Grade 1 class, what they've left is now not there anymore and it's a whole different grouping, they might be in the middle of math.
They're missing curriculum and peer time in the classroom. After a child has been referred to Reading Recovery it takes them a long time to come back into the class and feel part of the group. They always feel a little bit disengaged or not quite with their peer group. It's an unintended consequence of the best intentions in education is that little person feels disconnected when they come back into the classroom. I've been hearing more and more from parents who have felt that their children, even though they have successful learning and their levels have improved, felt somewhat disconnected and somewhat ostracized from that peer group during that time period. I recognize that good program, but unintended consequences, not reaching enough kids, not equitable, not flexible. I really deeply, deeply feel that we need to, as a society, reach those kids earlier. We need to do the very best we can to catch them when they come into Primary and we see that they're struggling - what supports can we put in place and that is the reason why Reading Recovery has been discontinued and we are going to broaden it out so that we don't have those unintended consequences and we have better results, that we have our children captured early and supported through the system.
I know I went overtime and I thank the member opposite for his question.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for the Progressive Conservative Party has elapsed. We'll now revert to the Official Opposition.
The honourable member for Colchester North.
HON. KAREN CASEY: Madam Chairman, I will watch your body language to determine when my time is up.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You have an hour, until 1:31 p.m.
MS. CASEY: If I could, I would like to pick up on the conversation that has just started with the question from the Education Critic from the Third Party and that, of course, has to do with Reading Recovery. And, again, mixed messages because in Question Period I asked the question and I was told that the reason was it was a budget decision, and now I'm hearing a whole list of other reasons why - and budget was not one of them. I guess the confusion that I'm hearing is unfortunately the question that many, many parents and classroom teachers are asking - what is the real reason?
I listened very carefully to what the minister was saying about her experience as a Grade 1 teacher and her explanation as to how the Reading Recovery Program works. I mentioned this earlier, that I know there's a lot of expertise out there in our schools; teachers who believe in, parents who believe in, students who have had success from the Reading Recovery Program. I'm not sure who the minister is listening to, but those voices have been loud and it seems to me they've not been heard.
As the minister would know, from being a classroom teacher, there are many, many strategies that teachers use and they're always looking for new ideas and new ways to help reach their students. All of our students are individual and what works for one student obviously may not work as well with another, and teachers and school board staff know that. That's what makes them work every day and that's what helps them meet the needs of individual students. Nobody has ever said that Reading Recovery is the only part of that whole menu that teachers use in order to reach those students.
As the minister would know, from what boards have been telling her, boards recognize that Reading Recovery has an important place to play in that whole menu of deliveries for students, that whole variety of programs and strategies that teachers use. No one has ever said it's the only answer - no classroom teacher would ever even think it was the only answer and no board would ever suggest it's the only answer. What the minister fails to be accepting is that it is a critical part of the whole picture, and it works. It's research-based, it's evidence-based - we know it works. Is it enough? It's never enough. Is it the only one? No. But it is, and has been since 1995 in this province, a key part of delivering and helping young students learn to read.
The minister would also know, because boards have told her, that there are other early intervention literacy programs that boards themselves have borne the cost of because they see it as a complement to Reading Recovery. The one that the minister has mentioned in the media is the Early Intervention program in Chignecto. That literacy program is designed to do what Reading Recovery is not doing - and it's exactly what the minister is saying - picking up those kids in Primary to Grade 3 who may not be part of that lowest 20 per cent.
But Reading Recovery, the early literacy program, and a lot of other strategies come together, and I think what's being missed here is that it's not a one program for all kids, it's one part of a whole menu of programs that helps meet the needs of all of our individual students. That's why boards are saying why would you take one of the key parts of that whole strategy out, first of all, when you don't know what you're going to put in? Secondly, the criteria that makes Reading Recovery so successful is the criteria that has to be included when a new program is designed or defined or identified or created - whatever is going to happen with the new program.
The message that I'm hearing, and I hoped the minister would hear, is that we know Reading Recovery has limitations, we know it has successes, leave it where it is and let us continue to build on what happens in that particular part of our language arts delivery. I guess my question to the minister would be, knowing that most boards - now maybe the minister has had a bad experience with Reading Recovery, maybe there is a board that has had a bad experience, but for those boards who value it, who understand what parents and teachers are saying about the strengths of the program, the question to the minister is: Will those boards be able to continue doing what they do best with Reading Recovery?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, I want to be very clear that I personally have not had a bad experience with Reading Recovery and I would never want anyone in the Province of Nova Scotia to feel that a decision was made on one person's bad experience. The experience I would like to share today is that this government wants to be able to reach more children earlier. Reading Recovery is a trademarked program. It's a program that the province was paying for a licence to use. It is a program that has very strict parameters and you have to follow a prescriptive formula. We have had the training of the teachers in the Province of Nova Scotia - as I mentioned, I think it was yesterday, we have 600 teachers in the province who have the training for Reading Recovery. Reading Recovery is based on best practices and learning how to read. It's put in a very concentrated prescriptive way on a one-on-one.
