HALIFAX, WEDNESDAY, MARCH 4, 2020
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
THE CHAIR: Order. I call to order the Subcommittee on Supply. We’re meeting today to continue the Estimates for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development as outlined in Resolution E5.
We started last night and finished with the NDP using 38 minutes. We shall continue that hour with Ms. Chender.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I again wanted to thank the staff for being here and for answering so many questions in so many different directions. I want to just continue where we left off last day.
We were talking about the P-TECH program. We got to the funding piece. We figured that out, I’m not going to ask about that again. What I had asked was what information was used to support the decision to invest in this program. The minister had responded around why the sites were chosen, which is useful information. I just want to go back.
My understanding was that where this had been used in the U.S. - again, noting that this is the first time, to our knowledge, this has been used in a public school in Canada - it was around increasing graduation rates. The deployment of the program here, based on the opening we heard and the conversation about this program - you can correct me if I’m wrong - is actually around filling the needs of the labour force for skilled tech graduates.
Is there any evidence that this program can do that, evidence that was relied upon to make the decision to deploy it? If so, can you share it with us?
HON. ZACH CHURCHILL: I thank the member for the question. I also do want to, on the record, congratulate the member on convincing the House to move on a really important piece of legislation. I will say the member is a very engaged legislator in every sense of the word. She understands the importance of law and the impact that it has. All the debate that we have in that Chamber is focused on that process.
I do appreciate that because we sometimes get lost in other conversations in there and forget about the important legislative work that’s actually happening. Congrats and thank you for your approach to that. Your approach has obviously paid off and you’ve convinced, I don’t know if it’s all three Parties, but at least the governing Party to support you on that.
The member’s right in her assertion that the initial conversation around this program was to fill a labour market need that’s not being filled right now. We’re hearing that from the tech sector across the province. We do have a skills shortage in various fields of technology. We also have certain communities that have low labour market attachment levels.
The two issues that we’re evaluating to see if this program can help us with are: one, elevating labour attachment in communities that have low levels of labour attachment; and two, filling the demand of the skill set for employers that need more skilled workers because we don’t want them to leave the province. We want them to have access to quality and highly trained staff.
The motivation is different than the motivation for this program as it was created in the United States. They were focused more on graduation rates and the program was successful in elevating graduation rates. I’ll remind the member, though, that this is a pilot. We’re working with St. Francis Xavier University to evaluate the success of the pilot. We don’t have the results of the evaluation yet.
This is year one of the pilot. It’s happening with three cohorts: J.L. Ilsley, Cole Harbour High School, and Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School. Three cohorts of 20 students, I believe. This program will be evaluated as it progresses. We’ve enlisted the help of academics at St. Francis Xavier to help us conduct that evaluation. As the evaluation of the program continues, when we hit milestones we hope to be able to communicate that to the public.
We do know that experiential learning is effective and can be effective. We have successful co-op programs that we’ve had in the province for a long time. This is another experiential learning opportunity for the students who are engaged in the pilot. We believe it will prove to be beneficial. Again, I think the model makes sense. We take students from Grade 9 through to Grade 12 with specialized curriculum. We then pay for their first two years in a post-secondary institution, at the NSCC. They will be given an opportunity to be attached to an employer. I can table the information on the full program for the member, as well.
Yes, the motivations are a bit different than the motivations for the program in the United States. It’s still being run as a pilot right now. We have not extended the program beyond the pilot. The evaluation will be ongoing.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I thank the minister for his kind comments. I am pleased to have a day where I get to advance legislation. I’m in a good mood but, like, not that good. (Laughter) I don’t want to elevate anyone’s expectations.
I just want to put this one more time. I appreciate all the information about the program. At some point, a decision was made in the department to deploy this program for this purpose. My question is: How did that decision get made? As far as I can tell, there isn’t evidence that this program meets the prescribed need that it’s trying to fill.
