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April 13, 2012
Supply
House Committees
Meeting topics: 
CWH on Supply - Legislative Chamber (622)

 

 

 

 

 

 

HALIFAX, FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2012

 

COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY

 

9:15 A.M.

 

CHAIRMAN

Mr. Alfie MacLeod

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I'd like to call the Committee on the Whole House on Supply to order. The honourable Minister of Education, we're all very familiar with Mr. Dunn but I see you have a new staff member with you, if you'd like to introduce her.

 

HON. RAMONA JENNEX: Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. It's my absolute pleasure to introduce Ann Blackwood and I know that you have heard her name being used by me many times over the last number of days. Ann is the Executive Director of English Program Services at the Department of Education, thank you.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Yesterday when we went at the end of the time frame there were 24 minutes left for the Official Opposition so we'll now begin.

 

The honourable member for Yarmouth.

 

MR. ZACH CHURCHILL: Thank you Mr. Chairman and welcome back again to estimates, minister and staff.

 

We learned some important things last night. One, the government doesn't know if the fixed cost of education have changed over the course of the last 10 years; two, the government doesn't know if there is an increase or a decrease with students with identified special needs in our education system; and three, the government doesn't know whether the actual cost of educating a student in the province has changed over the course of the last 10 years.

 

 

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However we still have a government that argues that because enrolment has dropped, somehow there is a direct correlation between the costs of educating. I think we've identified a major flaw in the argument that has been presented to this House and has been presented to the public.

 

My next question to the minister is when it comes to statistics on learning outcomes, I've heard the minister mention that despite the fact there has been increased investment in education in the province, learning outcomes haven't improved. My question is specifically, when it comes to students with special needs in our classrooms, do we have the data on learning outcomes for those individuals in our education system? Do we have specific data around learning outcomes for students with special needs in the classroom?

 

MS. JENNEX: It's really important that this government is looking at many aspects of our education system to make sure that we are responsive to all of the needs of all of the students in our school system. You did hear me say last night about partnering with our DSEPS - our special schools for children with learning disabilities - because they have the expertise. We are providing services and programs to meet the needs of our students.

 

School boards have their data collected on each one of their students but over the last number of years it's been very difficult to communicate the data from one board to another, or from the boards to the department, without it being quite onerous. This government is continuing their investment in iNSchool which we took out of a pilot stage. The iNSchool program that we're rolling out across the province, it's in all of our high schools now, has the ability to collect data on every single student in our province. The teachers are able to put in all of their data for all of their results for testing, evaluation, any behavioural concerns - they can put in issues that they feel are important. Teachers now can communicate back and forth with each other on those files through the iNSchool system.

 

Also, the boards now have that data and also because now we at the department can communicate through that system, all of that data is now being compiled provincially so that we will be able to have markers. It is very important that we have the ability to evaluate the programs. We need to see how our outcomes, if children are meeting outcomes. We will now have data that we can base on allocating resources effectively and appropriately. If we see areas where the outcomes are not being attained, we need to get in there and have a look. The iNSchool program that we have now going province-wide gives the teachers the ability to collect the data and communicate with each other. It has the ability for the school boards to have that data and also the department.

 

Before we had this system, data had to be collected and it wasn't electronic. When one student moved from one school to another, there was a lag in time because the student's files would be compiled in a folder called accumulative record. It would take a few days, sometimes a week, depending on where this child landed and when the request for confidential information was transferred, that data would go, and then the teacher would have to take the time to go through all of the data which wouldn't be compiled in a format that was accumulative. It was quite labour intensive, and the same with the school board.

 

We're moving to making sure that our system is meeting the needs of our students and staff, and also that parents have a parent portal with that where parents can also check into see where their child is. So we don't want any of our children to fall through the cracks. If a child moved from one school to another and had significant difficulty or any other concerns, schools might not find out that information for a number of weeks. We also see sometimes, especially with children with learning disabilities, extremely bright young people with specific learning concerns. If their progress isn't tracked from teacher to teacher and you actually start seeing a few anomalies, children with learning disabilities can travel quite far through our education system with significant gaps in their educational path.

 

So this iNSchool is going to be providing us the ability to track, to evaluate, to see where students are, to see if programs are effective. At this point, our information from students in our classroom is compiled at the class, the school and at the board level and we the office in the department that deals with that is Student Services and they're in communication back and forth with boards. The iNSchool is making it better for our young people and for families so that we are able to get in there and provide the supports that students need.

 

MR. CHURCHILL: Mr. Chairman, this is another question that can't be answered. That's an important one. We've had this minister stand in this House and say despite the fact that there has been increased investment in education over the course of the past 10 years, outcomes haven't improved. However, the minister doesn't know if the outcomes for students with special needs in our classrooms have improved or not. The fact is, if you look at the increase in investment over the course of the last 10 years, they've been directed in particular to supports for students with special needs.

 

So I don't know how the minister can stand in the House and continue to say that the department is providing the appropriate level of education. It's no longer a good education, it's no longer an excellent education - it's the appropriate amount of education to our classrooms when we don't know what the fixed costs are in our education system. We don't know if they've changed over the course of the last 10 years. We don't know if there has been an increase or decrease in students with special needs. We don't know if there has been an increase or decrease in the actual costs of educating a student and we actually don't know if the outcomes for the students, that increased funding has been directed to, has improved or not. So how can we stand in this House and say that outcomes haven't improved with increased funding when we don't know if that's the case or not?

 

There have been four very important questions asked, last night and today, that haven't been answered. In order for any minster to stand up and say that our students are going to get the support they need, our system is going to get the financial support it needs, at the very least those questions need to be answered and they haven't be answered. Instead we just hear the same thing, the minster standing up and saying people are getting an appropriate amount of education. They are getting what they need but we don't know that because we haven't been able to answer those questions to identify whether they are getting the supports they need or not.

 

Mr. Chairman, I have some questions related directly to spending within the department. So to the minister, just a very direct question - what spending reductions have you made in the department itself?

 

MS. JENNEX: The Department of Education takes very seriously the efficiencies that we are asking every other department in government to take and also every school board. There has been a restructuring within the department to make it work effectively and efficiently and there has been a reduction of 12 full-time equivalents over the last two years, so it was seven last year. In the administrative costs in the Department of Education, there has been a decrease in $1.7 million and there has been a decrease in $1.3 million in operating costs at the department, so there has been a decrease in $3 million in the department.

 

I would also like to make it extremely clear that there has been no new hiring at the Department of Education; we are down 12 FTEs. The number line that one looks at for departments, if you look carefully - it seems to be that the members opposite are having a difficult time with, which numbers to compare - you will see there has been a decrease this year and last year in the Department of Education in full time equivalents, and there has been a decrease in $3 million, which works out for the administrative costs a decrease in 6.3 per cent, far more in terms of what were asking the school boards to make.

 

We have a smaller department, of course, than a school board. We are creating efficiencies in every aspect of the department. We are asking school boards to be efficient too. We're asking them to look at where they can supply the services to our schools.

 

Over the last number of years there has been an increase in funding in all schools in Nova Scotia, a 42 per cent increase. At the same time our enrolment has been decreasing and decreasing. We need to make sure that the resources that we are providing are the appropriate resources and we're looking at our data. We now have the ability to go and check and see exactly what is happening. We checked in at Grade 3 and recognized that our students are not meeting the outcomes that they should have been meeting, especially our students who had had Reading Recovery, so we responded to that. Collecting the data gives us the opportunity to make sure that we are able to support students in the most effective way. It is not a good way to spend money if it's not being effective, if we're not seeing the outcomes. So at Grade 3 we now can track those outcomes in terms literacy development.

 

We are now checking at Grade 6 to make sure that students are where they are. Between Grade 3 and Grade 6 we're not just going to let children see if they can pick themselves up. At Grade 3 if see a student is not meeting the outcomes that they need to be, supports are put in place to make sure that that child is getting the support that they need.

With Succeeding In Reading, we are recognizing early on when children are at that developmental stage and learning to read and write. If a child is having some difficulty, the early literacy teacher in the school board will work with the teacher in the classroom or work with the child, work with groups of children, to make sure that that child is receiving the support that they need on a daily basis; mostly we're hoping within a classroom, and not a model where a child is removed from the classroom and missing what's happening in the classroom. It is in Primary, it is in Grade 1. We're moving it into Grade 2 this year where a literacy teacher is working with students and supporting them when they need to be supported.

 

I'm hearing back from teachers and from school boards that this is an extremely effective change. I'm hearing from teachers who used to teaching Reading Recovery and felt that Reading Recovery was not meeting the needs of the students because we couldn't get to as many children as teachers and families and children need it. So with the Succeeding in Reading, the Reading Recovery teachers who are now our early literacy teachers because the nice thing about Reading Recovery, the training for that is in the hands of the teachers. They have had the training - it's early literacy development training. It's not magic. Reading Recovery is about teaching young people how to read and the skills associated with that.

 

Reading Recovery was a very rigid and structured program and only very few children were able to qualify. A child would be assessed, the whole class was assessed and then the lowest percentage of those children was then - those names were sent to the administration and the teacher and the Reading Recovery teacher. Then you had a number of children who just by mere points of a mark would get Reading Recovery. Other children with exactly the same needs did not get Reading Recovery because each school only had time for, under the allocation for Reading Recovery, a number of students.

 

Now, I taught in a large school and so, therefore, we had a full-time Reading Recovery teacher but there were three full classes of Primaries and Grade 1 and Grade 2 because it was a school that is on the bigger end of an elementary school. So we had a full-time Reading Recovery teacher. One child in my class, one term, one child in the other class and another child, so one child from each class for one term and sometimes that term would go over because they would allow extra time if the child wasn't progressing. That child was removed from the class on a daily basis. Then there was a change after a certain number of weeks that passed. If a child got to the point that the Reading Recovery teacher could see, from their rigid format, was not going to be successful, they were discontinued.

 

Now, they had fancy names for the discontinuing, it sounds like they were successful but they weren't. That child then is returned to the classroom for the classroom teacher, of course, to continue to educate. But they've missed all of the lessons during the reading time because they've been removed from the class for an hour on a daily basis week by week, then another group of children. So for a full-time Reading Recovery teacher, if they had eight students on their caseload, in the school that I taught, for a year, that would have been the maximum number for a very large group of children. So what would have been a group of 75, eight children, it's the children who got missed. So we were going in at Grade 3 to do the evaluations at the provincial level, recognizing that those students who were on the list had successfully completed Reading Recovery because the children who were not successful with Reading Recovery did not show on the data, only the ones who had been successful. We were able to see that those students had not reached, attained, the outcomes as a regular student in a system. So we're saying there's a little bit of a disconnect. We have Reading Recovery but by the time the child is in Grade 3, it hasn't been successful.

 

So the Succeeding in Reading program was designed with the reading experts from every school board in the province and I just want to stop there and say that we have extremely well-trained teachers in our system - the best trained teachers in Canada. We're very, very lucky. We have a very good post-secondary system in Nova Scotia that teaches our teachers and they're superb and also, because we're a learning province. We have the ability for our teachers to tap into master's programs, unlike many other places in Canada, because we have so many universities so close to all of our centres. We also offer cohorts going out in rural areas from Mount Saint Vincent and from Acadia. We have more teachers in the province who have numerous Masters Degrees, because teachers have the ability to have more upgrading, more ability to do research and that benefits our students in the class. We have many teachers in our school system that have expertise in early literacy, I know many of them myself, that is their passion is early literacy.

 

So they are the teachers that we took, those teacher leaders from around the province, and they worked together in the Department of Education looking at all of the models that they knew would be successful for children. Actually I will have to say that even though there was a little bit of discontent early on about losing a program, I am now hearing from every board they like this model better. The teachers sat with the teacher leaders with early literacy, worked together to design a - it's not a program, it's an approach, and the approach being we have the resources in every school, that every school receives in Primary and 1 the same materials, good quality literacy, we didn't want any inequity.

 

Teachers are working with class room teachers, with small groups of students in the classroom, in some cases outside the classroom because it's up to the teacher that has the expertise to be able to decide which is best for the student. Reading Recovery was not efficient and effective and we were able to know that because we collect the data at Grade 3. We now have Succeeding In Reading, Primary and 1; we're moving into Grade 2. We check in with our Grade 3 scores we'll be able to come back to the House and present our findings because we're tracking Succeeding In Reading. We didn't put a program in and say, let's hope it works. We put a program in we knew was going to work and we're going to be able to prove it works because we are collecting the data, so that's Grade 3.

 

When we recognize a student needs supports, supports go in place with the student and we'll check in again in Grade 6. Evaluation is a very important thing and it's important for people in the general public and for members here to understand that there is a number of reasons that we collect data but the very first, and most important, reason we collect data is to make sure we recognize what students need to be successful. If we can see where a child needs support, that's when we provide the supports. Pick them up where they're at and help them get to the level that they need.

 

The other reason that we're collecting data is to see as a department if programs are going to be effective and that's where we recognized that Reading Recovery was not meeting the needs of the students that way that we would have hoped it would. So we have made sure that we have put another approach in place.

 

We are also checking in at Grade 9 on our literacy development. If children are having difficulty then we'll be able to support them again. We're doing those periodic checks at Grades 3, 6 and 9, that's part of the Kids and Learning First plan.

 

We're also doing something that no government has ever done. We are looking at our math because we do have the data and I can table that data. I have the minister's report to parents and guardians around out math scores. We are actually seeing at the, and I have it in French and English, we're seeing at the Grade 12 level, for example, only 45 per cent of our students are reaching the required outcomes at Grade 12. That is unacceptable as a province, it is unacceptable that we are allowing our students to leave our system not attaining the level of math that they need.

 

What we've done within the department and within our Kids and Learning First program, we are taking away the Grade 12 math exam, we're moving it to Grade 10. I will repeat why we're moving it to Grade 10, it is so that we can check in at Grade 10 because that's going to be a check on how well the child has done from Primary right to Grade 9. It's an accumulative record and at Grade 10 we'll go see exactly where the student is in Grade 10.

 

There are many streams of math a student can undertake in high school and if we see a child from our Grade 10 assessment needs to have support, we will provide the support. We'll also be able to put them on the path of the math that they need. Which one? If it's advanced math, if a child is showing extreme competence with the outcomes, of course, we will encourage them to take the advanced math, calculus, and those streams. The reason we moved from Grade 12 to Grade 10 is based on what we need to do to support our students. The other reason is, we need a way we can evaluate as a province how well we're doing with our math and what needs to happen within the school system; what board needs support. It's not to compare, it's used as support, but it helps us make sure that the appropriate resources go to schools and school boards.

 

Also I have to say that we have expertise within the department of people who have math. There was a mention yesterday about secondments. There was a secondment from one of our math leaders from the Annapolis Valley who worked within the department. If I'm correct, I think she's working on her doctoral work within math. She worked within the department making sure that we are nimble and flexible to be able to provide the supports that students need because this is a practitioner, someone who works with students, who's working on her Ph. D. We seconded her to the department, worked with her expertise along with the expertise in the Department of Education so that we recognized what we need to do as a province to support our students to be successful in math.

 

One of the things, of course, as everyone in this House has heard me say, our math scores are not where they need to be. We need to make sure that we are graduating children who have competence in math. I'm actually hearing from businesses and from universities that students are not graduating with the strengths that they need when they start university or when they're starting their careers. We are making sure that we are remedying that by the work that has already started within the department about a shift from the system we're using now to the western protocol which teaches outcomes at the appropriate developmental level, making sure that children master each one of those outcomes so that they can build on the next outcome as opposed to the system where - and this is definitely not a criticism of any past department on this, but in wanting our children to have the very, very best, too much got added on. It made children learn their outcomes not as deeply as they needed to. So they learn many, many outcomes at a very thin level.

 

We are going to be teaching our outcomes at a deeper level. We're going to make sure that the shift in our protocol now will be the western protocol so that we are making sure that our children have the outcomes that they need, the concepts taught, and they have the foundation to move forward appropriately within our school system. We're able to do that because we've collected the data on that and we have recorded that, and as I've tabled to the House today, our reports on that.

 

So we are collecting data on our numeracy, on our math outcomes, on our literacy, our reading and writing, and we're able to track that at the department. We're going to be able to continue to track that because we have iNSchool and our iNSchool, which is in every high school. Moving across the province, every student's progress will now be tracked so that we, at the department and schools, teachers, can now make sure that any child does not fall through the cracks. We're going to see that we can get in there, because there's nothing worse in our system than allowing a child to fall between the cracks and not do anything about it. That has happened not because of the good work of teachers but sometimes some of our students mask their learning difficulties because they're so intelligent and they can memorize and we're not recognizing. Or they move, and that's the biggest one that when a child moves from school to school, it is a big problem.