In the Province of Nova Scotia we can build on the expertise that we have in our schools. We do not need to be buying into a program that meets the needs of so very, very few children. In the conversation that I'm hearing from my honourable member opposite is that school boards are supplementing or working with and around what Reading Recovery is not filling, building other parts of their program.
Reading Recovery, as I said, is only reaching the lowest 20 per cent of our Grade 1 children in the province. We have that 20 per cent, so in one school, maybe four children, maybe eight, over a year will be served by Reading Recovery, a very expensive program, when that money can be utilized to enhance the literacy development in a much broader way where we have the flexibility to provide the service.
Now, what we're looking at is that there are other programs that probably could have been put in place, and the member mentioned one that had been brought to my attention - I think Chignecto does an Early Intervention program that has a certain name. There were many ways that we could have filled that gap, but this government believes in collaborating and we made sure that we invited the school board, the specialists, reading specialists or literacy specialists, to share in the design of a new approach. I don't even want to say it's new - there's nothing new about good teaching and there's nothing new about best practices - but an approach where we broaden out, providing the supports in Primary based on literacy development and moving it through the system so that we can capture these children.
Now, this program - or this approach that we're looking at - is not going to take away a one-on-one intervention if necessary, because it's going to be based on children and the children's needs at the time. Evidence-based research is showing that children learn in collaborative settings and social settings and we're looking at somebody - the reading specialist, reading teacher - coming and working in the classroom with the classroom teacher, in small-group forums so that we are able to support the children who might be having difficulty. It might be the classroom teacher who is actually supporting those children who need the extra support, while the literacy specialist, literacy teacher, is actually working with the rest of the children. The design of that, the framework has been drawn up already, and this will be ready to roll out.
I want to go back to Reading Recovery. The honourable member mentioned that it has been in the province since 1995, and I totally agree with her that it has been in the province since 1995, but it hasn't been a provincially mandated program for that length of time. I know that in Halifax it was brought in and then it moved over to the South Shore and then it did become a provincial initiative a number of years after that. So not all school boards have had it since 1995. So I just want to clarify that - as a provincial mandated program, it wasn't.
It comes from New Zealand and I recognize that Marie Clay actually designed that Reading Recovery to supplement the whole language approach to learning to read. We've changed the way that we teach literacy in the Province of Nova Scotia. We no longer would call it whole language, even though I would consider it is whole in that respect, the acronym or the label that we use. We look at literacy based on all the evidence that we've had provided to us, with all the research that has been done and all the experience that we have had over the last number of years - we have many components. We teach phonetics in school, we have whole language, we talk with our children. There are many components to learning how to read - learning how to read is not as simplistic as one might think. It's a complicated and complex process that a child goes through as they're learning to decode, learning to read, how to make sense of words, what words look like, and Reading Recovery was taking a child out of the classroom, that lowest 20 per cent who were learning how to read.
I have always been interested in how we use words in our language and how acronyms come to be used, but I've always questioned, by the time a child is in Grade 1, why do they need to be recovered? The whole issue of Reading Recovery, it's teaching children how to read using best practices, and those best practices need to be offered to a broader base of children within our province. Reading Recovery was one small component of the reading program. What we're saying now, this government wants to make sure that we are providing flexibility and an equitable approach to learning how to read by taking away the trademarked program and looking at an approach that is going to encompass more children, starting in Grade Primary. That framework, as I said, is in place and, within a number of weeks, I will be able to bring that forward to members of the board so that they can provide their staffing and which teachers will be put in place for that.
Now, as I said, there are 600 Reading Recovery teachers in the Province of Nova Scotia. That doesn't mean that there are 600 teachers who are teaching Reading Recovery - there are 600 trained Reading Recovery teachers. Our classroom teachers are "generalists" - I heard that word used a little while ago. Actually, a large component of education of a teacher is teaching teachers the best practices in learning how to read and the research around that.
So I'm looking forward to be able provide the members opposite, and also the people in Nova Scotia and the school boards, the framework that we will be using, and a number, within of couple weeks. Because this government, and I will repeat, this government believes in providing a good service to students and making sure we are going to support the children who are struggling or having trouble learning how to read or needing to break into that learning - how to break that code, however we want describe it - earlier and supporting them for longer.
MS. CASEY: Lots of information to generate a lot more questions.
My first question, could I please, since we are in estimates, have a breakdown of the $7 million?
MS. JENNEX: Yes, I will be able to provide that. I don't have that here in my Estimate Book, but what the $7.1 million actually covers are the licensing fees associated with Reading Recovery; it also provides the money for the actual teachers who are teaching Reading Recovery. But I have to say that the $7.1 million is a number that the Department of Education has provided school boards for targeted funding for Reading Recovery, but there's a larger component of money that is utilized for Reading Recovery because of the very strict guidelines, procedures around Reading Recovery.
Reading Recovery teachers require as part of the licence to have quite a bit of professional development. I know that that money would be very hard for me to be able to provide this House because it would be in the budgets of the boards and their professional development pockets of money that they use for professional development of each staff at their school board.