I acknowledge that experiential education is good, but this specific program, why did this program get chosen? How did IBM convince the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development here in Nova Scotia to deploy their program as a pilot?
ZACH CHURCHILL: It’s not just IBM involved with this and IBM was clear about that when they approached us. This is about including the tech sector. It’s not just about connecting people to IBM. In fact, the potential business in Yarmouth that the grads will be connected to is not related to IBM at all. I want to make that clear.
Really, the conversation focused around the deficit in the skilled labour workforce. IBM made a successful pitch to look at this program as a potential opportunity to fill that gap long-term. We don’t know how this is going to work out yet, that’s why this is a pilot. This program is being run as a pilot right now. That evaluation is ongoing.
As minister, the areas I liked about this are that we’ve got communities with low labour market attachment, which I know that is a concern for the member. We’ve got a deficit in the labour market for skilled positions that can yield really exciting and lucrative careers for people. There is a gap in the demand and the supply of that labour, so we’re willing to take a shot on this.
I’m not familiar with any other programs that are similar to this. Nobody else from the private sector approached us with a similar offer and partnership. IBM has been a great partner for the province. They were actually brought in with the contract under the previous government. This enhances our partnership with them and also with other companies across the province.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I understand that the focus is broader than IBM, but IBM brought this program in. Does IBM receive anything at all in return? Does it place a grad or receive compensation or anything like that?
ZACH CHURCHILL: IBM’s receiving no compensation for this. Their role in the program is providing mentorship opportunities to the students that are enrolled. They’re also one of the companies that have agreed to grant interviews for those that succeed through the program.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Does IBM provide anything to schools in exchange? Where these pilots are, is there IBM software, IBM computers?
ZACH CHURCHILL: The answer is no.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: We began asking this question because it has been something of interest to us for a while. I think I’ve asked you this question in the Chamber about this program.
We were notified earlier today that teachers at the pilot sites had been told by their principals that the program was, in fact, cancelled, that this would be the last cohort moving through the program. Can you comment on that? Is that the case?
ZACH CHURCHILL: There was a rumour circulating about that, but no, the pilot is not being cancelled.
There seems to be some confusion at the current moment around the nature of this being a pilot and not being a program that’s receiving new cohorts every year. I think that the misunderstanding around the nature of this might have contributed to that, when teachers asked if there’s another cohort coming in next year and the answer was no.
That is consistent with what the announcement was originally, with what the concept for this is. We’ve asked the Regional Centres for Education to clarify that with staff, so that they understand what the initial announcement was, which we articulated very clearly at the time. Of course, it has been some time since this was started.
I think the good news from this is that the staff are really excited about it. They wanted more cohorts of students to be enrolled in this because they’re seeing value already. I’ve been hearing directly from our teaching leads on this, particularly from the folks in my area. The anecdotal feedback has been really encouraging. People like the program. They’re excited about it and they want it to be expanded.
I think it might have been a disappointment to those folks, because of their excitement over the program, when they were reminded that this is a pilot that we haven’t fully evaluated yet. I think that contributed to a bit of confusion, but nothing has been cancelled. The cohort is continuing through the system as planned. Evaluation will be ongoing. If there are opportunities and reason to enhance the program, then we’ll pursue those at the appropriate time. Right now, we’re continuing with the pilot and evaluation.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Thank you. It’s a helpful clarification. Just to be clear, does the pilot period for all schools end with this cohort, and then there’s evaluation and a decision point about whether to continue?
ZACH CHURCHILL: It might be a bit more fluid than that. Evaluation is ongoing yearly, so there might be reasons to enhance programming options for this. That is yet to be determined.
Right now, the plan is to run the pilot for six years, complete a full evaluation, and then assess. I don’t want to limit us if we end up being in a position where we’re seeing the value of this before the end of the pilot. There may be an opportunity at some point to enhance this, but that has not been determined at this point.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: For the folks who are told there will not be a cohort next year, that could change? Or there will not be a cohort next year?