 

So we're making sure that every child in the province is being tracked - are they meeting outcomes, what supports are in place, what has been done in the past? It's going to track parent meetings. It has a parent portal for parents to be able to engage in their student's education. It has the portal for the child to have the ability to track their own and I think that is a very important thing - this iNSchool is giving the student the ability to have their own way of tracking their own progress. I'm hearing from many of the students that they're looking in and they're seeing where percentage wise that their work is and they're going, you know, I think I could do a little bit better. So they work harder on the next presentation or the next project so that they can up their percentage. It has been really good to track for students, so the most important thing about iNSchool is students themselves take ownership of their own education.

 

We also make sure that through iNSchool every test, every evaluation, if there's an outside agency involved in terms of a student and any support system - and that just leads me to also say that we have SchoolsPlus in a number of sites in Nova Scotia. They're in every school board and - like this government - our SchoolsPlus is there to support the needs of the students and needs of the family, especially our students with special needs. Parents need supports and it provides them the opportunity to have someone, an outside agency, supporting them.

 

You know, when you have a child who is born with a significant need, it can be confusing and sometimes people don't know where to turn. Now we can actually provide that service. Because of SchoolsPlus, we have a dedicated team in a school, a coordinator and an outreach officer, or an outreach person - I don't know, an education person - we have two staff dedicated to help parents navigate our system to make sure that every single student has the support they need and parents need support. That is the absolutely wonderful thing with SchoolPlus - it has been very difficult for a classroom teacher to support a family because you have your class and families need support too, and this provides the outreach person to help parents navigate the system.

 

It also provides a space for students with special needs, and especially students maybe with behavioural issues and parents are confounded and don't know what to do, it provides a safe place for parents to come and meet with the school councillor, maybe meet with a staff member from Community Services. It could be actually - we have our liaison officers in our SchoolsPlus site. It could be someone from Justice because one of the things that we're doing as a province, especially with children with behavioural issues that might have anger management problems and are getting in trouble, is that we're looking at a restorative approach. We're not looking at it as disciplinary approach because that hasn't been effective in the past. So we're making sure that we have restorative approaches. We're working closely with Justice to make sure that we have the ability to use the restorative approach so that students who are in difficulty can learn a better way to handle their anger, develop their social skills, and it also provides the ability for a peer group to stand behind a student who has difficulty.

 

You know, talking about peer groups - peer groups are important, of course, for our young people, but I have to say that students with special needs are in a very good place in our public school system because not only is it good for the student who has a special need to be included in our system - and actually I've been speaking with many ministers from around the world, they didn't know what I was talking about when I was talking about inclusion. We are so far ahead here in Nova Scotia in terms of inclusion. It's a way of life in Nova Scotia that every child is included in our school system. It is their right to be there.

 

I will stand here to the death to make sure we continue to have an inclusive approach in this province and what comes from inclusion is not only good for the student to be in the classroom and in the school setting, the most important thing is for the other children in our province to see that we are a caring and just society and the peer group, the students, support children with special needs. They don't look at a child with a special need, they're a friend. They look at the person, the student first, who happens to have a disability. Years ago when I went to school, that didn't happen and I'm so proud of a system in Nova Scotia. I think we are out far in front of every other province in Canada in making sure that we've included - we've been including students with special needs in our classrooms for well over 30 years. We are making sure that we are supporting our students with special needs by having restricted, dedicated funding coming through our budget line for each and every one of our school boards to carry on the good work that they are doing. Thank you very much.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Just for the information of the committee there had been a miscalculation in time so the time for the Liberal Caucus has been extended to 9:51. Also for the information of the committee there is no time limit on questions and/or answers when you are in the proceeds of the Committee of the Whole House on Supply.

 

The honourable member for Cape Breton North.

 

MR. EDDIE ORRELL: Madam Minster when we look at the departmentally funded FTEs on page 7.2. The explanation, first day I think of estimates was the difference between the forecast and the estimate was an admin flow of normal business.

 

MS. JENNEX: Right.

 

MR. ORRELL: Okay. There are 24 positions there between 2011 and 2012 that represents about a 12 per cent variance in the numbers. I don't quite understand if you forecasted it to have 201 positions, you ended up only using 177 positions. This year you're forecasted to have 194 positions, to me that's an increase of 17 positions. How could you operate with 177 for a year and then say that you can't do it next year?

 

MS. JENNEX: Thank you very much for that question. One of the most confounding things I think that the general public and even I have, are words that we use around numbers. When you see the words "estimate" and "forecast", what does that actually mean, and what point in time does it become under forecast? It is extremely confusing and in all fairness I could see how someone would interpret that as being 17 extra are needed, when in this case that's not reality.

 

What happens in every business and in every department, there's an ebb and flow throughout the year. It wouldn't have been 177 when that point was taken and stay like that for a 12 month period. It was up and down, it might have gone a little bit lower it could have gone a little bit higher. We have, because we work with people, people that, and I know this one happened - one of our staff members fell and broke a leg so they had to take some time off for that. We have maternity leaves, thank goodness, and we have chronic illness. Sometimes people actually leave a position for family reasons. We had a highly respected and extremely competent registrar who I just thought the world of and who moved due to a change in family dynamics. Those things sometimes happen in a family when one person gets a job and who does the moving. We definitely were extremely upset to lose him from the department, he's very much missed and I know we're going to be hiring in that because, of course, that was advertised. That sat empty until we advertised, and I think that there's been a successful candidate who will go into that position.

 

But when you look at a situation like our registrar who moved for family reasons, people who are out on maternity and also people do come in and do temporary work. That doesn't show in those numbers. The department has ebb and flow and if you look at every single Estimates Book from every single department in any business that's that number that ebbs and flows throughout the year because people are human. They get sick, break their legs, maternity leave which - you know, we love maternity leave because there is nothing better than having a new baby welcomed in any employee's family - and also we have people who retire, that's the other one, we've had quite a few retirements.

 

So those positions do get filled but there is a process in place by which they get filled. They have to be advertised. There has to be interviewing for that but at the same time that this is happening there has been some restructuring going on in the department. There has been a great deal of misinformation, which is unfortunate in the public domain, that it looks as if there was an additional person hired in my office, or the deputy minister's office I think, whatever line that was, when actually it was a restructuring of tasks that people do within the department to make the department more effective and also working with the school boards.

 

Frank Dunn has been working in the department for many months. He moved from another department in government, and was doing the work as an associate deputy minister. He was actually doing the work. One of the things in our society is if a person is doing the work, they should be recognized for the value of work that they're doing. So that was recognized and Frank was named as associate deputy minister. So that shows up on a budget line. His position moved from one department over to another.

 

Dr. Lowe's position changed. He actually has a change in jobs. His line went from one line to another but if you look at every single one of the lines of staff, in an out, even though it shows under administration in the minister's office line, it's a decrease in our - which line was it - it was Corporate Services, (Interruption) school board relation. So there's a decrease in one line in the estimates and an increase in the other but when you do the math and all of the working out, at the end of the day there are fewer people working in the Department of Education. We have decreased by 6.3 per cent and we will continue to work through attrition, retirement; we are going to meet the target of 10 per cent in a year's time. We've been working very hard at this and creating efficiencies.

 

We have developed the Kids and Learning First plan. We worked with Ben Levin, from Ontario. He came down. We've had meetings with him making sure that we're providing the education that our students need in the 21st century. We all went to school. All of us have gone to school. Our parents went to school. Our grandparents went to school, but we remember school from when we were there, ourselves, and when we sat at a desk. I sat at a desk in rural elementary school in Chester. I sat actually at bench with my cousin, Maynard, at Ironbound Island, a one-room schoolhouse, too, with a flip-up desk, you know, we were both there together, two of us in the same grade, Maynard and I. (Interruption) Yes, it's very small and it's still there actually. It's a heritage site.

 

I also have gone to an urban school. I went to school in Dartmouth, I'm a proud graduate of Dartmouth High and I also went to Bi-Hi. My father moved around a lot so I also went to a school system in Newfoundland and Labrador. I actually have had a view of rural schools, very, very small, isolated rural schools. (Interruptions) If it's appropriate, I just would like to add that one of the members opposite and I have been on Ironbound many times together since we are related by marriage on that side. So it's a wonderful place and I think the member opposite will agree.

 

Why I'm saying this is that we all have a memory of what it's like to be in school. Schools have changed but many of us are still thinking of what school was like. So the MLA day, which is great - I have only stepped out of the classroom three years ago. Many of us need to actually see that the school of the 21st century has changed. Children learn differently, teachers are giving their lessons differently. Teaching at one time used to be a teacher standing at the front of the classroom and the child was sitting in the desk and you pour knowledge into them, just continue to pour and pour. Education now is more interactive; teachers are more facilitators in the classroom than ever before and working with groups of children. There is no one single lesson.

 

Going back to the department, schools have changed, the delivery of programs has changed, the Department of Education is also changing to meet the changing needs of education in the province. I know in Ann's department, she has been working diligently on making sure that our students have opportunities around the shipbuilding contract. I was listening to CBC this morning and I was hearing, I think it was a person in the industry, I think it was a municipal person, worried about the lack of skilled trades personnel within the province. Well it's too bad they haven't read the Kids and Learning First because we are responding to it, not only here in the public education system in high school right into Grade 9, but I know the Minister from Labour and Advanced Education has been working extremely diligently to be responsive to that.

 

We've done some restructuring but at the same time that we've done the restructuring in the Department of Education, we have been reducing. There is not an increase of 17- that is not true. There have been absolutely no increases at the Department of Education. We are down seven full-time equivalent positions this year. They will never be refilled. We are making sure that we are keeping on track to have 10 per cent reduction in the Department of Education over a three-year period. We are on that track.

It's not easy, in the Department of Education, doing this and it's not easy for school boards doing this but it is something that we are doing because it's the right thing to do. Education has changed. The way we deliver education has changed. We also are recognizing that we have fewer students in the province and the worst thing that I can possibly tell you is that by the year 2020 - which is not that far away when you start thinking, it sounds so far in the distance when actually it's not - we will have the same number of students in our system as we did in 1910. That's why we are working in the Department of Education to respond to that demographic change. That is why we have the Kids and Learning First plan, to respond to that change.

 

Seven full-time equivalents are now not in the Department of Education. We have made that reduction. We have also taken $3 million out of our budget with these reductions and efficiencies. Every line item was looked at. Every single person is part of making sure we have an efficient system in the department. No new hires, the 17 is one of those accounting things, which I find confounding, and the words that we use around evaluating those things. It was a forecast number, regular ebb and flow. The two numbers one needs to look at are from estimate to estimate, and if you look from estimate to estimate you will recognize that we have done our due diligence and we have reduced, thank you.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: I'd just like to mention to the community when I said there was no time limit on questions and answers, that is within the hour that is allotted for each caucus at each particular time, I just wanted to straighten that out.

 

MR. ORRELL: Minister, from what I can see from these estimates there were 201 forecasted, funded, full-time equivalents in 2011-12; am I correct in assuming that?

 

MS. JENNEX: Can you say that again?

 

MR. ORRELL: There were 201 funded positions, 177 were used. You said there were people off sick, there were people off who broke their leg. Did those jobs stop while that person was off because if they didn't stop somebody must have done the job and if they can function on 177, to me that's a decrease of 24 people. Now this year you are forecast to use 194; if you only use 177 again, because of your normal ebb and flow, your budget is pumped up because of the extra numbers. That was the question the asked. I didn't get that answer. I understand what you're saying by the forecast to forecast, and I can see that. You're asking school boards to do more with less. Your department has done more with less but you are forecast to put more back in next year. That was my question.

 

Anyway, if they can function on less, did those jobs go unfilled and was their job completed while they were off? Did someone else do the job or did you just wait until the person got back?

 

MS. JENNEX: I'm really glad that we are having the ability to get this clarified. I think it's really important. It can be confusing because when misinformation is repeated enough times then people start thinking it is reality.

What we need to be looking at is from estimate to estimate. If you look at estimate to estimate, there is a reduction. Now, the forecast number is the number that's taken at the very beginning of the year. That number ebbs and flows. It just happened to be at that point in time that was the number.

 

You asked a number of questions within your question. One of the questions was, did those positions go unfilled? In some cases, yes, as in the registrar, that went unfilled while the process was enacted for a call; it has to be advertised. Those kinds of positions are advertised far and wide. There is an expertise that is associated with that. When that person left that position, it was advertised. (Interruptions) Wait a minute, I think I have the floor; I'm trying to explain how this works.

 

What happened is, because of priorities, another person from the department came in and did some work on that file to hold that position. That's a very important position - well actually, every person's job in the department is important. This one couldn't remain vacant without someone working on it. In setting priorities, someone else from the department came in and worked on that file, on the work that needed to be done, while it was advertised and while people had their interviews.

 

In some cases, based on priorities, some positions didn't get filled right away. There are also temporary workers that can be brought in, depending on if it is - especially we have temps in our secretarial area, executive administrative positions; people from the temp pool would come in and fill those because you can't run a system without having people in.

 

The 177 was just a point in time. Some positions stayed unfilled until they were advertised; some positions we had temporary people in; some people returned from either illness or maternity, but when a person is out on maternity, then there is a person who fills in. Based on priorities, the department would fill positions while we were waiting for a process to go in place. That number would not have stayed like that throughout the year. It would have gone up or down based on people moving in and out. It's a forecast. It's one of those weird things that people in the accounting world do, to do their estimates.

 

Your question to me is, we're asking the school boards to reduce and it looks as if we were able to run a department at 177 when actually that's not a true number; it's a point in time number, it's a forecast. The number that you look at for positions goes from the estimate to estimate. When a person retires, leaves through attrition and if it's a job that we can move into another place or it's a job that we now, with our restructuring, realize it's not a job that fits in our new structure, that is not being filled. We are reducing it.

 

You only can see the true picture of employees from estimate to estimate. It's very confusing to the general public to think that there were 17 people hired, if you look from the forecast to the estimate. That's not the way you look at numbers. I think it's really imperative as leaders in our community that we give the correct information. I really appreciate the ability here to explain how that works. The number we look at is from estimate to estimate.

 

The civil service, as a whole, you know the department is no different, we are asking everyone to do this across government. There are 286 FTE positions - not head count, that's different - the FTE position that is now removed from government. We are making sure we are doing everything we can within government. Every single department is looking at efficiencies.

 

Now what we're doing with that, unlike some governments, we are doing it by retirement and attrition so that no one is being let go from their job but when they retire, then there is a restructuring in place so that we can do this without disruptions.

 

Now there is a lot of work being done in all departments to look at the best way we can deliver service. We can't keep doing things exactly the same way year over year. As I said, things change, education has changed. The teacher job, when I started 30 years ago, would have been standing in the front of the room with a lecture format, to now a teacher - if you go into a classroom in Nova Scotia, especially in an elementary school, you are lucky if you can find the teacher because you will usually find the teacher kneeling over with a child in one part of the classroom, or sitting at a desk with others, and you are going to see groups of children working on projects. It's not the same model.

 

Schooling is not the same model and children are learning differently because we just have a different society. I always think back to when I was little, out on Ironbound Island, when the phone rang it rang, like two rings, short rings - I'm looking at my colleague over there. It was a party line and the other thing is, it had a little crank on it and then you would talk into a mouthpiece, you had to stand up. It was always at the level that children could never get to, by the way, it was always up for adults.

 

I think of my grandmother now, if she could see how we operate, using phones, everyone has a phone; people walk around with phones stuck in their ears or strapped to them, and actually we are moving away from phones, landlines, almost entirely as a society. So things have changed. Children have changed. The way they learn has changed.

 

My first PowerPoint presentation I was doing when my son Fraser was in Grade 5 and he sat with me and showed me how to do a PowerPoint presentation - he was in Grade 5. So my teacher for technology was one of my children when he was in Grade 5.

 

I just want to repeat, going back to your question, you know your question is a valid and important question and I'm so glad I'm able to clarify that. We look at the true picture and it is incumbent upon us to make sure that we give accurate information. We look from estimate to estimate. That forecast number over the year would be the ebb and flow of doing business with people. So thank you very much for the opportunity to clarify the estimate to estimate. Thank you.