I know that there is a larger price that's being utilized with the teaching of Reading Recovery in the Province of Nova Scotia. To answer the question, if there is any possible way that we can have that information to you today, I definitely will ask that it be provided. If not, we will have that for you next week, the breakdown of the cost for each school board and the staff and where the money is for Reading Recovery.
MS. CASEY: I'm not interested in the breakdown for the board because I know they have their PD fund and would be using some of that, but I am interested in how you came up with $7.1 million as a price tag for Reading Recovery. I think what you've told me are licensing fees and the salaries for teachers. If the board is using money out their PD fund, are you suggesting that that is calculated into the $7.1 million? Okay good, I'm clear, thank you.
So my question then: If that is not included in the $7.1 million, if the teacher positions, the 600 trained teachers who are in this province, are they part of the reduction exercise that this government has asked for as a cost-cutting measure?
MS. JENNEX: I will honestly say that I really do not understand the question, because the targeted funding for Reading Recovery is being phased out, the targeted funding is phased out for three years. So the reduction globally for the province was about $2 million that is not going to be in the boards' allocations, but those 600 teachers are probably Grade 1 teachers, Grade 6 teachers. What I'm talking about are teachers who have been trained for Reading Recovery that are in our system.
I don't know the exact number of how many Reading Recovery teachers would have been servicing the system this year; that number can be provided. But no, the budget exercise and the budgeting had nothing to do with reducing around the trained teachers with Reading Recovery. This was the targeted funds that were in place in a budget line, the same as the honourable member would have had in her tenure, and we are reducing that by $2 million in the next budget and will be phased out around the targeted funding for Reading Recovery.
MS. CASEY: I'm very happy to hear that 600 teachers who have been trained in Reading Recovery are not going to be taken out of the system.
My question: I'm sorry if the minister is misunderstanding my explanation, but I am looking for clarification, because I was told that the $7.1 million was licensing fees and teacher positions and I've just been told that the teacher positions will not disappear, so the costs for the teaching positions are still there - am I correct on that, Madam Minister?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, I guess I want to clarify when I use that number - in all honesty, I'm not using words in any way to try to confuse anyone. What I'm saying is this province is rich with people who have been trained, have had their in-servicing and have their credentials for Reading Recovery under that trademarked program. The 600 teachers who are in the system are not teachers who are teaching Reading Recovery. I would say that to suggest that we would be taking 600 teachers out of the system just because they have training in Reading Recovery - I have training in many different things, in a lot of in-servicing, we're not targeting anyone's professional development. What we're looking at is just the targeted funding for Reading Recovery - the licensing and all of that - a component of Reading Recovery is being phased out. We are going to be looking at a new approach, a new framework, but no teachers are being removed from the system around Reading Recovery.
Reading Recovery teachers who are teaching this year are most likely, and most probably, going to be the same teachers who will be the teacher specialists within our school system, who will be able to provide early intervention starting in Grade Primary and as the children are moving through the system. I don't know, that's up to the boards to make that determination, but these teachers who have Reading Recovery have expertise in this area. I would also imagine that within schools and within school boards, that will be determined by principals who do the staffing. In no way are teachers being removed from our system - the targeted funding for a trademarked program is being phased out.
MS. CASEY: I'm certainly not suggesting that 600 teachers should be removed; I'm quite happy to hear that they're not. What I'm trying to find out is when I asked the question - what makes up the $7.1 million? - I was told by the minister, licensing fee and teaching positions. I'm now being told that the teaching positions are not going to disappear, so I'm asking: What else is making up the savings that you expect to achieve by discontinuing Reading Recovery? The teaching positions are going to stay is what I understand. The only other thing that you've mentioned to me is licensing fee, so I'm still not clear on what the $7 million is. Again, I'm repeating, the two things that were told to me by the minister, the licensing fee and the teaching positions. The teaching positions, I've now been told, are not part of it.
MS. JENNEX: I guess I'm a little bit confused; I'm hearing the back and forth. In any budget we have targeted lines that include targeted funding for certain things. Of course, within Reading Recovery, the budget was placed at $7.1 million, which would be allocated provincially for school boards then, within their school boards, and I know that the honourable member knows this. They take that money within their budget, then they hire the Reading Recovery teachers and allocate those teachers based on the needs and numbers in each different school. So I'm confused what I need to answer here.
The $7.1 million was on the budget line, the money that is going to be phased out over the next three years that was used for a trademarked program. That budget line that we were working with is based on any other budget line, which is human capital, the people who deliver the program - because what is teaching all about? Teaching is about a teacher, with their children, in the classroom, teaching. That's the most important thing that we have. Therefore, the allocation is always based on the FTEs that are associated with a program and also, in terms of this particular program, there were licensing fees that were included in that cost.
I hope I'm clear in explaining that the $7.1 million is like any other budget item - O2 has a line; International Baccalaureate. This was targeted funding that the province was passing over to the school boards. Now the school boards, the funding that they have to make their allocations is based on the number that we gave them.
I think that we always have to remember, and I think this was mentioned yesterday by one of my other honourable members, these are taxpayers' dollars and we have to make sure we are utilizing the taxpayers' dollars to the very best of our ability - and the very best of our ability, I feel, is that we need to make sure that we're providing programming, we're providing good teaching for as many children as possible who are struggling in our system. And we were not doing that with Reading Recovery - children were being left out.