ZACH CHURCHILL: I do not believe there’ll be a cohort next year. I think we need some more time for the evaluation of this.
Again, I do want to remind the member and the folks around the table that that was what the original announcement was. This was announced as a pilot with three cohorts that would be evaluated. Everything is rolling ahead as originally planned, at this point. Our plan is to continue to do that.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I recognize I only have seven minutes left, but let’s just start talking about school capital. I’m sure that we will continue after that seven minutes.
We always view this question around school capital planning and construction through the lens of impact on communities. From that perspective, as has been well documented, we in the NDP caucus were not in favour of the decision to eliminate democratically elected school boards, particularly in HRM, which is part of the area that I represent. We saw the school board, especially towards the end of their existence, doing really robust and important outreach and consultation with folks.
When we filed an FOI, we found that TIR is using a manual for school site selection that hasn’t been updated since 1999. The other thing we saw in that FOI was a general state of confusion, basically, about new school builds and how to proceed. We couldn’t see any kind of clear policy there.
I look forward to hearing the minister speak to that. I think if he can eliminate that, that’s great for us and it’s great for our constituents. Specifically, I want to ask if there’s an updated manual for school site selection and if we could see that.
ZACH CHURCHILL: We do have updated regulations that passed through Executive Council that provide the regulatory process for site selection. I believe I’ve given these to the member on a previous occasion in the Chamber at her request. I can table that again for the member today.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Previously, I did also ask you about a conversation that was revealed in that FOI between you and the member for Bedford around the construction of her school. An email was sent from TIR that said at the end of the conversation, the agreement was that we have two basic potential approaches.
I think I put the question to you previously about whether everybody gets to meet with TIR around where the school goes in their community - I think I probably asked something like - or just Cabinet Ministers? At the time I believe your response was no, anybody can talk to TIR about where a school goes in their community. I’m wondering if you know how many MLAs have been able to engage that conversation around school site planning?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Some MLAs are more active on this front and more engaged in site selection than others. I’m going on memory here. We’ve met with members from the Progressive Conservative caucus. I know Mr. Rushton, the member for Cumberland South, actually sent in PIDs and the municipality sent in PIDs for us to look at. We’ve had an issue finding a site in Springhill, for example. We’ve had a really productive relationship with Mr. Rushton throughout this process, even considering he’s a member of the Opposition. He has actually contributed to giving us information on potential sites in the community.
The member for Argyle-Barrington has been pretty active on conversations around site selection and a new school build. We’ve had various members of our caucus that have shared their concerns or thoughts around sites. We’ve basically had an open door policy for MLAs to share their thoughts as the representatives of those communities. Every single MLA that has approached us on this has received the same treatment.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I appreciate the regulations, again. I will look at them. Maybe if you could summarize a little bit of how the public engagement works now around school site selection.
ZACH CHURCHILL: Again, in an attempt to expedite the site selection process to avoid delays in construction - which have plagued new school builds for a long time in the province - we have moved from the community input part of the process. In the old system, it happened in the initial stages where multiple sites were provided, which eventually ended up in the Department of Transportation for technical evaluation.
In the old process, you would do community input first and technical evaluation after. In the new process, on potential sites, we are trying to do the technical evaluation first, beginning with current sites. Next, looking at Crown land or municipal land and then, thirdly, looking at private options.
The deputy’s reminding me that another issue with the old model was that it would drive the cost up. If people knew their land was on the list, then they could submit above market prices for those lands. That was a challenge, as well. So, we’re trying to do the technical evaluations first. Then we go to the community for feedback on, hopefully, a smaller list of sites.
There were some instances where there would be up to 12 sites that were being provided by a school site selection committee, the majority of which weren’t even suitable because there wasn’t the technical expertise. So, we’re trying to clean that up a bit, have a more streamlined process and still have room for community input, including municipal input to factor in any long-term development or planning priorities that municipalities have.