 

MR. ORRELL: Thank you. So that 177 was a point in time that you picked. At the very end of the budget year, how many full-time equivalents were paid out by the Department of Education?

 

MS. JENNEX: That is a point in time forecast and that was when they tabulated that number and, as you know, we've just hired someone in the Registrar's Office. That number changes over time, it's an ebb and flow.

 

The positions within the Department of Education that have a job attached to them are now down to 194 from 201 - that have full-time equivalents. Head count, as you know, is totally different than full-time equivalent count because sometimes with a full-time you can have 0.4, 0.6 for a head count, so what we look at is from estimate to estimate and we are down.

 

MR. ORRELL: I don't mean to beat this around, minister, so 194 positions were actually paid out, funded, worked in the Department of Education last year - 194 full-time equivalents?

 

MS. JENNEX: I'm looking at you and I understand how confusing this can be to explain estimate forecast and estimate. The 194 is our estimate for the coming year based on our estimate from a year before. We have been reducing FTEs in the Department of Education, year over year, and we will continue to do that until we reach our 10 per cent. We are down 6.3 full-time equivalents. So our forecast for next year is 194 and over the point in time that we did our account at the department, the forecast was 177, but when we sit here a year from now, we'll look at those numbers and you will be able to actually recognize how we are continuing to reduce, have reduced, continue to reduce, and overall we are down 12 FTEs in the Department of Education.

 

MR. ORRELL: So if I understand correctly, and maybe I'm a little off on this, but the budget year runs from March to March, correct, April to April? (Interruption) March 31st, okay. So how many full-time equivalents were actually paid out by the Department of Education from April 1st to March 31st?

 

MS. JENNEX: That would be 177.

 

MR. ORRELL: So if actually 177 full-time equivalents were paid out, the Department of Education did a job with 177 full-time equivalents, correct?

 

MS. JENNEX: You know, I understand the confusion around this and the numbers. Year over year the department has been reducing the number of full-time equivalents. There are 12 FTEs out of the Department of Education based on retirement and attrition that have not been hired. By the end of our third year we will be down 10 per cent. Our estimate number for next year is 194, based on our estimate number the year before. The forecast, the people, the positions that were paid out, that were hired by the Department of Education - I'm not including the people who come in on temporary work or doubling up - was 177 but that is the ebb and flow of the business cycle and people moving in and out.

 

To run effectively and efficiently, we're doing that with reducing, just to remind people that the budget lines, where it looks as if I have added people in the department, there has been absolutely no change in personnel. It has been a change of Dr. Lowe moving to another position and Frank moving into a different title for the work that he's doing. He's doing excellent work on behalf of Nova Scotians. So to be very clear, and I want to say this, there have not been 17 people hired. There is not going to be 17 people hired. We have reduced, over two years, 12 FTEs.

 

MR. ORRELL: So what you're saying is this year's budget wasn't used up completely in the Department of Education because you had a forecast of 201 budgeted positions, you functioned on 177. So that budget wasn't fully used this year, is what I'm hearing, and correct me if I'm wrong, so next year you're going to go to 194 as your forecast, as your budgeted positions, but you ran the department on 177 budgeted positions. I know you bring people in but that is money that still has to be paid out to people when they come in so that goes to full-time equivalents I assume.

 

When I worked in the hospital system, if we had someone go off and we couldn't replace them, and we did the job for a year without that, they eliminated that position from the budget so we could not get somebody. You've done the job with 177; you are budgeted for 201, so the budget wasn't used in the Department of Education for that reason?

 

MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, my background is in early childhood development and special education. Actually, most people don't know, I also took music and actually I went to Bible School, too. I did not take accounting so I can't speak in accounting terms. That is why we have Frank Dunn at the department.

 

A funded staff is measured by full-time equivalents, an FTE, which is a measure of the annualized person-years of full-time and part-time staff. Only staff charged to a salary account in departmental expenses and having an employee-employer relationship with a given provincial department or Public Service appropriation, are included in the FTE count.

 

Where funding appears in the Estimates Books for an agency or organization as a grant or contribution from the province, employees of that agency or organization are not included in the FTE count. Staff employed by the province but funded by external agencies are reflected in the funded staff details that appear after the departmental expenses by object.

 

The FTE counts that appear in the funded staff figures - Page 1.14 of the Estimates Books - are net of those funded by external agencies. Funded staff, the FTEs, and FTE is different than position because then you're getting into the head counts. So we had in the estimates, 177 funded staff. I'm looking at my accountant colleague here. The department, you're absolutely right, when one of our colleagues fell and broke her leg, her job had to be picked up by someone else within the department but you can only do that for so long. As you know, the job gets not done appropriately and things are delayed. I can tell you, there have been delays on some things because of staff in and out, that we've had to put a hold on.

 

It's important for the public education system to be staffed appropriately, so we are doing our due diligence around reducing by restructuring the department so that all the needs of the citizens of the province can be met by our public education system. We have reduced our full-time equivalencies by 12 over two years, but in terms of the funded for the year end, it was 177 that show in our Estimates Books. In some cases, they remained open while we went through the process of hiring and also, other people taking over and, in some cases, projects, certain priorities had to be back-burnered.

 

I know we are a little slower on one of the things that I know we are all very excited about in the department, but we had to take staff away from getting the resources up and running on the Web site because we moved staff around. You do what you need to do when staff leave because it takes time to find the expertise to fill in positions, so year over year in the department we have been reducing our full-time equivalents, making sure that we're also meeting the needs of Nova Scotians.

 

In terms of that snapshot for this year, it was 177 and we have some positions that are now being filled through the appropriate process. In some cases, too, you have to recognize that sometimes we have had to bring in, especially around the administrative supports for offices, temp services, which wouldn't show in that.

 

I know I'm not the accountant and I'm the one who has to answer to this. I understand how it works because I'm in the department and I see the people doing the work. I also see certain priorities that have been back-burnered because we haven't filled those positions through the process yet. But year over year, the department has been reducing and, I will repeat, will continue to reduce. So we are not hiring 17 positions, we are going to be filling positions as they go through the process, from the estimate from the year before to now. Thank you.

 

MR. ORRELL: I just needed that answer, minister, because the school systems that are losing cleaning staff, teaching assistants, teachers, are going to function the same way. Next year they won't have the opportunity to get more because they had to operate with less the year before. That's why I wanted to clarify that, so that the people who are losing these jobs will understand that.

 

Anyway, to change gears for a bit - Springhill Junior and Senior High - does the next phase of expansion include renovations to the trades area, as per the original scope of work?

 

MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, first I'd just like to say that we haven't had the discussions around the skilled trades yet. We are expanding, as you know, but we need the school boards to work with us in terms of where we are going to be expanding. I think that the member opposite will agree that it is a pretty exciting time for communities in the province. We haven't had the discussion around Springhill but this is the current situation: three phases of the work are now complete; interior renovations to junior high classroom wing, along with replacement of windows and the heating system on all three floors has been completed; a new main entrance has been constructed, along with a bus loop and parking areas.

 

Now the last phase of the work involves the gymnasium expansion, locker room renovations and washroom upgrades. Planning work is underway for the last phase and tenders are expected to be called in May, which is just next month, so construction is on track and underway. I also see that the interior classroom renovations are all complete, too. So it looks like this project is percolating appropriately.

 

Now the question that you asked, will the skilled trades component be at that school, we haven't had those discussions of where we are going to be moving our next sites. Thank you.

 

MR. ORRELL: The River Hebert District High School, the status of their expansion project and the funding to complete the work, can you give me the status on that, please?

 

MS. JENNEX: Our current situation with the River Hebert School, and that's an A and A, which means additions and alterations, the demolition of an old section is near completion and the board has hired consultants to design the project within the budget. There has been numerous work done on the designs and a tender has been called by a professional survey. I'm not seeing exactly where we are in - so it's approved and the intent is, of course, as you probably know, combining populations from an elementary school and a junior-senior and there's going to be a demolition and work that's being done. So I see that that one just doesn't say where we are in the process. I'm seeing from these notes that the demolition is actually complete and they are still working in the designing work that is going on and tenders are being called, from the information that I have. I can get a little bit more of an update for you on that particular one.

 

MR. ORRELL: Advocate District High School, there's a passing lane in the school zone there and it is used by heavy logging trucks, which concerns the member from that area about the safety of the children. Is that going to be looked into with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal?

 

MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, I wouldn't have any information on that, that's not under our mandate of capital construction, so if that situation has been brought to the attention of the board, obviously. That, to me, sounds like it falls under a question that might be asked of TIR. I don't have any information on that.

 

I'm not evading it, it's just not something that would come to that because that's - and actually, as you probably know, the Department of Education works with TIR around capital projects. We have a person within our department, Darrell MacDonald, who is our facilities manager, an engineer who works with the engineers from Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. We now have a process in place - this was flagged actually by the Auditor General that the past way that we've done capital projects, that the government has done capital projects has been ineffective and inefficient.

 

It doesn't make sense if you have something announced and eight years out it's going to start, by that time, of course, the envelope of money that was allocated definitely isn't going to be working, so it's not an efficient way. Also, especially capital construction for schools over an eight-year period from the time it is announced, a lot can happen in an eight-year period to a community. So what we've done, listening to the wise advice from the Auditor General, is to move it to a one-year process.

 

So I sent a letter to the school boards a couple of weeks ago, maybe months ago at this point, and April 20th we've asked for them to bring in their priorities for capital to the department, so we can be working with the school boards to identify what we do next year, in terms of our capital plan. This way we're making sure that schools that need the upgrades or new constructions are based on current data and the envelope of budget allocation will be appropriate for the timeline for capital. It's a more effective way of dealing with our capital.

 

In talking to capital, I just want to share with you around the design of new schools. When schools are being built in the province, as I said, it sits with TIR, the capital construction. We do have a person in the department who works with TIR and TIR, of course, looks at the site where the school - the school boards decide where the new school site will be and there's a process in place for that.

 

Then, when we look at the numbers, the engineers from both departments start a design - and the community is involved in this, the principal, the school board, and the design. The overall design of the schools in the Province of Nova Scotia, they are now being built, of course, with environmental - we're making sure that they fall under LEED gold. We're also looking at a school that meets the needs of 21st Century learning.

 

Also, we're building schools that are built with safety in mind because sometimes schools might not look as exotic as some schools that you see pictures of maybe in the United States or from other countries. Our schools are built with aesthetics in mind but also safety in mind. So we have a person who has expertise in the department on safety. His job is to look at all the school designs and then offer input, to make sure that the school is safe: where the entrance is, where the playground is placed, where the classroom lines are, where the hall lines are, so that there are no blind spots. If you are in the hall, an administrator or a teacher should be able to look down the hall and see all the students, as opposed to having a little nook or a cranny where kids can be engaged in inappropriate activity or a child might be bullied or harassed and no one can see it. So they're designed with safety.

 

Also, and this is the one I'm most excited about, the engineers within the department are looking at schools that can be refurbished or - I don't like to use the word "recycled" but repurposed - a repurposed building. In Liverpool they built a new arena which then left the arena that was there not being utilized. The people that built that arena, I don't know how many years ago it would have been, did a fine job constructing that arena. It has a cement foundation and it has steel - I'm not in construction, you know what my background is - but big girders that are solid and stable and the engineers have gone in and what they have is this building. The outside and the inside are not appropriate in terms of the structure itself, so that will have to be taken down. But the bones of that building are solid.

 

It has a very high ceiling; you know how arenas are tall too. Using our budgeting formula in schools for a new school, you look at how many students, how many classrooms, it's a big formula and these books with these school designs are unbelievable but a lot of this engineering piece. If you have a budget of a certain amount and you're building a new school, this is what you'll get under the budget allocation. This building, this arena, where the site has been chosen for the new school, needs to be only semi-demolished. They only need to take down the outside construction, so there's less going into landfill.

 

The bones of the building will stay intact and the new school is going to be built on the site of the old arena, which gives the opportunity - well, it's a challenge for the engineers because I know - and I hate to say this - they're like kids playing with Lego. They think it's fabulous because, again, they have a challenge that's going to be putting us in Nova Scotia out in front in terms of repurposing a building for a school. We're going to have - it's a bigger bang for our buck. We'll have the same budget envelope but now we're going to have a bigger structure with higher ceilings, which we wouldn't have been able to put into a new school. This is an exciting project.

 

I wish you could be in the room with the engineers. The design for this building is going to be based on 21st Century learning based on a project-based learning model which we're incorporating in our new schools, especially the school out in Bedford, that's another exciting project for people too. That school is going to be absolutely fantastic for student learning. It's designed with project-based learning and has classrooms - we have to think about classrooms. (Interruptions) Sidewalks are important parts of schools too.

 

Classrooms are not necessarily used the same way they used to be because children work, as you've heard me say, in groups for group activity. But this new school will be built from a project-based learning style which is 21st Century learning. Not only is the province showing leadership by repurposing a building, putting less in the landfill, making sure it's an environmentally sustainable school, LEED gold - we've made that. Actually, when I'm with other ministers around the world, when I said our new buildings are built to LEED gold, they were all scribbling notes because they hadn't thought of that concept in terms of the environment. We're ahead on environmental - our environmental conscience in Nova Scotia is higher than in many other countries, which is something we also should be proud of.

 

We're making sure the building itself is repurposed too. We're putting less in the landfills so it's an exciting project. I'll wait for the next question on probably another piece of capital question from the member opposite.

 

MR. ORRELL: Around the subject of TAs in the school system, you talked about special needs children - over the last year I've had a lot of people in my office talking about the cuts to the TAs in the school, in my area, being down, up, down. Some of the children are not getting the proper amount of TA per need, I guess is the best way to put it. Are those positions going to be protected in these budgets, is there a line in there that says how many we can fill and if the needs of the school are more than the so-called budget, will those numbers be bumped up to fill the TA positions that are needed to be filled?

 

MS. JENNEX: That is a very, very important question that you've asked and thank you for the opportunity to clarify educational assistants, the work that they do within our schools. First, we recognize the valuable work that our educational assistants provide students and in recognizing the cost of having inclusion in our schools. The meetings that we've had with school boards, we have changed the Hogg formula; it was through consensus, meeting the needs of the boards. The funding for special needs is the funding there is very few restricted pockets of money going out to boards, this is the biggest one that money is for special education. We've increased that envelope from $125 million last year to $138 million, so that is protected funding for school boards for meeting the needs of our children with significant difficulties. Educational assistances would be funded under that pocket of money.

 

But I want to talk about the province and the guidelines around educational assistance. There has been a lot of work done around educational assistants and their appropriate role within our educational system. There are people who work in our schools that are not educational assistants that are hired to do supervisory kinds of things. We're talking about an educational assistant is a person assigned to a student to support the student's program that has been designed by the teacher, resource teacher, the administration would be sitting in on that meeting, outside agencies and the parent.

 

There is a team meet, it's an individualized program plan. We do this before children come to school, by the way, so we are in the process now in the province. Schools are meeting around program planning for some of our Primaries that are coming into school. Children just don't arrive on the first day of school without having a plan in place and in some cases some school boards are doing some transitioning for our youngest people. But there's an individualized program plan that's designed with all of those stakeholders, the parent, the teacher, outside person, to look at what we need to do for that child to be successful and supported in school.

There is no "one size fits all" as you've heard me say because every child comes to school with strengths and weaknesses. There is no road map for a student who has special needs, sometimes children that have had a significant brain-injury accident have been given a prognosis that they probably won't learn, too, and then the parent has been given this list of things that they might not do. In some cases those children, unbeknownst to science, their brains are healing faster and so the program would have to change and in some cases they haven't made the significant gains they need.

 

Brain energy, neurological disorders, children with specific physical needs, there's a large host of program plans that are done sometimes based on personal care of the child. But the educational aspect of a child, the plan is designed by the teacher. The educational assistant supports the implementation of that plan for the student.

 

We have guidelines in the province of a ratio of 1 to 104. So for 104 students in the system the province feels that there should be one educational assistant. Those are those averages that we talk about. In the province the reality of that is that school boards have different ratios. Provincially, at this point, there is one educational assistant assigned to an average of about 78 students. Now, each board is different but the average is about 175.

 

The notion of an educational assistant, the role of an educational assistant, the value of an educational assistant is this: they are assigned to the student to support that student to become responsible and independent. So when a 5-year-old comes into school with certain needs, it is not uncommon to see that little person being assigned a full-time educational assistant for their needs. By the time they get to Grade 2, it would be the hope of the parent and the school that they wouldn't need 100 per cent full-time, they wouldn't need full-time coverage because they would have learned how to manage certain things on their own. But as I said, every case is a little bit different.