Teachers are going to have the opportunity, in Primary to 1 and as they travel through, of having somebody in their school to help them and work with the children who are struggling, who we identified through evidence-based evaluation. I hope that clarifies that. I know the honourable member is very knowledgeable about budget lines and I hope that I was not misunderstanding the question. I hope I clarified that.
MS. CASEY: Well I'm not going to repeat the question; I'm just going to indicate that I'm not satisfied with the answer. I don't understand the answer, but my follow-up question would be: What is the licensing fee per board for Reading Recovery?
MS. JENNEX: It is my understanding that we paid for a provincial licence and so therefore it wouldn't be by board, it's a provincial licence. It is $400,000 for a provincial licence. The province paid for that because when it moved from a board-based Reading Recovery it became a targeted funding for the province, it was done as a provincial licence.
I'm going to look at Dr. Lowe to see if I'm correct on that. Okay, thank you. I had some clarification. The actual licence is $34,000; the training component to meet the mandate for Reading Recovery added up to $400,000.
MS. CASEY: I'm glad you've corrected that because my information was similar to Dr. Lowe's. We'll come back to Reading Recovery at another day.
My question, based on some information that was shared this morning, has to do with the unfilled positions at the Department of Education. I wonder if you might share with me what those positions are, those 19 unfilled positions at the department.
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Dunn is providing me that information. I know he has it here, he has a lot paper.
Thank you very much for your patience member opposite. The vacancy report as of today - this is under the Acadian French Language Services, Policy and Planning, we have a secretary; we have Policy and Planning records analyst 2; Policy and Planning records analyst 1; under Corporate Policy we have education funding, now it's a PAO 2, and we have education funding, it's a PAO 2 - that's two positions there; Financial Management, a Clerk 3 is vacant; Information Technology under Corporate Policy, a CSO is vacant; and Statistics and Data Management, a Clerk 1A is vacant at this time.
What I mentioned earlier was Corporate Policy. We are now with Corporate Services - under the English Program Services, a coordinator, there is a vacancy there; English Program Services, assistant director; English Program Services, a PAO 2; Evaluation Services, education officer 3; under French Second Language, education officer 3; French Second Language, education officer 3; Regional Education Service, director; Regional Education Service, Regional Education Office; Regional Education Services Secretary, 2; and Student Services Education Office, 3. I think I just listed the 19 vacancies at this time, thank you.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, what is the plan for filling those positions?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, we would have to be looking at the needs within the department and each one specifically. Some of those are vacant for various reasons and are crucial to the department. We do have a three-year plan to reduce 20 FTEs and not necessarily would they be encapsulated in this. Each one of these would need to be looked at to make sure that the operation of the department is effective and efficient.
MS. CASEY: If we can go back to an earlier question about the reductions in the FTEs at the department, I believe the answer that was given to me was six. Six this year have already been reduced. My question is, if we start to fill these positions, what happens to the department's initiative to bear some of the burden of cutting positions?
MS. JENNEX: The Department of Education will be reducing their FTEs by 20 over the three-year period and six FTEs in this budget year. Not necessarily would the FTEs fall in these 19 vacancies because, as you know, with the overall management of the department, everything needs to be looked at. In terms of how the department runs, we would need to make sure that we have the people in the positions to do that. We will be meeting our targets over the next three years and three came from Dr. Lowe's department and three this year, the FTEs, have come from Mr. Dunn's department, which has met the criteria, which we asked all departments to go through.
We have asked school boards and we've asked the Department of Education and every department to base their reductions on retirements and attrition. We are trying to do our very best to make sure that the valued people within our Public Service remain employed and we're managing our reductions based on attrition and retirement, thank you.
MS. CASEY: I guess the challenge is to make sure that for every unfilled position that is filled, there is another position that becomes vacant in order for you to move closer to your target. We'll be watching that.
A question regarding funding to school boards and the application of the Hogg formula. Are there boards that are currently receiving some supplementary funding through the Hogg formula due to their declining enrolment?
MS. JENNEX: Yes.
MS. CASEY: The question I guess I should have asked at the same time, which boards?
MS. JENNEX: Thank you, Madam Chairman, I apologize for not addressing you last time and that is actually information that we don't have here. I do know that Cape Breton is one of the school boards that does have that supplementary funding. We will get that information if there is another school board affected by that.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, I would appreciate that information because I know that was a bit of a contentious issue with respect to declining enrolment and if it was declining by 1.9 instead of 2, how equitable and fair was the application of the Hogg formula? So I'd be interested to know what boards now are receiving that supplementary funding. I guess along with that question, if I could, do the figures that we looked at this morning include that 2 per cent supplementary funding?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, the answer to that question is yes, the total is $19,000,665.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, we talked a bit this morning about math mentors and the intent when math mentors were added to not only the staff at the department but the staff out in the schools. One of the things that we talked about there was one of the reasons for trying to support our teachers who were teaching math was to help improve the math scores that we were getting.