THE CHAIR: Order. The time has elapsed for the NDP. Perfect timing, minister. We move on to the PC Party, starting with Ms. Smith-McCrossin.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Hello, minister. I don’t have too many questions. Just a few.
On a more serious note, one of the most significant problems, I believe, facing our junior high and high school - particularly in Amherst - is with the problem of illegal drugs. I’ve met with several parents who’ve come to me with concerns. I’ve met with the Chief of Police and also the sergeant for the RCMP. As well, I’ve also spoken with the superintendent for Chignecto. It has been discussed. We do have a school officer, Michelle Harrison, an amazing, amazing officer.
I’m just wondering if you have any input on this problem. Do you see it is a province-wide problem? I know what I’m being told is that it’s more prevalent in Amherst because the drugs are coming, we thought, from Moncton. Now we’re being told they’re actually coming from Quebec and it’s gang related and that Amherst is one of the cheapest places to buy crystal meth, in particular.
It is in the schools. Our police - and I actually had a conversation with the Minister of Justice about this - are hesitant to address the problem because of the backlash, sometimes, from parents. They don’t want their children having a record.
I just wanted to make sure that you were aware of this problem. I’m wondering if you have any insights or comments on it.
ZACH CHURCHILL: Obviously, you hear stories about this happening. Of course, everyone needs to follow the law. We’ve got law enforcement that are there to uphold the law. Of course, any of our staff - principals, teachers, support staff - they have a responsibility to uphold the rules and regulations in our schools, as well. These include a school code of conduct policy, which is very specific on this particular issue.
Above doing our best to uphold the rules and laws that we are governed by - and those are critical, obviously, having the laws in place and enforcing them - we also have the opportunity in the education system to empower young people, hopefully, with the capacity to make good decisions about themselves and their bodies and their health and their lives in general.
We do have a health curriculum that does have an emphasis on illicit drug use and its impacts on the body and on lives. I think we have really capable teachers delivering that curriculum in our schools in an effective way.
Another issue that has come up recently is the impact of vaping - the risk around, and proliferation of, vaping in our schools. Some of the illicit drugs are easier to police against than others. Obviously, anything with smoke, you can smell it and people might know when that’s happening. Other drugs - pills or powders or things like that - you can’t necessarily smell or see, so it’s a greater challenge to enforce rules around that.
On the vaping front, the Minister of Health and Wellness is changing the laws around vaping and what’s available and what can be made available in the legal market for young people. We’ve also partnered with student councils and provided them with funding. We do have a list of those student councils - I have that in my package here somewhere - that have taken us up on this.
We provide funding and work with them to develop information campaigns around vaping to try and make sure that everyone’s getting not just the right information, but there’s positive peer support in this area, as well. We know that peer pressure can impact anybody’s decisions - young people and adults alike - with choices and behaviours that they choose to engage in. We want to support the other side and have some positive peer support for people who don’t want to engage in this behaviour. We’re hoping that’s helpful.
We also are recognizing that, particularly around drug use, there might be some broader issues that impact a young person’s decision in this regard, be it issues at home or suffering with certain anxieties or mental health issues, whatever the case may be. We have enhanced, every single year, supports in this regard to help our students deal with whatever situations they’re faced with. If it’s an issue around anxiety, social anxiety, school-related or work-related anxiety, if it’s related to challenges the student might be dealing with at home, we are working to provide wraparound care for those students.
We’ve hired a whole host of new positions into the system that hadn’t been there before to help us combat not just this issue but a variety of issues that impact teaching and learning - behavioural specialists, child and youth care practitioners, school psychologists, more guidance counsellors. A lot of these folks are trained to recognize symptoms of drug use and to help kids deal with addictions if they’re getting that far down that dangerous road.