 

With a child who has autism especially, or a child with a brain injury or an intellectual disability, an educational assistant is there to provide them the supports for them to become independent. So it's not uncommon for a child in Primary to move from full-time to half-time as they go through the school so that by the time they get to junior high, for example, they would have someone who could check on them to make sure things are going, but it wouldn't be a full-time person. It could be a person assigned to a group of children to check in: do you have all of these things? There are lots of tools that we use in the education system. It could be a child who has their agenda written out for them on little cards, point A, point B, point C of the day. It could be they walk around with a chart.

 

We also have children in our system, as you probably know, who are non-verbal and so they would communicate using Blissymbols or outside the classroom, they can check in to match their - they have a card and they know where they need to go and when they get there, they can match their card. So the educational assistant is watching them from down the hall to make sure that they get from point A to point B. The whole idea we have, the whole reason we have educational assistants is to provide children the opportunity to work with an adult to help them become independent.

Not all of our children are going to be 100 per cent independent, some will always need a full-time assistant, we know that, but for every opportunity that we have through that individual planning process is to continue to move the plan, to move that child to become as independent as possible. That's what we want for our children. We want them to be safe in school, supported in school, but we also want them not to learn to be even more dependent. We want them to learn to step up and do things on their own.

 

Educational assistants are going to be a very valued part of our education program here in the province. We recognize their value; it's part of our formula. We also recognize that special education does require significant resources and that is part of the funding allocation. So in terms of what a TA or an educational assistant looks like in the school, what the complement is, I can't answer that because it's based on the need coming from the individual program plan, the IPP. The principal would be letting the school board know what the needs are in each of the schools and then that's how they're set. It's not that we say this school gets this many, it's based on how many children are in that school, what the plan is, what supports are needed, and that's how they get assigned.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton North with two minutes.

 

MR. ORRELL: But you did say the budget was increased for special needs children in the classroom.

 

MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, yes, I would like to clarify that. We did meet with the school boards around the Hogg formula. It has been revised to actually include the cost. We know school boards will even spend more than this envelope because there are different needs throughout different boards but we increased the budget line from $125 million from last year to $137.9 million for this year's budget. That is money that goes to the school boards and can only be used for special education needs.

 

MR. ORRELL: The school liaison officers, or so-called police officers in the school, last year in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board they had four, and we have talked about this, but are those positions still protected in the budget?

 

MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, I just want to say that it has been a pleasure working with the member opposite. We've had a number of discussions around this and he knows that I take this very seriously. We are working towards a model that makes the appropriate use of our liaison officers throughout the province, so that it doesn't look so different from board to board.

 

We didn't get to where we needed to be and so I've had a meeting with the member opposite and we are going to continue to fund, as we did last year, to maintain the service in his board.

 

MR. ORRELL: Thank you, minister, I appreciate that.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for the Progressive Conservative caucus has now expired. I will now turn to the Official Opposition.

 

The honourable member for Kings West.

 

MR. LEO GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm pleased to join the discussion and the estimates on Education and also thank the staff for being here, to deal with, of course, what is always one of the most important estimate areas that we talk about in the Chamber; Health, Education and generally Community Services are our top three that we bring here to the Chamber each year.

 

One of the areas that I first wanted to hear what the minister has to say is an area that hasn't really come out of the discussions that are going on with the IWK and changing the model of child and adolescent mental health. Over the last two or three years - this is something that I hadn't experienced before, in my first five or six years as an MLA, I was actually Education Critic for a number of years. But in the last two or three years I've had calls from at least four different elementary school principals. They are concerned about the number of children now who are presenting anxiety, presenting stress.

 

There are really two problems associated with this; one, of course, is you know generally other than being - as teachers are wonderful listeners, exhibiting great compassion for their children, their students, and willing to work with them as much as possible, but not really qualified. In fact, teachers often feel that there are those areas when it comes to mental health issues, who do they call upon?

 

I'm wondering what the minister sees, in terms of central office staff, a person almost like our itinerant music teacher who takes in three or four schools, if we would have that kind of person that, in fact, would be available to a family of schools, to perhaps deal with the most troubled children, but also to work with teachers in terms of how they then handle certain of those stresses and anxieties and childhood developmental problems where behaviour becomes a factor, so that class disruption and helping that child resume a normal track again.

 

It's a very important area, it seems to be a growing area and I'm wondering where the Department of Education and the minister see some of this ongoing work heading.

 

MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for bringing up that very, very important topic. It seems to have been not in any of our discussions so far this last couple of weeks. It is part of our Kids and Learning First; mental health is included in our plan and it is extremely important.

 

I have personally met with Dr. Stan Kutcher on a number of occasions and I also was able to step into and spend a couple of hours with some training that was being undertaken last summer, which will continue this summer. What his institute does is actually brings teachers in from around the province. It's a limited number of seats because it's specialized work that they do for a number of days. He ran two, I think, last year, I stepped into one. He's working with the institute - not just Dr. Kutcher, the team works with teachers identifying best practices, talking about real-life situations in casework and how teachers can respond to the needs they are seeing in their school. It's providing extra training for our teachers, that summer training institute is being done. It was done last summer and will continue to be done to train more and more teachers across the province, giving them the ability to meet the needs of our students in our schools who are displaying issues around mental wellness.

 

As I said, we've brought this up in the Kids and Learning First; we are implementing the mental health strategy. The framework - the Nova Scotia School Mental Health Framework - will help meet the needs of students with mental health disorders by incorporating mental health curricula into our health education and healthy living programs. It also is providing mental health training to teachers and support staff and providing tools and information for students and their families. This framework is also going to be further complemented with the addictions strategy that's being worked on within the Department of Health and Wellness; it's collaborative work here.

 

As part of the framework the stakeholders include our schools, our mental health services care providers, the Departments of Health and Wellness and Education, and we're going to be collaboratively working to improve mental health literacy. One of the big things here that we're working on, as part of the curriculum, is to reduce the stigma around mental illness because as we all know, people don't like to say they're having issues of anxiety or depression even though they might recognize it themselves because having a mental health issue, there's a stigma attached with that. If you break your arm you tell everyone you broke your arm and you're okay to go to the doctor, but people try to hide or mask their problems that they are having around mental illness and sometimes - not sometimes, but as in all cases, the longer you wait for support and help the worse it is to get back on in a healthy way.

 

We're also recognizing that some of our issues that we thought only showed up in adults are showing up in our young people. I don't know about the training that the member opposite had as a teacher, but we had very limited training when I was studying to be a teacher on mental health issues. We had on brain function but not necessarily mental illness and so the summer training institutes are going to help more teachers recognize the markers and what we can do to put help in place.

 

The Kids and Learning First has brought out that we are looking at making sure that our SchoolsPlus sites are going to be in every county in Nova Scotia. Our SchoolsPlus sites are places where families and students receive the services that are usually in the community now coming into the school, so a child who is having issues around mental health or mental wellness and the family needing help, or support or concerns. Now we have in our SchoolsPlus site the ability to have these services right in the school so we can get to children a little bit earlier. We have the SchoolsPlus site coordinator and also the outreach person so there is actually dedicated staff that do that work, the teachers work with the SchoolsPlus sites. The work that's being done there, of course, looks different in every SchoolsPlus site but this is another area that we recognize will meet the needs of children who are having difficulty with their mental wellness. We have included it in our curriculum, we have the framework.

 

We're working with Dr. Stan Kutcher and we're training teachers and that training will continue to go on and also it's that continual collaboration, that continual discussion on what we can do to meet the needs of our children. We are in the middle of that work and will continue to do that through our framework and our SchoolsPlus site. Having it as part of the curriculum, and actually I've had the opportunity to look at the curriculum - and I know that our member opposite is very interested in this - I think it would be nice if you could actually see the curriculum that is now in the hands of our teachers and in our schools, it is world-class. I've actually talked with ministers from other provinces around this being used and I know it's being used in Ottawa, so that's the framework we're using.

 

This is a very serious and important topic and it's one of those topics that people are uncomfortable talking about sometimes, if you or your family or one of your children has a mental illness. People will talk about ADHD but they don't talk about depression. Also, it's the misinformation around mental illness.

 

If a person is clinically depressed and a teacher who doesn't know or a parent who doesn't recognize - we want the best for our children so we say, oh, come on, pull your socks up, get on with it, which is actually making it worse and worse. So giving that through the SchoolsPlus site, education for the parents, education and partnership for teachers, we are providing - well, not "we", the Dalhousie group, the mental health team - is providing that robust in-servicing. I took a couple of hours in, incredibly intensive work, good work that's being done.

 

It's also interesting, as part of this work is the voice of the young people who have issues around mental illness who are speaking up and telling their stories. I think that is so important in any aspect of our lives, when there are differences, is that personalized voice and the courage that young people have to step up and say, I have a mental illness that I am living with.

 

I think there's some new ad campaigns out, too, that you are seeing some of our athletes who have clinical depression speaking about that publicly. The more people who talk about it, then more people will get that help. One of the worst things around mental illness is what I call "self medicating". We have children who sometimes will start the road of drug usage to mask their own symptoms, and then we've started another spiral of other issues. So as part of our education process, too, we are also looking at making sure that children have the tools they need, at the appropriate grade levels, around alcohol and drugs. It's very developmentally streamed throughout our system around prescription drug use, illegal drug use and what it does to your body and what to be mindful of.

 

We have a drug education in our schools which does really need to go hand-in-hand with our mental health because some of our students who are - I hate to use the words suffering from, but I don't know what word to use because that's where I need the education, on who are living with a mental illness sometimes will self-medicate and then end up having issues of drug and alcohol dependency when the underlying problem has been a mental health problem at the very beginning.

 

So now having this framework in place, getting in there early, educating the families and having the ability within our SchoolsPlus site, hopefully will see more of our children not getting caught up in drug addiction and alcohol problems, as we have seen. So we're working hard on that and I have to say that I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for the teams of people who have been working on this framework, especially Stan's team, for the work they are doing. I will get that curriculum, which I've had the opportunity to go over, to you so that you can see the fine work that is being done in our schools.

 

MR. GLAVINE: Thank you, Madam Minister, and staff for that presentation, I guess for lack of a better word, I was really pleased to see the minister is well-versed in this area and the department is actually moving into the curriculum area. I know that the Ottawa program has proved exceptionally successful and again, it's one of those areas, like the prescription pill issue, that I thought was a very small problem, to be honest, until I became again educated on it and met with many people in the health field and associated community members dealing with this. So I'm very pleased to see that it is moving in this direction.

I certainly, as a high school teacher, saw those signs of an early psychosis. Sometimes we would have a student who wouldn't be in school for three or four months and we would get a note from home - experiencing an illness - and that's as broad as we got when, in fact, we knew it was indeed a mental health issue. So I think in terms of public education, we know that this can interfere immensely with a child's potential. Unfortunately, it is sometimes part of a very bright child's challenge. So the public schools, not just becoming aware but having an action program is indeed commended and I appreciate that response.

 

The minister is going to think I'm kind of moving around the surfaces and edges where I'm not talking about core curriculum and funding and so on but, again having spent my professional life in a school system, we all know that many of us as educators I think still adhere to the model, the Socratic principles of a sound mind in a sound body and teaching in an holistic way to a person.

 

One of the areas that I've always been very interested in - and I know the minister is aware that we have at least perhaps one model school in the school district where we both taught, in terms of physical education and physical activity. I was wondering if the minister could indicate what percentage of our children from Primary to Grade 9 - we know the struggle at the high school level, it doesn't in fact take anything away from the fact that perhaps we should be doing more in high school, but the fact is, the reality is it's very, very challenging - what percentage of our children from Primary to Grade 9 would be engaging in physical activity?

 

Again, some recent studies in fact that are coming out are not just because of the deficits around inactivity of children compared to the previous generations but also just the value of being physically fit and physically active. Engaging on a daily basis, in fact, is another major asset to learning and having children prepared to gain the most from their five to six hours in public school. So I place a very important value on this and I would just like to get a little bit of an overview of that area.

 

MS. JENNEX: Thank you for that viewpoint that you have, we share it. Before I start on answering the honourable member, I just would like to add another thing that I think we need to be proud of in Nova Scotia, that the mental health framework was actually piloted here in Nova Scotia before it went to Ottawa. We had two sites that it was piloted in. So it's another area of the province that showed leadership with Stan's team. (Interruption) We incubated it here and, of course, now we've adopted that. As the member opposite is probably referring to, are you referring to maybe the school that I used to work in myself around the model for physical education?

 

MR. GLAVINE: The current one, I think Somerset.

 

MS. JENNEX: Oh, Somerset, okay. Well, I just would like to backtrack just a little bit. About a year ago, maybe a little bit over a year ago, I was at a CMEC meeting, Council of Ministers Education Canada, in Ottawa, and our Minister of Health and Wellness led a study that was conducted here in Nova Scotia on the activity levels of our children in school. She gave me the opportunity to present to the ministers from across Canada the results from that particular data. I'm going to tell you, not only have I shared it with every minister across Canada, that data that was compiled here in Nova Scotia through the Wellness side of Health and Wellness, I've shared it with ministers from around the world. We now know that children are only active when they get to a certain age.

 

Now this is the scary thing, they are only active when they are at school. The study gave the students an accelerator, I think it was called, they wore a little - it looked like a pedometer but it covered more than that and did heart rates when they were resting, a pedometer just counts your steps. Data was collected nationwide based on the results that we had from all the different age groups, what we're finding out is our children just aren't moving.

 

Now in our elementary grades, kids are a little bit more active. In junior high they start to decrease but actually if it wasn't for school, our high school kids in most cases, a high percentage of our kids would be sedentary.

 

Now what's causing that, of course, is screen time and those magic hours from school, after school until suppertime, when kids get home from school, in that time period they're finding out that kids are engaging in many things and physical activity is not one of them, unfortunately. So in terms of obesity and health, if our kids aren't healthy, they're not going to learn. We know there is a direct correlation between physical activity and how well your brain works.

 

There's a study actually being done right now, Dr. Ratey's studies at Landmark East, and we've sent staff from the department as part of that, to look at the work that they're doing, but that's intense physical activity throughout a school day. So this is on our radar not only within the Province of Nova Scotia but nationally, that we have an epidemic on our hands and the epidemic we have is that our children are not fit. Our children are actually obese and that is scary.

 

We have restricted funding, and that is one area, as I said earlier today, we have restricted funding around special education but we do have restricted funding in our boards for healthy, active living because it's important. We need to make sure that our children are moving.

 

Now there's lots going on in the Department of Health and Wellness and in Education around strategies of children. We're collecting data right now on physical education in the schools. We don't know exactly what it looks like across Nova Scotia for every school board, every school. You can't use individuals as a model because I worked at a school where we had daily physical activity, it was just part of our culture, we always had it. I was actually quite surprised to find out that that wasn't the model across Nova Scotia, that children didn't get up and move for half an hour during the day, every day, it was the model that I was in.

 

Of course I know the excellent leadership with Somerset School with Heather, I mean she lives and breathes physical activity and she recognizes the value, and it has to be a culture within the school. How do we change a culture in our society, where kids are not moving?

 

Now when we ask parents about children moving, they actually think their kids are because we've got children in soccer and hockey and those organized sports, but that's only a small percentage of our population. But even that, we're finding that the children are not actually engaged in continuous physical activity because those are team sports where you don't play the full time. You sit and wait your turn and some children don't get to play as often as other ones, so even families that value physical activity and have their children in a team sport, they're not reaching the activity level that they need for a healthy heart and a healthy mind.

 

This is very important, we're now doing a study across Nova Scotia on what physical activity and what every board is doing around the province so that we can get that data, so that we can move forward on that.

 

You don't need a gym in a school to be physically active and I think sometimes communities feel that well, we can't be doing physical activity because we don't have a gym. Well, you know there wasn't a gym in the schools I grew up in and we were outside playing and kicking balls but we need to teach children how to kick the ball. We need to make sure children have the ability to learn how to throw a ball and kick a ball because there are so many things that you can do when you learn the proper skill. Some people need to learn the skill of that so we value physical education, specialists teaching the skills.

 

Now I talked about that time between school, the end of the school and when children are home with their families as being problematic. We have recognized that so we brought in the Community Use of Schools Grants. There is a cost involved for the community to use the school which could be janitorial, it could be to provide an instructor, it could be transportation for the children, especially in a rural area, to get from the school home because if they don't get on their bus - so providing transportation. We've looked at every way that we can to have the building, our physical plant, being utilized as much as we possibly can and the barrier around that was money. So we provided the Community Use of Schools Grants that's a separate grant that's not in our budget, it's part of our Kids and Learning First.