My question to the minister would be this; can you share with us the math scores for Grade 12 math for the last two years?
MS. JENNEX: I apologize to the member opposite, I do not have that data in my hand at this point but as the member well knows, we will be able to get that information to her. Within the next 20 minutes we will actually have that provided. We didn't have it as part of estimates, sorry.
MS. CASEY: That would be fine. As soon as you get those I would appreciate them. Perhaps I could ask a question that is not specific to the amounts. Is the trend for results on Grade 12 math assessment on the increase or on the decrease as far as success rates?
MS. JENNEX: In all fairness, I'm not really quite getting the question but I'm going to try to answer - can I just do it by a nod of the head? You're asking if the decrease in the consultants, or the word that we use, mentors, is reflected in our scores? No, okay.
I have misunderstood the question and I apologize for that. If the honourable member wouldn't mind repeating that question to me, so that I will be able to either answer it or provide the material from the department to answer the question for her. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: I will put it in pretty elementary language; are the scores getting better or worse?
MS. JENNEX: The last two years we have - I'm reading from the minister's report to parents and guardians, based on last year's student assessment results - we're seeing here, provincially, that from the year 2008 to 2009 there has been a reduction from 51 per cent to 45 per cent. In that year the data that has been collected shows that there has been a small decrease.
MS. CASEY: Thank you. I'm disappointed, that's certainly not the responsibility of the minister, it's an observation, but it bothers me because it has been something we have tried to address over a number of years in our schools. Obviously we have very bright kids and we have good teachers, so something - and every minister who has been there wrestles with this - what do we need to do to try to improve those math scores?
I know the minister mentioned earlier that there was some focus on curriculum. I guess my question would be, at what grade level is there a focus on math curriculum in our public schools?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, in terms of our focus on making sure that our children are learning math effectively and efficiently and appropriately, the focus is on Primary to Grade 6. We need to make sure that when a child comes to school that we start very young at getting them to understand. Math is part of who we are in this society.
Many years ago when we came to school, we used to memorize, and we've recognized from the research that we have that children need to understand numbers and the foundation of numbers. The focus is on the whole system, from Primary to Grade 12.
If you don't mind, I do have the information on the supplementary funding that I would like to offer the member opposite, at this time. Boards receiving the enrolment supplement are Annapolis, Cape Breton, Chignecto, South Shore, Strait, and Tri-County. All boards except for Halifax and CSAP are receiving an enrolment supplement. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: I appreciate getting that information in a timely fashion. It does bring the question on that to you, and then we'll go back to math. Recognizing that all except two boards are now into that 2 per cent decline, and therefore eligible for that supplementary funding, has the minister, or have staff at the department, given any thought to a review and a revisit of the Hogg formula?
MS. JENNEX: Yes, we have articulated that information to the boards that we will be reviewing the Hogg formula to ensure the best use of our educational funding. That information has gone to the boards that there is a review in place to look at the Hogg formula. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: I have to tell you, I'm happy to hear that. I'm happy to hear that because when the Hogg formula was designed, there were not a lot of boards that were taking advantage of that 2 per cent. Now, with our declining enrolment, it appears they all qualify, so a review and a revisit I think are timely. I wish you well with that. Boards will be happy to hear that, I can think of some boards that will be ecstatic to hear there will be a review of the Hogg formula.
If we can go back to the math questions, I understood the focus is P-6, although that doesn't mean that you exclude any other grade levels for review and for curriculum review. With the assessments that we're doing for Grade 6 students, what can you tell me about the results of the assessment on math for Grade 6 students? If that's not available and you wish to get it for me, that's fine, but it would be something I would be interested in.
MS. JENNEX: While Dr. Lowe is going through the material to provide the answer to that question, I want to talk about the whole issue around assessment that the honourable member has brought up. She's talking about Grade 6 assessments and one of the things I think, when we're looking at the results of assessments and we're looking at how well our children are doing or how your child is doing in your school compared to another school, I think that sometimes we miss the importance of assessing our children. There are many reasons why we need to assess our children but I think the most important thing we need to take out of the assessment, at the end of the day, is what we can do better to support our students. What we can do as classroom teachers - I say we in that global context - is that sometimes we look at results coming from standardized testing as an entity unto themselves that don't reflect a classroom practice.
Getting that information, I feel, is very important so that not only are we able to move forward at a department level but that classroom teachers have their practice informed on what children are learning, what they're missing, so that we can revamp how we are performing in our practice within a classroom.
I have the provincial averages, board results, on early elementary math and literacy assessment - we have that in the year 2008, 72 per cent are achieving, and in 2009, 71 per cent. So we're very close and I'm seeing that from the year previous, the baseline, there have been improvements.
I just want to go back to when you start making sure that we're assessing children at certain points in their school year - we're now going in at Grade 3 and we're seeing where our children are. Not only does it inform us statistically, it informs us what we can do to support the children and what we can do better. Then if we go in and check again at Grade 6, that assessment isn't a number that we want to label a school board, or school, or a child with, it is used as the tool to inform best practice.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, thank you to the minister and her staff for getting that information, and it's encouraging to see that at Grade 6 we have 71 per cent, 72 per cent of our students who are having success with the math curriculum. I think our hope has been, and I'm sure still is, that once we can improve those scores as students are moving through the lower elementary, then we focus on the junior and then the senior, those Grade 12 math scores are not going to reflect the efforts that we've put into that for some time because that population is moving through.