We do have a list of schools here, if the member’s interested, that are working with us on the vaping issue. If you’d like me to read through them. We’ve got South Colchester Academy, Citadel High, J.L. Ilsley, Barrington Municipal High, Eastern Shore District High, Glace Bay High, Annapolis West Education Centre, Liverpool Regional High, Pugwash District High School, Millwood High School, Charles P. Allen, Strait Regional Centre for Education, and Inverness Education Centre. Those are the student councils that have taken us up on our offer so far.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Thank you, minister. I’m wondering if there’s any grant money available for student councils to put on forums or do any educational sessions around preventing or addressing the illegal drug problem. I think it’s really important.
I’m happy to see the investment with vaping and the support there. Certainly, when people are listening or hearing things from their peers, it can be more impactful than coming from teachers or parents. I think that’s a good approach. I realize that it’s going to take a community effort to address what is a very significant problem.
What’s happening is children are getting access to drugs from drug dealers and then they’re being used to sell the drugs. They’re dropping out of school. We have a drug house literally less than a block away from our junior high school. Kids are leaving junior high and high school and going to that drug house. I’ve made sure the Minister of Justice is aware and our local police. I want to see it shut down.
I wanted to bring it to your attention today because I don’t know if, in other communities, it’s as significant as it is in Amherst. It’s a very significant problem. I have met with the Minister of Public Safety from New Brunswick to try to help us to even reduce the amount coming into the province, coming into Amherst, as well. We need law enforcement involved. We need our schools involved to try to address this problem.
I’m wondering if there is any grant money, anything, that our student councils could access through the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to help support some peer support around the illegal drug use?
ZACH CHURCHILL: We do have up to $500 for student councils to utilize. We have specified that was around vaping, but if student councils did want to do something around illicit drug use, I’d be happy to provide the same level of funding to that student council. We’re all on the same page there.
On top of that, there’s also $2 million available annually to our School Advisory Councils. As the member would know, we’ve enhanced the role that those folks are playing in the system. From a policy perspective, we’ve leaned on SACs for advice on everything from transportation policy to the attendance policy. They’re able to access at each school up to $5,000 as a base and then a dollar for every student on top of that $5,000.
There is money available for SACs if they’re interested in engaging in anything in this regard. There are stipulations on what they can spend money on, but it’s around student achievement and well-being. I would say this would fall well within that criteria. There are also student support grants that principals can apply for. I think those are up to $5,000, as well. Both of those grants are available, as well as the $500 for student councils.
Again, our initial overture to student councils was for vaping, but we’d be happy to look at projects geared towards positive peer support on the illicit drug issue, as well.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: On to another subject. This has been brought to your department’s attention, and then Gary Adams met with me about it. It’s a thorn in the side of parents. It is the condition of the parking lot at E.B. Chandler Junior High School on Willow Street in Amherst. I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls and correspondence on this.
When I met with Mr. Adams, he made it clear to me that it was not on the radar to be repaired any time in the future. Basically, that’s it. My question to him was: If he doesn’t have money in the budget to repair a paved parking lot that parents are getting damaged and flat tires on - this is just me speaking from a practical standpoint - would you ever encourage your superintendent to remove the paving and gravel these parking lots so that they could just be graded and gravelled once a year? It would be a little bit of maintenance every year, but maybe would be safer.
Just a question. I did pose that to Gary Adams. He said that’s not something he considered but it’s very frustrating for parents. I drove in the parking lot in August when I was actually dealing with this drug house issue and discovered how bad it was then. That’s when I actually wrote you the letter and then that got forwarded to the superintendent. He met with me and then it was, I think, October when I started getting the phone calls from parents.
It’s in extremely poor condition. I guess my point to him was if we can’t afford to pave and maintain our paved parking lots, maybe we should be looking at other options. I know that this is something parents would want me to be asking, so I just put that to the minister.
ZACH CHURCHILL: There is a process for capital repairs. I’m not sure what the cost of that project would be. We have, depending on the cost level, different processes to get capital projects approved. If the project is $150,000 or below, that can run through our capital repairs program. If it’s between $150,000 and, I think, $500,000 then it would fall under our additions and alterations program. If it’s above that, these would usually be school builds or major renovations that would fall under our provincial capital program.