 

That grant, actually, is distributed to each of the eight school boards, and community groups then ask the school board for the funding they don't have to come to the department, that money has been allocated. I had the opportunity to step into Port Williams one afternoon and there was a group of children with a coordinator doing physical activity. That is the kind of thing that we are encouraging communities to do, to use our buildings to keep our kids fit, keep them active. I know that we also have grants through Justice because, as you know, if children are engaged in physical activity they are not going to be engaging in other things where they can get themselves into trouble.

 

So it's very important, physical activity is very important, we're working on that collaboratively with the Department of Health and Wellness, and Justice sits at the table and also Community Services, and Labour and Advanced Education. Looking at ways that we can move forward as a province to provide the very best abilities for our children to be healthy.

The way we do that, of course, is encouraging healthy eating too, we're way out in front with our food policy here in Nova Scotia, also looking at daily physical activity. We're doing a study right now of physical education in our schools so that we can base our move forward on documentation on data.

 

MR. GLAVINE: I did receive the broad picture there in terms of where we are and where we need to go around having children with stronger physical and more active lives, both in school and out of school. It's interesting that in some of the Scandinavian countries, by the time children do get to high school, daily physical activity is well ingrained. When students came to our school as foreign students they wouldn't be coming out for some of the sports teams, perhaps it was the hockey program where they needed to find a place to play, but when you asked them about coming out for teams they'd very often say well I go to the gym every day or I do such and such a workout. So it becomes very much part of their daily life. We're still a long way, I guess, from that kind of cultural move but I believe the school is an important place.

 

The minister did tip exactly where I was going with my next question. I know we've moved along the path of healthy snacks and lunch programs, and again what children are eating is critical to how well they're going to learn. Also behavioural factors can also be dietary related. We have made strides here and I know most of our schools now have a breakfast program because that is the central meal for all of us, to have a good breakfast to start the day. I saw how that changed children in the school where I taught for many years when we first introduced it, children who often came to school without anything at all and kind of hung on until recess to then sometimes get something from a friend to get them through until noon hour. So it has changed and now we want to move to the next level whereby they aren't just putting something in their bodies but rather they're having healthy snacks.

 

I brought this up to the Minister of Agriculture because it is obviously related, the school snack program, and using local consumption and so on where possible, but I have heard from a couple of principals and the last one I heard from was somebody I think the minister would know, Mr. Karl West, who is at Annapolis East Elementary. He said children are opting for now, what he considers the alternate snack and whatever, you know, cookies or whatever it may be, because fruit and vegetables are indeed expensive. I'm wondering if the department assists schools financially and also in terms of what may be available as healthy snacks or is this left to the discretion of central office and local boards?

 

MS. JENNEX: This is a topic that's near and dear to my heart, making sure that our children in the province are eating properly. What we really are working on too is a shift in our culture. The member opposite mentions about children arriving in our school system from Scandinavian countries and it's just part of their culture. I had the opportunity to be in Norway for a week with the OECD and meeting with ministers from all over the world and had the opportunity to see that they actually do spend most of their time outside. It's the exact same climate as we have here in Nova Scotia but they're outside. They're dressed appropriately and on Sundays everyone takes their children out for a walk. The parks are filled, the streets are filled. Everyone, after they have their lunch, they're outdoors. So it's a culture and we're going to have to start moving and providing opportunities I guess through education or by role model on how we can move in that direction.

 

Now, the question around do we provide funding or what we do at the department, through Health and Wellness, they provide $750,000 on a yearly basis for school breakfast programs and we at the department cost-share a breakfast program coordinator. As you know, there are many local partnerships within schools. I know that in the school that I taught, we had a breakfast program for all children and the Royal Bank took us on. As part of their day they would come up to the school and offer their time, an hour in the morning, greeting children with our breakfast program. They not only supported it financially, in partnership with our school but they also supported it physically by coming up and working an hour before they went into the bank just down the street.

 

So there are lots of partnerships, I know that's the one I had at mine, but I have to say that the school that the member opposite used to be the principal of, their breakfast program was so well received that I actually heard complaints from parents that students purposely didn't eat breakfast at home because it was so good, because they really took it on as welcoming everybody. That's a good thing because, of course, it was so good that students felt that they were not only getting a nutritious breakfast but they were also having fellowship before the day started.

 

I know there was a great deal of leadership provided at your school when we were in the beginning stages of recognizing that we needed to have a coordinated way of reaching the students who were coming to school with empty stomachs because when a child arrives at school and they've got an empty stomach, they can't learn. If all they can think about is when recess is going to come so they can eat a bag of chips and then that bag of chips is the only fuel they have, that learning is not going to be where it needs to be for that student. They are behind the eight-ball before the day is over, they're losing ground. So having our guidelines about healthy snacks and healthy eating, what we offer in our cafeterias, is taking time. There's a bit of resistance for children's palates to adjust to healthy eating but you know, pushing it and continuing on and being steadfast on this, we're actually seeing the results.

 

I know over in Port Williams school many years ago it was a community group and I remember Ismay Bligh was part of that and I'm trying to think of some others, who provided leadership - that was about 15 years ago. A group of nutritionists and dedicated parents worked at Port Williams school to provide food that children were not normally eating at snack time - the celery sticks, the grapes, the apples, carrot sticks. Parents came in and provided that on a daily basis. That nucleus of that work that was done many years ago has spread across the province.

 

I know that there was a great deal of work on a framework for healthy eating and what that involved because what we're doing is we're actually shifting what children are offered, coming through a cafeteria line in our schools. As you know, there's nothing better than a hot dog or a plate of french fries or the greasy pizza. You get accustomed to those flavours and the next thing you come in through the line, there's no more hot dogs, it's a nutritious alternative which is pizza made differently, it's chicken fingers that are broiled, not deep fried. French fries, sometimes I know some schools went from the deep fryer to the oven ones but providing these alternatives, it was a little bit of a learning curve, especially whole wheat in the bread as opposed to just the regular, adding in whole grains, providing the fruit.

 

There was a lot of learning on how do we do this for our young people so that they will eat it and find it is not only an alternative but that's what they're going to choose, so schools have done a lot of work.

I have seen, and that's a nice thing, I think, over time I have seen a real shift in what children choose to eat because the model is there in place, because a group of parents and nutritionists and education leaders persevered and just kept at it, to make sure, because the bottom line that they were looking at, healthy children. If we don't provide the service in our schools as a role model, then where are they going to learn it? So there is now across the province, we have very strong guidelines for healthy eating and it was nice to see - I think it was a year ago that even the hospital cafeteria made a change.

 

You know there's always a time and a place for a hot dog at a fair and some french fries maybe when you're at the rink watching a hockey game. In moderation it's great but in a school system, when they're there for learning, we need to make sure that we're providing them those nutritious foods. So a lot of work has been done over the years, the leadership role that was taken with Ismay Bligh and that group of dedicated parents from Port Williams.

 

Now one of the components that a number of people - and I know that the member opposite is aware - there's a dedicated group of people in the Annapolis Valley who have been working on Buy Local. I know that is a province-wide initiative for how we can connect our local products in our schools, we have some leadership from our young farmers. Patricia Bishop is one who has provided leadership around the local food. She provides food from her farm directly into Port Williams. We're seeing those symbiotic relationships between the farmer and the schools.

 

Now, of course, as you now, coming from the Annapolis Valley we have the benefit of geography and living in the breadbasket of Nova Scotia it is probably easier but there are ways we can facilitate getting our local product in the school system and having children wanting to eat local product.

 

I keep hearing over and over again that it's more expensive to eat healthy and I have to say that I don't agree, I will push back on that every single time. We've done a cost analysis - I taught lower elementary from years and we've done a cost analysis with nutrition, nutritional value and cost with the number of snacks that children bring to school. If you look at the cost of an apple in Nova Scotia you have got the biggest bang for your buck. The child is not only getting hydrated by eating an apple at lunch time, it is biodegradable, you are not throwing any paper away with it, so you can eat a healthy snack for a lower cost than bringing a bag of chips or Vachon cakes, especially, to school.

 

I think we need to shift, you can actually eat healthy for cheaper because we just need to have children recognize that carrots and turnips and all of those things are actually quite delightful if they are just part of your normal routine and not looked at as extras. Children will pick that up, I have a five-year-old grandson and I have to say that I never see him eat anything coming from those bags anymore. His mother has taken it upon herself to make sure that what goes in his body is used for fuel and if you put junk in you get junk out, so you got good stuff going in good stuff going out.

 

We want to make sure that those brains cells are revved by good food in all of our children in Nova Scotia, so we are working on that. The Department of Agriculture has been doing an awful lot of work around community breakfast, supporting buying local, looking at the nutritional value of our food especially looking at the nutritional value of our grass-fed beef in Nova Scotia. We're making shifts slowly and I think that we have an opportunity in Nova Scotia to continue to lead the pack in doing the work that we are doing in our school system, thank you.

 

MR. GLAVINE: I did want to touch on a couple of areas before my time is up. I'd like to hear the minister and the department expound on. There is no question that for a whole lot of different perspectives we know that when our students graduate, when they leave school in Nova Scotia, too high a percentage do not have the capabilities to go on to university math, in some cases, math at community college, no matter what the program offering and some of the levels of math, that new career path that our young students are on.

 

It is a great concern and I know this is not a problem unique to Nova Scotia, many other jurisdictions as well. My own personal finding and view, and maybe the minister shares this, because I had the opportunity to evaluate every math teacher on a staff. We know that nothing has changed in 2012, there are math teachers who are a week or two ahead of their students, that's the reality. That's a tough piece for parents probably to hear but I had to share that with parents, to be honest with them, because we know that the difference between a good math teacher and somebody who happens to have the math course to teach can be a world apart.

 

I was a perfect student for that going into a Grade 12 math class taught by somebody like Garry Darris, at an advanced math concept, and that by the end of the class if he gave me a problem I was now able to do that. But a teacher who didn't have quite that same adeptness and love and who could literally get inside math and impart that to students, that teacher's students weren't coming out nearly as prepared.

 

We have across the board, I don't think the well-trained, full complement of teachers, we know there are great math teachers in the system but I'm wondering where is the plan to say in 10 years time our math students, will in fact, be doing better? Because the foundation should be better, we should know by junior high, this is what I hear, I think the Grade 10 - moving from Grade 12 to 10 - to test is sound. I like the idea of knowing in junior high where your students are, we could then recommend that you can do math but it's taking a little longer for you to learn the concept therefore you should be, perhaps, taking math year-long. There are many teachers who will tell us that there are some concepts that do need the drill. They just don't happen by osmosis and some students should go through high school taking year-long math every year. In fact, even some good students who have to rush through too many concepts, too many outcomes, through their semestered course in particular, often struggle.

 

I think when there is a good math teacher in the classroom, and I hear of one this year at the Grade 10 level in my old school who, in fact, has taken very weak math students and they are talking about how much they enjoy math this year, how much they are learning and the objective results are there for the proof. I think we have to do that on a much larger scale than what we currently do.

 

I'm wondering, Madam Minister, what are some of the pathways that you see to achieve better results, because we use math over a lifetime and many go into careers where gosh, I didn't realize I needed a strong high school math? All of a sudden that discovery is there, as they get into community college or university.

 

MS. JENNEX: Thank you very much for your thoughts on this very important area. We need to make sure and ensure that our students are graduating Nova Scotia schools with a firm foundation that gives them wings to go into any career that they wish. Right now I'm hearing from industry, I'm hearing from universities and I'm hearing from a lot of parents that our students are not graduating where they need to be.

 

It is imperative that we make sure that we are providing the appropriate curriculum and, as you know, with the Kids and Learning First plan, that we are now - the work has already started - we'll be working with teachers to Primary, Grades One and Two and Grade 10, into next year, to work with the teachers, the professional development that is required when you're shifting gears. Shifting gears is to move away from a lot of outcomes, to make sure that the outcomes being taught are the deep foundational outcomes that a child needs that they can build on, and are taught at an age-appropriate level.

 

If you are teaching children a concept too early, they just don't have the developmental ability to be able to internalize it, so they might be able to parrot it or move it, but they don't - and I say move, they can move things and show us things but they don't have the deep understanding. By the time they get to the next grade, it has to be re-taught again because they didn't get it at the right time. So the revamping of the whole system to the western protocol is the answer to the foundational work that we're doing to ensure our students are going to get the math they need so they have every door open to them at the end of Grade 12.

 

You brought up the issue of teachers in our system who are teaching children and they are one week ahead. Well I know that if you don't have a good understanding of a math concept and if you can't impart that knowledge appropriately with your students, the students are not going to get a good education.

 

One of the things that we need in our system is not only a teacher with an expertise in math, and that is a specialized work, pre-work that you have, like in your post-secondary, and it might be even if you go outside and do your work on your master's program around math, if you have that expertise, your students benefit.

 

Now I've worked with some of the best math teachers that anyone could ever meet. I worked with Lois Boudreau at my school and I used to walk the hall and I used to stand outside our windows and our door, to watch while she taught a math class. I'm telling you, she created goose bumps on your arms because she loves math and she imparted that love and passion for math to the children in that classroom.

 

I've talked with her about that and she goes, I just love math. That's what we want. We want a teacher who not only has deep subject understanding, we want a teacher who loves math, to be able to invigorate our students. Now, junior high, can you imagine the gift that she has given to all those children at that junior high in her expertise over the years? Now she is one of our math mentors working with teachers, which is really good but, boy, you should see her teach. I'm telling you she's a class act when it comes to teaching.

 

We have found, with our research and from our data that we have collected, that only 37 per cent of our teachers who are teaching math at the high school level have a background in math. We need to change that. We need to work together with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union to make sure that the teachers who have that background, that expertise, are the ones in the front of the classroom. As the honourable member knows, due to the collective agreement, the way that it's structured, seniority, our teachers who have the expertise in math, especially our new graduates who are coming out that have that background, sometimes they don't get to teach the class that they have the best fit with because of seniority and I've heard this from teachers.

 

If you're one week ahead of your class in history, I think it can be fairly manageable, I suppose. It's not what we want to see but, boy, in math you need to know it inside out and upside down because math is so foundational. You need to have that good structure. So as part of the Kids and Learning First you will have noticed that there's a part in there that we need to work with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union around creating standards. We need to do something to make sure that we are getting the teachers who have that background in the right place.

 

Now, one of the things that we're doing, too, within the province, we have principals involved in instructional leadership courses right now. What the principals are now doing is learning skills on how they can be, in the school, the instructional leader. So we're asking principals who are taking this to be cognizant of - now, I know that the member opposite was a principal so I know, and I've been in that position myself, there's a lot that a principal does. Sometimes that instructional part can fall to the bottom as opposed to all the other things that you manage but we have to recognize that the principal is the instructional leader in the school, needs to be aware of a teacher's strengths and where teachers need support, and also make sure that the teachers then, who are showing that they need some support, provide the opportunity.

 

So we're looking at discussions with and work with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union around how we can work through a standard in place so a teacher who is now teaching a course has the background expertise and experience to match the course they're being asked to teach because, as one knows, a teacher in our system can go from a Primary to a Grade 12. There's nothing stopping us. We need a standard in place so that if a teacher does move from one grade level to another, or a subject area to another, that they have the expertise to do that and that can be done with summertime institutes or training, or it can be that they already have in their back pocket an expertise in maybe chemistry or physics and those are the areas that you really need to have that strong skill, to impart that passion that I've seen in many math teachers. I look at Therese Forsythe who - people who love math love math, and they do such a good job in teaching it. So we have instructional leadership undergoing to provide principals the skills that they need to make sure that they're instructional leaders within their school.

 

We are working with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union on how we can formulate standards so that we can get around this very serious situation that the honourable member has brought up, on making sure that our teachers match what class they are teaching, and also we are working, right now, on providing a different model, a different program of math in our province that will teach children a strong foundation.

 

We moved the Grade 12 provincial exam into Grade 10 to provide us with the opportunity to check in with the student to see where they are, where they need to go in math, what we need to do in the department. We didn't need that in Grade 12, which was then a mark, we need it at Grade 10 so we can help evaluate support and do what we need to do in the department. You bring up a very important topic. There's nothing dearer to my heart than making sure that we're providing opportunities for our students to excel when they leave our school system.