So my next question: We're looking at assessments at Grade 9 - would your staff, Madam Minister, be able to find the results from Grade 9? And I'm looking for trends here - I'm looking at how soon will that population that's moving through have acquired the math skills that will allow them to go into Grade 12 math assessments and have success better than what we're getting right now?
MS. JENNEX: I wouldn't be able to have that data because we're just putting those in place. So that is a very good point that has been brought forward here - as we're going in and checking and having that opportunity at Grade 3 to take a snapshot of where our children are and what we can do to support them for their achievement, then checking in at Grade 6 again, and then now we're going to have the data for Grade 9. It is going to be interesting to see how all that work and effort is going to support our children as they get to their Grade 12 math assessment, because we have now, over those years we'll have been able to look at how the practice has been informed so that they have had the support they have needed to excel by the time they're doing their standardized testing at Grade 12.
MS. CASEY: I recall when we were looking at how we can improve math scores at Grade 12, staff at the department were looking at a number of different interventions. Some of them included curriculum review, some of them included math mentors, some of them included an assessment tool that would allow us to track, and so all of those things are moving through, and I'm pleased to see that they are being continued and that the results are evident there.
There was one other thing that teachers at the time brought to our attention, and staff members here and not here would remember teachers were quite vocal about the number of outcomes that they were being asked to reach in those courses. I guess my question to the minister is have the number of outcomes in Grade 12 math - and I will be specific with Grade 12 math - been changed, increased, or reduced, the number of outcomes?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, you know, I have to say that the member opposite has brought up a very critical point, and I can say that they haven't been reduced at the Grade 12- the outcomes have not been reduced at Grade 12. But that is one area that they are being reduced, in other math points and curriculum, because when you have too many outcomes and you don't have enough time and practice on that outcome, then the level of understanding is not going to be reached.
So we have to make sure that our outcomes are targeted, that we make sure that our children get that outcome, that they understand that component in math. I know when I've sat around the table with teachers, and what you want your children to know, and you start listing off all of the things that are important - well everything is important - in terms of math we have to make sure that it is targeted, that the outcomes are the ones that they have to attain. So the outcomes are going to be reduced so teachers are going to be able to spend more time teaching, so that it gives the child the level of mastery that they need on that outcome which, in turn, as they travel through Grade 12 they should be much stronger math students.
You know we are very ambitious as a province and we are very ambitious as parents and teachers - we want our children to learn absolutely everything, but it's just not possible to give the same amount of time and detail if we have too many outcomes, so we're making sure that children attain outcomes, that they'll be successful. That component is taking place through (Interruption) Oh, if you don't mind, I'm just going to - the deputy ministers and superintendants approve the recommendation that Nova Scotia adopt the western and northern Canadian protocol curriculum, with minimal changes. So that will even standardize it in terms of that pan-Canadian situation, too, which is important - of course we want our children in Nova Scotia to excel and have the same opportunities at excelling as every other child in every other province of Canada.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman. I am pleased to hear that the minister is getting the message that teachers have been sharing with ministers over a number of years, and that is we need to do a few things well. I think that's an important message because sometimes our curriculum gets broader and our number of outcomes gets greater, and teachers are challenged and so are students. I think what has happened in the course of that time is that students come out with a broad range of skills, but the depth of some of those skills is something that we need to focus on. So doing a few things well is a message that I heard from teachers - this minister has obviously heard it and I commend you for listening to that.
I am running out of time here, but I want to switch to another topic, if I could. The minister has spoken a bit about targeted funding - I wonder, would you be able to give us a list of the programs that are targeted funding when your dollars go out to boards?
MS. JENNEX: I know a lot of them already, but targeted funding would be for advanced courses - healthy active living; literacy improvement initiative; physical education; graduation credit; literacy mentors and mathematic mentors, as we've had discussion around that earlier on. For CSAP, the literacy and math mentors, too, would be included in that; school libraries; student support workers; Options and Opportunities; and the RCH initiative. That is funding that is targeted to the boards.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, to the minister. The targeted funding, I believe the minister answered in an earlier question, O2, and if I remember correctly, IB - perhaps we could get some clarification.
MS. JENNEX: Thank you very much, because as I was reading that I was questioning that myself. Actually the IB falls under advanced courses, and that now makes sense, but even as I was reading it I was going, where is IB in this? So I appreciate the opportunity to clarify that.
MS. CASEY: Teachers do think alike, I think. The whole question of O2, and we know that is a program that this minister has spoken positively about, we know that it is reaching students who may have been otherwise not engaged, who may have otherwise not been able to finish their high school, so it has proven to be a very successful program. My question to the minister, and, again, if these are stats that we need to get from staff, fine, but I believe I see some flipping of the pages, which they're anticipating the question - how many schools in our province do not have, I'll make it easier, do have O2 as a program - how many have O2 currently?