 

MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Kings West with six minutes remaining.

 

MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Madam Chairman. This is possibly the last question I will get in. I was pleased to hear the minister this morning state, unequivocally, her belief and what she will do as a minister and what she did as a teacher to support inclusion and it definitely is very much in line with my view of education, of society.

 

Of course, the area that we all know our province has struggled with since the concept has been brought in as fundamental is how we are proactive or how we approach education in the province, how we structure it, how we support it and so on, I believe generally we've had a lot of deficits around giving inclusion the best chances to work. So as we look at cuts to the system and looking to protect the programs we have and offer the great individualized programs and instruction for our youth, I wonder if we're going to be able to maintain even what I would say is an acceptable level of inclusion. Perhaps we are not meeting the best model in the best way that we should be practising inclusion.

 

I'm wondering if the minister and the department see a tension between making sure that inclusion gets the very best support, through human resources, through the resources in the classroom, and especially working to equip all of our classrooms, for example, with a SMART board. I see how teachers are able to capitalize on that technology and reach students, who before would maybe not engage in getting up in front of a class, but they got those immediate supports and they can quickly click on a mouse and the material they need for their math applications and so on is right in front of them.

 

As we note our classrooms today are enormously diverse. As I sat in my granddaughter's class this year in French Immersion Primary and I look at whether there was even another two or three students in that class, and then I go down the hallway and there are 27 in a Primary class and next year potentially 29, and looking at the challenges that that Primary teacher is dealing with and to have limited assistance to reach each child, that is the dilemma that I see, whether it be a parent, a grandparent, an educator. I think that's what we're going to be hearing about in the coming weeks and months and years that perhaps with the tremendous needs - and we've talked about mental health today, we talked about food, proper nutrition, we talked about physical activity and all these things - at the end of the day, if we are not reaching a child, giving him those early skills for success, then we may not have that desired, capable, successful student at the end.

 

I know the minister has very little time and I did want to hear a response so I'll stop there.

 

MS. JENNEX: You do know my passion, the member opposite knows my passion on how firmly supportive I am of our inclusive model in Nova Scotia. I have to tell you that it breaks my heart when I've been in other areas where they don't share our philosophy. To me, I find it mind-boggling but I know my time is limited so I just want to make a comment on the Primary piece and children in the class and can we meet the diverse needs in the class.

 

The curriculum for Primary was changed a number of years ago to meet the needs of our youngest students coming into school. It's not the Primary curriculum that it used to be, it's much more play based; it's not as academic as our Primary used to be, it has moved into a play and group model. Play is actually work for little people. What they do to learn is to play. We're getting studies on children with autism and how important it is for parents to learn how to play with their children and to get the right responses from children, but work for children is play. I just want to say that the curriculum in Primary meets the needs of children from that almost five to five-year-olds who are coming into school.

 

One of the things that we need to do as a province is to track to make sure that we are meeting the needs because over the years we haven't had the ability to get all of the information that we need. The program iNSchool will be able to now have much more data to see what the numbers are in our school system.

 

We do have many things in place in our school, we have specialists for students with special needs, but there is a lot of work that I have seen myself that we are continuing to work on. You mentioned this with the SMART board, the assistive technology and meeting the needs through assistive technology for students to include them. You heard me mention, earlier, Blissymbols, the cardboard matching pieces, now children who have autism or other developmental delays are actually using iPads in schools for communications devices. We have much more that we can offer our students.

 

At one time our inclusive model was including children in the classroom but we weren't interacting with them, maybe, the best we could. But now with assistive technology, children can be much more engaged in the curriculum and also engaged in communication back and forth with their peers, which is so important. Technology is just amazing and it's very good to be at a time where we're seeing technology meeting the needs of our students.

 

We are working continually on how we best can meet the needs of our students. We are going to track that; we are going to make sure we have evidence-based work. Interestingly over the years before we used the term autism we didn't have the word. We were dealing with children in our school system and we didn't have an understanding of what the neurological - remember at one time, and I know that I'm looking over, it's lovely talking, both of us as educators - remember they used to blame the mother if a child had autism and now we recognize it's neurological and we have been doing a lot of work within the department, and actually the province, around autism.

 

We're a province that offers - before children come to school, we have early intervention. Every child in the province who has been diagnosed with autism gets the supports they need. Before we came to government, that did not happen. It was a system that some children got it and some children didn't. Under the leadership of our Minister of Health and Wellness, every child in the province that is diagnosed with autism does get the supports. Getting in early is important so children with autism, by the time they come to school, we already have some transitional pieces in place.

 

We are going to be continuing to collect data with the iNSchool so that we can be flexible and nimble and coordinate, appropriately, the resources that schools have. We have an IPP process, which I know that maybe the member opposite wouldn't have been in the system but that has been revamped. It looks much different; it's not as onerous as it used to be, it is much more user-friendly and a collaborative team approach to providing a plan for a student who has special needs.

 

I always go back to one of the key members of that team is the parent because no one knows their child better than the parent and it's so important that we work collaboratively, the IPP is planned in that way so we have lots of things happening in the department.

 

We have an office within the Department of Education, Student Services, with people who have a great deal of expertise with children with special needs, learning disabilities. We have an autism coordinator who works within the department. They are dedicated, they are working with school boards and also they are working with individual situations that come up because you know every case is a little bit different and sometimes we have to do some very creative analysis of ways that we can provide service for all our students. That was the formulation, too, of the Tuition Support Program, recognizing that we can't meet the needs of every student but we came up with a partnership model for that. So we're going to continue to work.

 

We are, as a province, so lucky to have a culture, a society, that recognizes that everyone needs to be included.

 

MADAM CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for the Official Opposition has expired.

 

The honourable member for Cape Breton North.

MR. EDDIE ORRELL: Thank you, Madam Chairman. I have just a few - I hope simple - little questions to finish up what I'd like to understand about some of the things going on in the education system. The first one is, I've known, I've heard and we've spoken about cellphones in the classroom and I know you're not a fan of banning the cellphones, as the report says, because some teachers I know use those cellphones as a teaching tool. I've spoken to some who really think it's good, I've spoken to some who really think it's bad.

 

I know we have rules against cellphones here in the House, during Question Period cellphones are not on. My questions is, are there going to be rules made up so that the teachers who need to use these tools can use them and we can teach children the proper use of the cellphones, as in, on the desk, on vibrate and if it leaves the desk, it has to leave the classroom, things like that?

 

MS. JENNEX: Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to clarify my comments. I am not a fan of banning. I'll just give you an interesting comment I heard when I was with a group of people in discussion around a movie, Bully, that has come out in the United States and it's now here in Canada. Unfortunately, when the movie was edited, there are some words in it that are racist and also swear words in it, so the system in the United States rated it "R". I actually was talking with one of producers at one of the functions I went to, an anti-bullying workshop that I was in when I was in New York, and they said it was a gift to the movie to have it rated "R" because now more students will watch the movie. When you think about it, if you remember back far enough to when we were young, if it was forbidden fruit then you'll find a way to get at it.

 

If you ban something, then the issue is the ban. It becomes problematic. I asked a number of students, I said if you knew that a cellphone was banned, what would you do? They said they'd sneak it. So then what we're doing is creating a system where children are going to be having their cellphones at school but then sneaking them, so we've added another component on.

 

Anyway, banning is never the appropriate tool to use around these kinds of issues. The best thing we can do is educate around a cellphone and cellphone use, so we're on side on making sure we know about cellphone use and how we roll that out.

Now, if the Department of Education did a ban, that would be punitive for many classrooms in the province that use cellphones as part of their curriculum. I've had a lot of e-mails on this and I think it's because we're in the 21st Century and 21st Century learning is different. There is a teacher at Horton who has a class where they learn video and communication and all that. He'll give them an assignment and they take their smart phones out, take pictures, then they come back and they do a multimedia. They're using their cellphones for their project work. Cellphones aren't phones anymore. There's as much power in a cellphone now as there was when we sent the first person to the moon. Just that cellphone has as much power in them in terms of computer strength and technology in our cellphone.

 

In every school board and in every school they have policies associated with cellphone use. Some schools have a ban on them and that's their right, especially if it's an elementary school and they feel that they're disruptive and children are at a developmental level to carry the phone. Some schools have an overall - I've talked with lots of children out in the community, in junior high and high school, different schools have different policies but it comes down to, around a cellphone, it is up to each school to design their policy around the appropriate use of the technology that children bring to school. They're not only bringing to school smart phones, cellphones, they are bringing iPads, iPods, et cetera. Every school has the ability.

 

One of the strongest things that we can do - that's not the word I want - but one of the most powerful things that we can do around this technology is to provide students the appropriate education around appropriate use of cellphones, around cyberbullying, cyberbullying could be taking place in a school setting from a cellphone but we have no control over what is happening outside the school. Children will have that technology but it is up to each and every school to set their own policy.

 

There are a number of schools in the province, I just mentioned Horton, but I know here in Halifax there are a number of schools that have their cellphones as part of the curriculum. I know there are GPSs on cellphones, there are calculators on cellphones. I'm not an expert on all of what a cellphone can be used for other than a phone and texting. Children do use them for other things. There are applications, especially iPads have a number of educational applications, which are just phenomenal.

 

I'm not a fan of banning, but I'm not - that is polarizing, there will be people who will agree with me and people who are not going to agree with me. The safety of our students is paramount to me and we need to handle and tackle this issue of bullying and cyberbullying. I think that we don't want to get caught up in a furor over a ban. I feel that schools set their policy and they know their students. The policy is set at the school.

 

Some teachers also have a policy within their classroom and it's up to the teacher, but the best rules that are ever made in a school are rules that are made in collaboration with the users themselves. If I were a classroom teacher and I said, no phones, then students have told me then they would find a way to sneak them. But if the classroom all met together, discussed the issue, talked about the pros and cons and then came up with a collaborative approach to how they're going to handle cellphones and they make a rule, in a collaborative way of making the rule in the classroom, they will honour that rule because it'll be peer challenged at that point.

 

It would be that we made this rule, so the best rules that are made are made with the children, the users themselves, about the appropriate use of technology in a class. I've been hearing from some superintendents, too, that where cellphones are used as part of the curriculum it has been extremely successful. Those are a few comments on smart phones, cellphones in classrooms.

 

MR. ORRELL: You talked earlier about criteria for building a new school. I wonder if you could table the criteria for me on the school size, number of students, just the criteria that you would have. If I came to you and said I want a new school in North Sydney, could I have criteria of what I would have to achieve or what I would need as an area to build that school or to have that school considered. I wonder if you could just table that for me.

 

MS. JENNEX: The first thing that happens is that the school board determines the need. With the Kids and Learning First plan we are asking school boards to look at their schools regionally. So looking at a school individually and putting it on a school review is a process, it takes a year and causes a lot of angst in the community but we're asking, with the Kids and Learning First, for our school boards to look at the schools regionally and that model is being worked on in the department. One of the school boards has been using that model and we're using their leadership on this.

 

So a year or two out, maybe three years out, a region of the province would look at demographics, look at some schools, look at enrolments, all of those things would be looked at with the community. So you would be looking at what is happening in the community and looking at options and opportunities that schools can be used for. In some cases our schools have gone past their due date. School boards know their schools and will say, oh, do you know what, if we did a renovation or an alteration on this school, it's going to cost $7 million but if we have two schools moved to here, it could be $11 million, like what do we want? Do we want to renovate a school? Do we want a new school? I mean all of those things are taken into consideration.

 

Once the school board determines that they would like to have a new school built, then there is a call from the school board. Well, first they come to the Department of Education on a priority and we say, yes, you do need a new school and let's get started on this, we've approved that they need a new school and then the school board, each of them has a process in place to identify where the school is going to be built.

Once that process takes place, the school boards are required to submit three sites to the Department of Education and at that point those three sites are evaluated by engineers from TIR, I think the Environment Department is involved; they look at the site. Many things are looked at. Is it safe? Is it in a floodplain? How much would it cost to clear the site? All those issues are taken into consideration. Then they do an analysis, then the sites come, then the department looks at it again, and then it comes to my office with recommendations as to which one would be the most appropriate site and it's all in a report.

 

So, for example, I just received a report on a school selection site from TIR engineers and Environment. It came back - one for safety reasons and one for environmental reasons - too close to fumes from an asphalt area. They weren't appropriate sites for a school so they are back to the drawing board. We now know where the site is going to be. Engineers work on how many students are going to be housed at the school, what grade it is. The site itself determines the design and there is a formula of how many square feet per child and what classroom size, especially now with project learning.

 

I will ask the department, I know it's a formula, but I don't know if it's in a document or if it's inside - you see, these things nowadays don't look like this. I have to tell you, it is mindboggling to see this process. The design processes are in huge books, page after page, and everything is - I have a great deal of respect for engineers. It is unbelievable the analysis and work that is done in the planning of a school but to get to that, I know it's all on computer. So what I'll have to ask in the department is maybe if they could provide it in some sort of form. I've talked with engineers a number of times and they talk in numbers about square feet but the design process is amazing.

 

Actually it's kind of neat to be with the engineers when they're doing this because they really love their work and I think that they like it when there is a challenge involved with their work that they have to do a little bit of problem solving and change things. It is a huge, big involved process and part of the education part has a component in it making sure that they are built as educational institutions but the work falls with Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. I will ask if we can have our facilities manager provide you that kind (Interruption) I'm not going to give you the computer program you would probably have too much fun.

 

MR. ORRELL: I know in the Throne Speech they talked about moving some departments outside of the metro Halifax area. Have there been any discussions about moving any part of the Education Department outside of metro?

 

MS. JENNEX: Actually the Department of Education is throughout Nova Scotia. The office sits in Halifax but the people aren't necessarily in the office. A lot of the people who work in the Department of Education are actually out in Nova Scotia doing work with iNSchool or with school boards. At this point there is no talk of the Department of Education's office moving from Halifax because, basically, there are very few people actually - if you were walking through - there are a lot of people outside of the department, outside doing work in the schools.

 

If you're walking by the African Nova Scotia section, I'm lucky if I'm going to see anybody in the office because they are out in schools. If I walk by our Mi'kmaq coordinator's office, Candy is probably in a school community doing work. Sometimes people don't come into the office, and I'm looking at Ann, sometimes we don't see them for weeks at a time actually housed in the office because they are out in schools doing the work.

 

Our office is a little bit different where the work that the Department of Education does goes from one tip to the other tip and side to side of the province. Especially with technology today that is available, we've been doing a lot of teleconferencing and Skyping and doing a lot of work in that way. So we're kind of already in that community that way so we haven't had any discussions about moving space because basically we're there.

 

MR. ORRELL: Just a couple more little questions. You talked about the new Hogg formula being decided upon amongst a large group of people. Was there a committee involved in that and what was the makeup of the committee?

 

MS. JENNEX: Thank you for the question. I have to say when I stood up over a year ago and said that we would look at the formula, I told the superintendents that we would look at the formula because of all the eight school boards, every school board had some sort of criticism about how it affected them. There wasn't one school board that liked it and it was creating some problems. It was a good formula but it just didn't meet the needs. It needed some tweaking. We didn't know that that's what we needed at the time but Doug Stewart and Frank Dunn travelled the province and met with school boards and the senior staff. They had 24 meetings with boards, senior staff and elected members and - I hope Mr. Hogg doesn't think I'm critical of his formula - and with Bill Hogg himself on this.

 

I happened to see the work that was being done because Doug and Frank would have meetings with me and talk about what concerns school boards were having. One of them is that when the school boards received their allocated budget through the Hogg formula, it had restricted funding for certain things and it didn't provide boards with flexibility. We do still have some restricted funding but what we've done is taken out the restricted funding. There have been many aspects of the formula that have changed. We've added - the transportation allocation has changed and how that goes through the formula. I know we've added into the formula small and isolated schools, you've heard me mention that, and this is another one of those. I've asked a number of times how it works because when I ask a question, they are able to give me an answer in a fairly short amount of time. It's a computer program but a person has to input all the data, so it was a lot of work.

 

So there wasn't a committee per se, it was senior staff, elected school boards, but I know that Doug and Frank worked with the financial (Interruption) CFOs, like the Stu Jamiesons of school boards, and worked and worked on this. They got it to a certain point and then they went back and had everyone look at it again to see if this is the formula. Now, because it is Bill Hogg's formula that has revisions and tweaking, it's modified, it's going to take a couple of years, we think about three, about three years, we're not going to just put the formula in place because it would cause some hardships for boards.