MS. JENNEX: I will say that there are a lot. In the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board we have Avon View; Central Kings; Horton; Middleton; Northeast; and West Kings.
For Cape Breton we have Breton Education; Cabot High; Glace Bay; and (Interruption) - interesting bit of information here.
Chignecto-Central - we have Hants North Rural; we have North Colchester; Oxford Regional; Pictou Academy; Pugwash District; and South Colchester Academy.
Then CSAP, we have four schools - and I spoke with the member opposite, as I'm looking at him, that one of my great shames is that I do not have French as an additional language, and I need to work on that so I don't use bad pronunciation. I apologize for that.
Halifax Regional we have Auburn Drive; Charles P. Allen; Citadel High; Dartmouth High, where I graduated from, if everyone would like know I'm a Dartmouth High graduate; Eastern Shore District High School; J.L. Ilsley; Lockview; Millwood; Prince Andrew High, which was our arch-nemesis; Sackville High School; and Sir John A. Macdonald.
For the South Shore we have Bridgewater Junior Senior High; Forest Heights; Liverpool Regional; New Germany; North Queens; and Park View.
And for the Strait - Cape Breton Highlands; Dalbrae Academy; East Antigonish; Dr. John Hugh Gillis, St. Mary's; and Strait Area.
MS. CASEY: Madam Speaker, to the minister - if it would be possible I would like to have a copy of that and I will go through and do the math with how many do not. I think that it probably would have been easier to say how many do not. Maybe the question is, are there any that do not have O2?
MS. JENNEX: There are 44 schools that get the funding for Options and Opportunities - is that correct? Yes. In terms of trying to figure out which ones were not, I guess this is probably an easier exercise because we do have the ones that do get it - and, absolutely, we will provide that information to the member opposite as soon as this session is over.
MS. CASEY: I know I am running out of time now but my question to the minister would be, of those 44 that you've identified that do have O2, at what stage of implementation are we in those - like, some first year, how many have it for three years - what stage of implementation in those 44?
MS. JENNEX: That is not information that I have, and I am interested in getting that information from the department myself on this. I apologize for not having had that reviewed before I came.
Actually, I see they've all started and we have all of the numbers and all of the data and we will be providing that to the member opposite. It is actually all in the tabulation, but as I said earlier - and the member opposite, the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, brought up - that we might not have the data at this point around how successful Options and Opportunities are, but my understanding and what I'm hearing, this is a very valuable program that we're offering our students that had disengaged or are having difficulty in schools, that it is providing a program and a vehicle for them to have success, not only just in a school but have success in their communities and have a continued success with life.
MS. CASEY: One quick question. When you're tabulating that data, I think it would be important to look at how many of those students who went through O2 and had the automatic seat at the community college, actually did take that seat. I think that will help you with looking at the success of that program. My time has expired I understand. Thank you, very much, Madam Minister.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Argyle.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Madam Chairman, I'm just wondering how much time do we have before we expire?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Twelve minutes.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: That means I have at least one more question in than I thought I was going to get.
Let's go back for a few moments to my last questioning, which revolved around Reading Recovery once again. The issue is, if we're talking about group instruction, if that's the case that the new program will take, will there not be instances where some children would require one-on-one and how would they be getting that?
MS. JENNEX: Thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to clarify that. When I was talking about small-group instruction, I want to be very clear that the small group will not exceed any more than three - research has very clearly informed us that that's the optimum number. Actually, if you're in one-on-one, you don't have anyone that you're dealing with other than the teacher back and forth, but when you're in a small group - and as I said the number is three - you're not only learning from the teacher with a direct instruction, you are learning from your peers and that back and forth in that grouping, and research is showing us that a group of three is a really good way for children to learn and to ensure that they are going to develop success around that.
Now, the framework that we have in place recognizes that there are some instances, for whatever reason - it could be a child's maybe being distracted or maybe missing time from school or whatever, that we're going to have to have some intervention that is one-on-one with the teacher, maybe under a certain concept, or it might be the child has attention deficit disorder and needs to be removed because of the distractions around that. That's the reason why Reading Recovery didn't fit into this particular model that we're looking at - because it wasn't flexible, it was only one-on-one.
This model that we're bringing forward not only has a small group of three - no more than three - but still very quickly can be flexible enough to look at the needs of a child that might need a one-on-one. It could be one-on-one in the class or it could be a pull-out, which is not the best way for an overall education system to work in the pull-out system, but you know what? Sometimes it's based on the needs of the child, and that is back to the element of what the question was - it's going to be based on the children.
This is going to be an assessment based and looking at the data and the behaviours and what's happening in the classroom. The teacher and the specialist will be able to best work together to figure out what is needed for that child, the flexibility around that. It might be the teacher working one-on-one or the teacher in a small group or it could be the specialist working in the classroom or outside of the classroom. It's going to be flexible and it always goes back to the needs of the child, so this is going to be formed by the needs of the children.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Madam Chairman, if I may do a quick introduction, just a quick one?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Yes.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: And it will use up my time and, Richard, stay here for a second and turn around. Joining us in the west gallery today are a number of people from Shelburne County and they happen to be the parents of one of our Pages, Richard here. They are Cathy, Sandy, Matthew and Gordie Clark. I ask they would stand and receive the warm welcome of the House. (Applause)
So let's talk a little more of other resources that you might have to have in and around these students who do require a little bit of extra time. I spent some time talking about my son, Alec, who has had some reading problems, who is now in Grade 3. The challenge that we had, as he went through the Reading Recovery Program - you know, he was getting things accomplished but what we found, that even over that time, from Grade 1 to Grade 3, it took us until Grade 3 before we got a real assessment from a speech language pathologist, for example, to get somebody in and certainly find out that, okay, he's catching on, he's understanding, but what really is his barrier there.
So I'm just wondering if there's going to be a focus in the school districts, or within the department, of trying to provide a more centralized service for speech language pathology because I'm finding - you know, it took us three years of convincing and pushing and really trying to get him to see someone. So is there going to be a little more focus now that we're away from Reading Recovery to provide maybe some of those services?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, I don't know if I'm going to be able to answer that question the way it was asked, but I just want to clarify some points around the framework, the new model that we're bringing in. We're going to have actually speech and language pathologists involved in that early piece with Primary because, as many people probably understand, you can't be a good reader if you're not a good talker or you can't understand the language that is being spoken to you. This is where we have the experts, the speech and language pathologists who can pick up children in Primary. That's where we're going to be using their expertise, to pick up those children who are having difficulty with the language per se - and if you're having trouble with the language, then you're not going to be able to be a successful reader. So that's going to be a component of that.
One of the things that we're still working towards, and it might not happen into the next year, but one of the ways that we're moving forward with this new model is the fact that we need to have someone designated in our schools, and that will be under the umbrella of this new framework to help support our parents and the community at large on how to teach our children to read - the best practices on learning how to read - and so there will be sort of, I'll use a teacher word here, an "in-servicing" component, an outreach component, an education component.
A lot of classroom teachers in a lot of schools already have curriculum nights and we come in and talk about the best practices globally, but learning to read is one of those skills that is quite complicated. I mentioned that earlier. It's not something that you sit and read with a child and they just pick it up by osmosis. Do you know what? Some of us have in our families natural readers - they were reading without being taught, they were able just to pick up on the cues of society and saw McDonald's signs, or Harvey's, or as they were going through a Stop sign, that environmental language just all of a sudden pieced together that it just made sense to them. It was seamless, but other children need to be taught how to decode, how to be observant.
So, you know, we know more about learning how to read than ever before. There has been so much research. I had the pleasure of having Dr. David Doake as my mentor when I was taking my undergraduate work, and coming out of New Zealand he had many approaches to learning how to teach reading. I guess the biggest thing I learned from his work that he did was there's no one size fits all, that we have to be cognizant that there are many approaches to learning to read and, unfortunately, I've had the experience of some parents with their children, trying to support their children at home with that old Ginn 360 approach, which was bark out the words - you know, looking at the words on the page and decoding everything, not looking at the full sentence and looking at what it means, looking at the picture, looking at the context of what it is - and if you miss a word, is it really that important that you say every word? That look of how learning to read, we now know more about.
I'm looking at having the literacy person who is in the schools around this new model to be able to provide that background, that insight on best practices so that when their child comes home from school they're able to support their children. I know the member opposite received that with Reading Recovery, the teacher did that with his family. We're looking at more families being able to tap into the expertise that we have as teachers, around how we can support our children at home.
Another part that I wanted to bring in too is we have the richness of volunteers in Nova Scotia. We have a shift in our demographics, that we have more people retiring now than we have entering into school, and I know that many people out in the community would like to be in our school system and supporting our children. There is a component here that we can have a person under this model be able to work with the volunteers to provide them the best way they can support children within our schools. So we can have more children being read to, more children having the ability to read, too, through this model.
I'm looking at the member opposite and I think he realizes that I might have just talked out his time, but on that note I have to say I appreciate his passion for education, his passion for reading, and his understanding around that we, as a province, need to make sure we get our children early, support them and provide best practices. Thank you.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I'll close out by simply saying that the Reading Recovery program did do him well, and I've always said that. Did it give him everything he needed? No, I'm not admitting that at all. As a matter of fact, from this recent diagnosis from the speech language pathologist we find that really there's actually a processing problem that he has - he can look at an apple but he can't say the word "apple." That's the processing problem he has, he sees the word apple and he can't say the word apple.
Can't say deficits, it's like our Minister of Finance, he sees a deficit and just really can't say it. (Interruptions) Thank you, Deputy Premier, that's how the absurdity of the day gets at the end of it.
I do want to thank the minister, and next time I want to get into basically how we get parents involved in the education of their children. When people are talking about cuts, 23 per cent, everybody was up in arms, but they've almost disappeared again, so we want to get them involved in what's going on.
I thank you for that, and we'll see you on Monday.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time has expired for debate in Committee on Supply.
[The committee adjourned at 1:43 p.m.]