So we're transitioning it over a three-year period so that school boards will be funded through the full revised modified formula in about three to four years. We've started the transition this year. So, answer, it wasn't a committee, it was a team and a team approach and 24 meetings - and I know more than that with phone calls back and forth and then after, I'm just going to ask Frank, how many months did that take? I know you spent all summer. (Interruption)

 

Okay, six months of dedicated work on that. I know that during the summer they were out in the field and went right to the boards and worked right in the offices with the staff. I know hours and hours and hours were spent in response to the plea from the boards to look at the formula. When we started, we didn't know if it was going to be a new formula. Bill Hogg's work is sound. It just required some tweaking based on feedback from the boards.

 

MR. ORRELL: Was there opportunity for the public or the teachers to have any say in this or to be consulted?

 

MS. JENNEX: No, this is a formula that was designed with the department and with the financial folks at each of the boards, but the elected boards were definitely involved in this part.

 

MR. ORRELL: My last question, if we have fewer students and we have our funding formula because of that, but we also have more teachers, should our student-to-teacher ratio not go down because of that?

 

MS. JENNEX: I'll answer the question but I didn't quite get the question and what you want me (Interruption) Well, okay, I can try to answer it and it might get to the point you are asking. What we were looking at, we're looking at declining enrolment throughout Nova Scotia. We do have some boards that are gaining students and hopefully with Ships Start Here we might see some growth in our populations in some areas of the province, but based on all of the forecasts that we have, we're going to have declining enrolment until 2020. That's when it looks like it's going to even off. We are going to make sure that we keep a low ratio, like we have. Three years ago it was 12.8; last year it was 12.9; this year it is 12.9. I don't know the ratio because we won't know those ratios until the school year starts for next year, but based on the allocation, we will continue to keep our class size low and our ratio low.

 

Now the ratio that I talk about - it was interesting, there was a letter tabled around this - ratio is people in the system, children in the system in that ratio. That's a ratio. That is historically how the Department of Education has talked about numbers but I've never said that was class size. If you take the administrators out of that mix, I think the ratio is 14 to 7, or something like that. Those aren't the numbers that the general public want to hear, they want to hear what an average class size is in Nova Scotia.

 

So in elementary - now if you wouldn't mind getting those numbers because I don't want to misquote them - the provincial average for elementary is 21.7; that's an average class size. Now in any average you are going to find classes with lower and you're going to find classes with higher. Those are the ones I usually hear about but that happens. We're going to find anomalies, lower numbers and higher numbers.

 

Junior high - I know this is going to surprise you - our junior high provincial average is 20.7, that is the average class size, provincially. In senior high the average class size is 20.4. Now those are provincials. So the average class size in the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board for elementary is 23.6, a little bit above. In junior high in Annapolis it is 21.7 and senior high it is 20.4.

 

Now you are Cape Breton-Victoria - the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, the average size for your board for elementary is 20.4. Your average in Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School for junior high is 16.7 and your senior high, your average in your board, is 22.6.

 

In Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, the average class size in elementary for their board is 21.7, close to the average for the province; the average for junior high is 21.8; and their average class size at the senior high level is 19.2.

 

We have a French school board, which is provincial and, as you know, there are schools throughout the province. In elementary their average class size is 17.8; their junior high is 18.7; and their senior high, those numbers are lower and they use virtual school a lot to connect with each other, is 12.8.

 

The Halifax Regional School Board's average for elementary is 22.5; junior high, 22.2; and senior high, 23.5.

 

The South Shore Regional School Board, for elementary, is 21.2; their junior is 19.3; the average class size in the South Shore Regional School Board for a senior high is 15.3.

 

Strait Regional School board, elementary is 20.9; junior high, 18.4; and senior high, 16.

Tri-County Regional School Board, elementary is 19.9; junior, 21.3; and senior, 18.5. So I've given you the provincial averages and those are average class sizes for each of the boards. So when I talk about low class size numbers, that's the data and that's based on information coming from every school board. Those are the average class sizes in the province right now.

 

MR. ORRELL: We're also hearing that you're going to increase the class size from 27 to 29 for the elementary school system, is that right? Do you think there is a need with those numbers, when you are talking about declining enrolment, why would the need be there if that's the case?

 

MS. JENNEX: You said that was the last question last time. You know what? I'm so glad to be able to answer that because I think there is a little bit of misunderstanding. We have low average class sizes in the province. You're absolutely right, why would we move the cap up?

 

It is actually a mechanism for principals to give them more flexibility around making class compositions. I was in a school, I think it was out in Porters Lake, and I was talking to the principal -and I ask this of every principal - how many children? How many do you have in Primary, how many do you have in Grade 1? I've got the provincial averages but I want to know what it looks like on the ground.

 

As I said, some classes will have lower, some will have higher. She gave me the number for - I can't remember exactly which class it was - but I do know that the lower elementary class sizes were under 20, the Primary and Grade 1, but then she gave me a number that I thought was interesting. It was quite a high class number. I think it was 31 in a Grade 3 or 4. I looked at her and I said how is that working out? How are things? She said, in terms of knowing the students, the composition of the class, the learning styles and needs, principals know their children and teachers know their children. It just gives flexibility for principals to move classes around. If the cap is in place, then they don't have the flexibility. It was something that provides the opportunity for boards to have flexibility for their principals who know the students, know the needs of the students, to formulate their classes.

 

In some cases you might see a school that has a very low number in one class and a higher number in another. You go, that's not fair. How come that teacher only gets to teach 18 and this teacher gets to teach 29? In actual fact, the class with the lower number might be the most challenging class and that's the opportunity that raising the cap has provided. It's not to say fill the class to the brim before you start the next one. It's actually the offering of flexibility for principals to design their classrooms.

 

If it were in place - and that was something that was asked of us - if it's in place it just ties your hands a bit. Principals know their students and especially, as I was speaking earlier, we are providing principals the ability to take an instructional leadership course and providing more instructional leadership in schools.

Principals know the students, they know families too, that's the other thing - especially principals who have been in a school for a significant amount of time really have a good sense and they also take information from the teachers and also within school, too, which is helpful in designing classes. When I talked with this principal about how things were going, because I was quite surprised at one of the numbers, and she said it's a dream class. That was done because of flexibility. We don't want them to fill up and then spill over to the next. That's not the idea of it. It's more of a management tool.

MR. ORRELL: Thank you. That concludes my questioning.

 

MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Bedford-Birch Cove.

 

MS. KELLY REGAN: Minister, I just have a few questions about Sunnyside schools in Bedford. Three school locations go together to make up this school. One of the schools, Waverley Road, has been earmarked for closure by - HRSB has not made the decision yet but it will later this month, probably to close Waverley Road School.

 

Waverley Road and Fort Sackville are two very old schools. Waverley Road I think only has four classrooms; Fort Sackville has, I believe, six, no gym. Kids from those two schools feed into Eaglewood Elementary. Eaglewood Elementary is an older school but not as old as the other two. It's a two-storey building. You can't get to the second floor if you are disabled. There are no lunch rooms or anything like that. So I just wanted to take a moment here because I know the capital plan is going to be coming up and I did want to mention that my kids went to Fort Sackville and Eaglewood. It's a lovely way to start school, in a very small school with just a couple of grades and everything, but the physical plant is aged, tired.

 

You know, the parents were always convinced that there was a mould problem there although there was testing done, but somehow kids never got sick after they went up to Eaglewood. Anyway, I just did want to bring this school community to your attention because I know it is on the HRSB list and I know that parents and students in the area would be thrilled with a new school and certainly it was mentioned during the Imagine Our Schools process as a community that did not have the proper facilities and it's tough to do gym in the interior hallway. So, thank you, I just wanted to mention that.

 

MS. JENNEX: You know, there is nothing better than a strong advocate for your community and I have to say that you've demonstrated that. I am not familiar with that school or school district and if the Halifax Regional School Board has that on the list of priorities, then the department will be looking at that, but you bring up a very valid point that we are not only facing enrolment decline, we actually have some buildings that were built quickly, because we had a baby boom in the province, which you and I are - looking at each other and shaking our heads - yes, part of, probably. I know I am, you might not quite fit into that one.

 

Schools were busting at the seams and a lot of schools were built quickly and not actually the most attractive things, you know, and they are pretty tired and institutional looking. In the Annapolis Valley four schools were built all at the same time, they're all identical, to meet the needs that we had of that baby boom. Some of the schools can be renovated but, as I mentioned earlier this morning, you have to look at a school. Is it worth it to even renovate when you can consolidate and provide a new school with new space with a building ready for 21st Century learning?

 

I know that Halifax has been quick off the mark. Their report is in at the department I think. I think Halifax is in. (Interruption) Halifax is in, yes, and actually to tell you the truth, because I've been dealing with this, I haven't had the opportunity to look at it but that really sits in the hands of the department and the engineers. So I don't know where it is, it is on their priority, but we're looking at all boards' priorities. So definitely there's an opportunity to provide students with consolidated schools but there has to be work done with the board, with the community to make sure that that's what the community is looking for.

 

So you said it was part of Imagine Our Schools and, yes, we're asking, with the Kids and Learning First, we're asking school boards to look at their schools, regionally, to come back with exactly what you're talking about. You're talking about schools that are tired, and also in meeting the needs of our students in the 21st Century. If they do have more of a regional approach, it is coming up with options based on a region as opposed to looking at one school at a time. So that model is being worked on within the department to roll out to some of the boards because we're using the model that another board has already been using, engaging the community well before a school would ever go on a list for review, and then the review process still stays in place but before a school goes on to a review list, the community has already been very well aware of why the school has gone on that list. Then the next process starts.

 

MS. REGAN: Thank you, minister, I do think parents - I participated in the Imagine Our Schools process and at that time it was pretty clear to us what they were saying which was that these three schools, two of which are very small and very old, would amalgamate, and some parents won't like that because they like the little schools and it's a nice way to start out, but everyone knows what the expectation is so I don't think it would come as a huge shock or anything like that.

 

With that, I will finish my questions. Thank you.

 

MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville.

 

MR. MAT WHYNOTT: Thank you very much, Madam Chairman. I think we're winding down in estimates on Education but, Madam Minister, I do have a few questions in particular around the area that I represent and the families that I represent in regard to the replacement school for Charles P. Allen High, which is located in Bedford but the people of Hammonds Plains feed into that school.

 

As I know you're aware, the school has been slated to - the beams are up. I was driving down there the other day and the site is getting prepared and it's going to be an absolutely beautiful, 21st Century high school. I know the member for Bedford-Birch Cove and myself have gone to many meetings and many events with the people we represent and people are very excited about the school.

 

There are always hiccups along the way, we know that, and there are always going to be parents and individuals who will advocate on behalf of their community and that certainly has transpired throughout this process.

 

Another quick comment before I go to my question, I know one of the anomalies we see from rural Nova Scotia is the declining population but in the area that we represent, we're seeing an increase in population. I know we're going to start seeing that through the subdivision of Bedford West and certainly out my way in Hammonds Plains, the area is just growing non-stop, new streets popping up. Every time I go to a different area there are new streets.

 

I guess my first question is, do you know when this school, in particular, was approved. First, when was it requested by the school board and when was it approved to be constructed?

 

MS. JENNEX: We're going to get the data around that but I just want to make a comment about this school. The school was approved in 2009 and it will be opening in 2013. I want to make a comment about the school, this is going to be a wonderful school for the community. There has been a lot of time, care and expertise around creating space in this school to meet the needs of students in the 21st Century.

 

Now there have been a few hiccups along the way but each and every one of those has been met appropriately and with expertise from TIR and from our facilities manager, Darrell MacDonald. I have to say that working with Darrell on this project has been actually extremely exciting. He and the engineer from TIR had the opportunity to brief the member opposite and me around this project. It's incredible, the amount of care and deliberation to use every piece appropriately. Even when the bedrock of Bedford - we should call it Flintstone High - the bedrock of Bedford and to get the site ready, provided some challenges and the design actually created a little bit of interesting space in the design in the school, which they've utilized appropriately to provide extra space in the school for storage for all the sports things.

 

I remember in my own school you open up this dusty equipment room and get the mats out or get the balls out and then in behind the stage you're storing your trestles and all of that for gymnastics. Then you hoist up stuff and hang it from the ceiling. This one is going to have appropriate space to store those things. So that's one of those things that the engineers were able to design. In looking at space, classroom space and learning space, there's more than adequate space for all kinds of learning in the school. I mean I know we have to wait, it's starting, we can see it now from the road, it's pretty exciting, but I know everyone is waiting with anticipation until those doors open for the students. It's a pretty exciting time in Bedford and Hammonds Plains on this project.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: Madam Chairman, I asked that question about when it was approved because I remember the date very well. I think it was the day or two before the election was called in 2009 that this school would be promised, or a week anyway, but it's good and I'm glad to see that we've moved forward with the project because I remember a leaflet that went out from my Progressive Conservative counterpart, or candidate, who said if you vote for Mat Whynott the school would not be built. (Interruptions)

 

MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I would remind the member that you're not to use proper names for members of the House of Assembly.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: Even my own name?

 

MADAM CHAIRMAN: Even your own name.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and I'm glad that you're always keeping me in line but, yes, so it's one of those things.

 

I also wanted to make another comment around the partnerships that this school, and I think every school, tries to bring together and partnerships being from the municipal level, obviously from the Department of Education, the boards and TIR. In this school in particular, I know HRM is enhancing the school and the taxpayers of HRM, through municipal taxes, are also paying for enhancements to this school. I think, really, that the whole area with the BMO Centre, the new school, with the nursing home that's out that way, the new Bedford West area, it's really going to be a hub for Bedford and Hammonds Plains. I think that it's going to really start to bring people together, which I think in the past the two communities weren't necessarily coming together and I think this is something that's a positive step forward.

 

So the partnerships I see are good and, of course, you mentioned Darrell MacDonald, who has been a great asset to the department and to this whole project and all of the schools that are being built across the province, and I want to thank him personally for all the work that he has done. Two questions, is the school on time and is it on budget?

 

MS. JENNEX: At this point - everyone cross their fingers - things are going well but, as everyone knows, we cannot ever predict what might happen. Everything was going really well down in Yarmouth and that could have been a catastrophe. We are just absolutely blessed that no one was hurt or killed in that accident that happened in Yarmouth and for members who don't know what happened in that new construction, they were building it - and interesting ways of technology - but the whole wall was constructed and then they lift it up with a crane and they place it in I suppose, I hope no engineer is listening to me, the support system. It is not built like a house is; it's actually built in these already-built walls.

 

A crane was lifting the wall into the supports and a passerby happened to think, that's a really amazing piece of technology that I'm watching, and stopped and filmed it on a cellphone, doing a little clip just to say look what I saw on the way home from work and as they were filming, the whole thing, the crane fell over. The crane, the weight of it, the crane fell over and the wall went down. It's horrifying because it was brought to my attention within a few minutes of this posting just what had happened and there's a person scurrying away. I mean it was so close - anyway, that whole project now is delayed because of that and also weather concerns. Everyone keep their fingers crossed everything seems to be working out okay.

 

Now you asked about the budget allocation. It's important that when we have a budget that we stick to it. That is how families have to operate and that's how government has to operate. But very early on in the process Bedford decided to have a lot of bedrock and the site that is the most appropriate site, actually when they went in to do the work, it needed to have some work so we had to add $3 million extra dollars to the budget, early on, because the site needed that much work. They actually had to blast bedrock to get the site fixed, so at the point that was approved, we approved that based on that situation, things seem to be going okay. We are asking all of our partners to be very mindful that we have a budget and that is what needs to be worked with. There are going to be fantastic things in that school.

 

It is designed to meet the needs of up to 1,600 students; I don't think that's how many people are going to be enrolled in the school but the learning space is designed for that. It has wonderful facilities in the school and, because of the partnerships with HRM, it's going to be fantastic for the community and for team sports. This is going to be a new hub for the Bedford and Hammonds Plains area, it's a fabulous process. This is a project that - again I have to go back to the engineers who work on these projects, they are excited about it. There have been some challenges and actually, for want of a better word, I think they really have enjoyed those challenges. It's amazing and humbling to watch how hard our civil servants work on behalf of Nova Scotia, thank you.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: The other thing that I think is exciting about the school is I saw some of the design work and the whole teacher prep area, and different areas throughout the school that will be in existence for teachers, but also the common area. When I went to Saint Mary's I remember thinking this is kind of a neat concept where you can actually go and work in the hallways with desks and all of the rest of it. This is kind of what it's going to look like at the new high school, which I think is exciting.

 

I guess another question I had, I know that you mentioned earlier about the issues that we had with the site selection and that sort of thing that came forward early on in the process. Has there ever been any consideration around - I know there was a site selection committee with members of the community, members of government, school boards - has there been any consideration put into the idea that the price of the land should come into play when the community puts forward an idea for a site? It's because yes, of course, that was the ideal site and we knew that, but then government had to do its due diligence in ensuring that that was the best site for the overall global picture.

 

The idea around changing the process to ensure that money and the price tag of the land is put into play before the final decision is made by the province and by the school board, can you just comment quickly on that?

MS. JENNEX: It's very important that we are fiscally responsible and we do need to look at the costs of site selection process and that is now factored in site selection. I just want to go over how sites are chosen in the Province of Nova Scotia for a school. Once the school board identifies the need for a new school, it is on their priority list and has been approved by Treasury Board, but approved to move forward from the department and then goes to Treasury Board and the Treasury Board approves that and we've got a project ready to go, then it's up to the school board to have a site selection.

 

Now different school boards do it in maybe different ways but it's all to the same end - that they form a committee to work on site selection. Government, the Department of Education or TIR are not involved in that site selection process. That is something that is done at the school board level. But by legislation or regulation, it's one, three identified sites come to the Department of Education and then they are vetted through TIR and maybe, as I mentioned earlier this morning, the Department of Environment - depending on what the sites are, so all three sites then are investigated and evaluated very rigorously. Then what comes to the desk of the Minister of Education is a full report on each of the sites. So TIR has - if it's this site, it lists the pros, the cons and then it gives an evaluation, with pictures, too, by the way, it's a very interesting document to read.

 

All three sites then are vetted through, with recommendations. Then the engineers actually provide the minister with some suggestions or recommendations based on - and that's why the site in Amherst actually - recommendations from Environment and from TIR said they were not suitable for the school, so they had to go back and start that process again.

 

We asked for three and they would come to the department. Then the minister looks at the three and makes a final decision on where it is now. In part of that process now, cost of the site is included in the evaluation process because as you know, you don't want to spend any more money of the land than is absolutely necessary. We want good quality land, of course, and we want the schools in the appropriate place, but we do have to also make sure that the taxpayers of Nova Scotia are getting that money in the school and not paying for very expensive land. It's part of the evaluation. It's a very rigorous process, based on the school board, committee, then the information is vetted through TIR, through all of their engineers, a full report comes to the minister and then the minister makes a decision, based on the recommendations from engineers. Thank you.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: Thank you for that, Madam Minister. I wanted to talk a little bit about some of the area schools that I am glad to represent. Actually yesterday I had a call from the local principal of one of the schools. He wanted to have a chat to give me how things are going in the school and that sort of thing. I hadn't heard from many of the principals in my area recently so I thought this morning I'd give them all a call and have a chat.

 

Again, I mentioned that the Hammonds Plains side of my constituency is growing immensely. Then we have the Sackville side of the constituency where, in fact, the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage, his area is shrinking. For instance, I know a lot of members from the Halifax Regional School Board have mentioned the Imagine Our Schools process that took place there before 2009 and one of the things cited in that report was around Millwood High School.

 

Now Millwood High School, as you know, was a school that was built when the community of Sackville was growing more than it is today. Sackville High was bursting at the seams. Fall River didn't have a high school so they were bringing in the kids from Beaver Bank. Millwood High was built to take in some of the kids from Beaver Bank but then Beaver Bank, the new Lockview High that was built, which is a P3 school, took the kids from Beaver Bank so now Millwood has only one junior high feeder school. One of the things we're seeing is that Millwood High, year after year, their population is decreasing. Over the next couple of years that school will actually reach the lowest that it has ever been, which will be under 500 kids. That will be by 2018-19.

 

When I spoke to the principal there today, he mentioned to me that their projections for next year will be around 550. So one of the things that we're facing in that school is that the population is going down and they're not necessarily able to deliver all of the programs a larger high school would be able to have. So I guess my question is, what sort of things can be done for students who may want to take a course that may not be offered at their school to allow them to have those opportunities, maybe a school that may not have the population to have - I think out of hand, when I went to high school, I remember some of the people who were political geeks, we wanted to have a political science class but we didn't have enough students who wanted to take it, so what sort of things can we do or what is the province doing to ensure that kids can get those things that they want to get and those credits?

 

MS. JENNEX: Before I answer the question, I just want to reiterate that we're asking school boards to look at schools regionally and pick up these shifts in population and work with the community around challenges and opportunities around the shift that we're finding. You know, in our rural areas we're finding that we're losing population and you're describing a situation, gaining it in one and losing it in another. It's that ebb and flow but mostly we're losing in the rural area. We have recognized that if you're in a high school in Nova Scotia and the population goes to a certain number, it's very difficult to be able to provide all of the same courses. So if we're in a rural area, now yours is a suburban area, we don't want our students in these smaller high schools to miss out on any opportunity that any child in a school that has a larger population has.

 

So one of the things is that if a child in the school would like to have an IB program, they have the ability to go a local high school close to them but they would have to provide their own transportation. So we don't want anybody in our smaller schools to miss out on an IB program. I don't know if that school has an IB; if they had an IB, they would keep IB and children could come. Under the funding formula one of the revisions that was undertaken around the revision of the Hogg formula, was the fact that school boards tell us that it's harder to keep staff at schools that have fewer students, so under the formula we're providing more full-time equivalent teachers over the formula; it's in the formula now around a small high school.

 

So the small isolated school and also small high school are now in the formula. We have 98 schools that are categorized under that but I think that one of the things - as everyone is probably tired of me talking about - that I'm absolutely loving, is the fact that students in every high school now can take a credit outside of the school, a personal development credit. So every student in that school should be encouraged to be a part of some sort of a leadership program or do some kind of co-operative work in the community, like with the SPCA or the food bank.

 

Ann's department has been working on that framework. We're extremely excited about that because when children are motivated with their outside activities and connected into their community, it benefits them but the one that I think is really going to meet the needs of every student in a small high school, to get those very highly specialized courses with a teacher that has the expertise, is our virtual high school. So if you have somebody in that school, a small group of children who want to take advanced chemistry, for example, they can, using the virtual technology, which is a real teacher, real time, somewhere in the province, and the children working together in a classroom with their computers. It's on-line but live. It's a real person. It's live time.

 

So we're going to make sure that our high school kids get what they need even though their schools are getting smaller. We're providing funding to the board to help them with full-time equivalents but we're also providing virtual high. I also am very interested in students recognizing that we're going to give them the opportunity for that outside work that they're doing, whether it's cadets or 4-H, that they can use that as one of their high school credits.

 

MADAM CHAIRMAN: Seeing no further members offering questions, I would now offer the honourable Minister of Education the opportunity for some concluding remarks and to move her estimate.

 

The honourable Minister of Education.

 

MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, I would like to take this moment to say a few closing remarks. They did provide me notes but I think, from the bottom of my heart, I would actually like to look at the members opposite to thank them very much for the engaging conversations that we've had around the important issues of education. I hope that people here recognize my commitment to education and how much of a passion it is to me, and how hard we are working as a government to make sure that we are providing opportunities for every child in the province to be successful.

 

There are a few things I do need to get back to some members from yesterday around some of our line items but if any member at any time, and I think that the members opposite know that I sincerely mean this, if there's any information that you need from the Department of Education or from me, please feel free to approach me at any time on those and we'll get the information that you need, or if you have a concern that you need to bring to my attention, I'm there for you to come to. Please don't hesitate in any way. We're here for the benefit of all of our students, so definitely we're working together to that end.

 

I would also like to thank Frank Dunn, who has been very patient with me over the last couple of days, and I would like to thank Ann Blackwood. I would like to thank them for being here and I would also like to thank Dr. Lowe who was here for a number of days. I also don't want to thank them just for sitting here on each side of me over the last couple of days and today, I want to thank them for the work that they're doing on behalf of students in the province. They are extremely dedicated to making sure that children are successful in our school system. When I say that, I mean it with passion. These people are dedicated to our children in the province and we're extremely blessed to have them working in the Department of Education.

 

We have an education system that we can be proud of. It's an education system where there are many things that we're doing very well. We've looked at that and we are going to work on those strengths. We've also recognized, especially around math, that we have some issues and we are taking steps now, as we speak, to correct them. You can see that we're building on what we need to do but when we get to that point, we're not going to stop.

 

We are going to make sure that we have all of our SchoolsPlus sites in every county in this province to meet the needs of our students. We're going to continue to build on our virtual high school so that we have the ability for every student, no matter which high school they're in in the province, to get the courses that they want. Now, it might be, even in a large school that children will be taking virtual courses because it might be interest that they have, or it might be a scheduling problem. I know that those of us who are raising children, have raised their children, sometimes because of the cycle of courses they weren't able to pick up or schedule their courses. So this is going to help with their scheduling situation.

 

The iNSchool work that we're doing within the department is going to benefit students, parents, the school boards and especially the Department of Education. We will now have data that we can work with. We are going to make sure that looking at our data that we are going to be nimble and react to it in the way that we need to. If we have programs that aren't working, then we're going to have to do something about that. Having that data is our solid ground for being able to move forward with appropriate, sustainable programming for our children.

 

The education plan that we have, Kids and Learning First, is ambitious but I know it's doable. We have good partnerships with our partners who work with young people around this province to help us be successful with this for our children. We're asking school boards to manage their facilities and look at how schools are used in their communities. You've heard me mention looking at a regional approach, some of our buildings are emptying out with enrolment and also are tired. In some cases we are going to have new commitments for new schools.

 

We have a plan. We recognize though, with this regional review, not every school in Nova Scotia is going to stay open. Some are tired and some just have lost the ability to operate as a school anymore because of the few numbers.

 

But that being said, this government is protecting our isolated schools, our small and isolated schools. You've heard me talk about high schools that have lower numbers, we have steps in place to make sure the children in those small high schools get the courses that they need. We're also looking, especially the member opposite from the Cape Breton area, I think that he told me that every single one of his schools in his district is isolated because of geography, well we're making sure that school boards are receiving the extra funding that they need to keep those schools open. We don't want kids on buses two hours driving to the next community.

 

Schools are the heart of the community, we recognize that and with our funding formula we are providing to the school boards - there are 98 schools that have been identified as being isolated or small in the province. When I say isolated, I just want to reiterate that the formula talks about from school to school but part of that is we look at each region to see how far the child travels to get to school because that can be a significant amount of time and that's factored into how those schools are considered isolated.

 

If you have a child driving in from a far or rural area into the school, people might say this doesn't really look that isolated, there's a school 25 minutes away, 30 minutes, but we deem it isolated because we recognize where the children are travelling from. So there is dedicated funding for the small and isolated schools, and small high schools. We're asking school boards to manage their facilities but we're asking them to do it with the community long before a school ever hits a school review.

 

We've got so many exciting projects that are rolling out. Ships Start Here has caused optimism in this province that has never been seen before. You can feel it when you're going community to community, across Nova Scotia. It's not just in the Halifax area; people are feeling hopeful, young people are feeling hopeful. To feel the sense of optimism in the Cole Harbour High the day they found out that one of the skilled trades sites would be constructed there was amazing. You could feel it in the room, opportunity coming for young people on the Dartmouth side of the harbour.

 

There are nine sites for skilled trades in the Province of Nova Scotia right now and to my member opposite, we're going to get yours up and running vey soon, in its full capacity, up in your neck of the woods. That was an unfortunate procurement problem there but it didn't stop the work. Teachers are adaptable and students are even more so, so they are still meeting the needs. That will be our tenth site. We are going to make sure that this province has 18 centres for skilled trades so that our students have the opportunity to get their hands on and learn.

We're adding a new course, and I don't think I've made mention, we have a manufacturing course being developed right now at the Department of Education with people from the industry making sure that we're providing the program appropriately. We're building that curriculum, that's pretty exciting that we've added a course in, but at the same time we're doing a review of the 150 offerings that we have in the province to make sure that the courses that we're offering our children are the courses that they need for 21st Century living.

 

When our children get to a certain point in their education, when they leave Grade 12, we want to have provided them the wings to be successful. We don't want them to leave Grade 12 not having all of those skills because we recognize that math has been a problem and we're correcting that. With work with the school boards and the Department of Education, we have started work moving forward to bring in the western protocol in this province so that children have the opportunity to get a firm, solid foundation at their developmental level as they move through the system so that when they leave Grade 12, they have a firm and solid understanding of math and they have the choice of any career that they wish, be it in the trades, the sciences, the humanities, the arts, math is essential in our society and we want our children to feel strong and confident.

 

To have strong and confident math graduates, we need to have dedicated teachers with expertise. We're looking forward to having conversations with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union around standards that are in place to make sure the teacher who is in the classroom teaching the course has the expertise and the knowledge.

 

A member opposite mentioned to me that he was aware of teachers being one week or two weeks ahead of their students in a course. That's not acceptable. We are not accepting that. We are accepting the fact that we need to have a very serious and strong dialogue to create standards in this province so that the teacher who works with the student has the expertise. You know what? We have the expertise in this system; we have teachers that have that background. But because of seniority and all of those issues around collective agreements, the children have been short-changed on that. We need to work around that. I'm sure that we can have a dialogue to remedy that situation so that when teachers retire and classes and staffing are in place that, we have dedicated teachers with the expertise to teach.

 

I made a comment earlier on today around a Primary teacher going to high school, but if you think of the high school teacher going to down to Primary, Primary and Grade 1 teachers have early development and early literacy training. We need to keep those teachers with our youngest and we need to make sure our math and science teachers are in the classes with our math and science courses.

 

I have to say that it's an absolute honour to be in this position. I think and I hope people recognize the depth of my passion towards education. It has been my life. I remember when I was five years old I told my mother I wanted to be a teacher and she was horrified. She was just horrified. (Interruptions)

Some people don't have the same affection to being in school but I loved my Primary teacher. Everything that is important in life you learn in Primary. My teacher, Cassie Faulkner, I loved her and I said I want to be just like her. Then I had a Grade 2 teacher, Ella Rose, she just passed away not too long ago, and she was the absolute, most wonderful guidance in my life. She was kind, caring and compassionate. She nurtured her students; she taught them - I wanted to be a teacher.

 

I started out on a path that wasn't going to put me as being a teacher, but after my first degree I said I'm going to follow my passion, I want to be a teacher so I shifted gears and went into education. I took special education. I never worked a day in my life because I loved what I did. I taught. I didn't go to work, I went to school. My passion is part of the job that I do now in this province.

 

I have passion for our children who are suffering with addictions and mental health. I have passion for children - we know we need to get them up and moving, we need them to eat healthy, we need them to exercise. We need our children having dedicated, strong teachers in front of them who love them and the teachers we have in this province do. I haven't met a teacher yet in my career that doesn't have passion for the work they do.

 

I'm honoured to be here and I am going to work hard on behalf of every single student in this province to provide them every opportunity that we can. So I thank my members opposite for the estimate time. I look forward to our continued dialogue around our Kids and Learning First plan. I hope everyone has had the opportunity to share that with their colleagues and with other citizens. It's an overview.

 

In the coming days you will hear me talk more about the personal credit, which I have a great deal of interest in seeing start because I've seen young people out in the community doing wonderful things and we need to make sure that they are recognized to be able to do that.

 

So, again, I want to thank my staff for being here and I also want to add it's very important to recognize we have the challenge of declining enrolment in this province and we are tackling it. We're providing the best possible education that we can for our students and our budget is based on what children need. It can be a difficult time when we're in a time of change but I have a great deal of faith in the professionals in our community who are going to be able to make sure that we have a strong, sustainable system for our students and with that, Madam Chairman, it has been an honour to be here with you today. With that, Madam Chairman, I take my seat.

 

MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E5 stand?

 

Resolution E5 stands.

 

We will now take a brief recess to check in with our Subcommittee on Supply and our staff can clear.

[1:16 p.m. The committee recessed.]

 

[1:18 p.m. The committee reconvened.]

 

MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time for the Committee of the Whole House on Supply has elapsed.

 

The honourable Acting Government House Leader.

 

MR. MAT WHYNOTT: Madam Chairman, I appreciate everybody's comments here today. I move that the committee do now rise and report progress and beg leave to sit again.

 

MADAM CHAIRMAN: Is it agreed?

 

It is agreed.

 

Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

 

The motion is carried.

 

[The committee adjourned at 1:19 p.m.]