How all those processes work is that the regions identify their top capital pressures and priorities. Obviously, the criteria that’s used for that is facilities’ conditions and also population pressure. Those are the two main criteria that are used. Then they submit those in a list to the department. We evaluate those and try to have the greatest impact possible, where the needs are the greatest, through our capital process and the money that we have. There is an option to advance that project if it is deemed to be a priority for that region.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: One of the most important things that has come to me - more from teachers, but I would also say it comes to me from parents who may not understand where the pressures are in the system - is around access to school psychologists and speech pathologists. Certainly, in Cumberland we have a shortage. We’ve had vacancies for a period of time. Our rural schools have very little access.
When I speak to the teachers that advise me, it sounds like we’ve lost some to the private sector and they’re wondering if the department would consider making sure we’re paying a competitive wage so that we’re not losing these professionals to the private sector. I know that’s a touchy subject. Any industry in any sector, if we’re going to maintain or retain staff, we have to be able to compete with the private sector.
We have some that are coming from New Brunswick and we certainly don’t want to lose them, either. That is a big pressure point, I guess, up in Cumberland. I have parents coming to me upset because they can’t get their assessments done and they can’t get their treatments done for their kids. They don’t necessarily know the reason why. I’m wondering if you would be able to address that issue.
ZACH CHURCHILL: We do need more school psychologists. That’s why we’ve put funding in every budget to hire more. We have created new full-time positions in the system for school psychologists and speech and language pathologists, along with a number of other positions that are linked to the Commission on Inclusive Education’s report.
School psychologists are among the most challenging to hire. There is a national shortage of those positions. We are competing with the private sector to get those folks, as well. In terms of our ability to look at remuneration, we’re governed by the collective bargaining process, so we do have to undergo that.
We have, with the new hires, not granted them teacher certification because they’re not teachers. We’ve done that to separate them from the bargaining unit of the Teachers Union, which would give us a bit more flexibility in some regards. We primarily did that because we wanted to have their services available year-round for students. We know that, particularly, mental health issues don’t subside once the school year is over.
We have had a backlog of assessments, as well. We’ve tried to hire more folks. We also, to deal with the backlog that was created during the work-to-rule process, actually engaged Mount Saint Vincent University grad students to help us deal with that backlog. We were able to really clear up a lot of those; however, that was then grieved by the union - using outside supports in that regard. That affected our ability to utilize those outside supports to deal with those assessments. I think that was unfortunate because that process was really working well. The union has its own motivations and reasons for doing things, so that impacted our ability to do that.
There is still an ongoing process that we’re undergoing with the union over the dispute of teacher certification for these folks who aren’t teachers but are school psychologists. That conversation is ongoing currently as we speak. Our intention is to, and our goal is to, enhance the role of those folks in the system, make their services available year-round, and treat them as the specialists that they are.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I’m well aware of that because I’ve had many contact me with concerns. You are probably aware of how they feel. I will share with you that in Cumberland we often do feel isolated from the rest of the province. We have the Cobequid Pass, which is a financial barrier but there’s also a perceived barrier just because of the geography of where we’re located.
Often we do a lot of business and we do a lot of cross back and forth with New Brunswick. I’ve had a few people come to us from New Brunswick who have said they came because they had similar changes in New Brunswick and they’ve said if Nova Scotia institutes those changes, they will be leaving. This concerns our teachers because we already have a shortage of those specialists, so we’re concerned about potentially losing more to the private sector.
I just have two other small items I wanted to bring up. One is fluoride. Some of our schools have been told there’s a fluoride shortage. I know the fluoride program was stopped at one elementary school in my constituency. My colleague from Cumberland South said that his elementary schools still have the program, but we were told by Public Health that there was a shortage of fluoride.
I’m just wondering if you know anything about that. How was it determined what schools it would be pulled away from and what schools it wouldn’t? Obviously, I’m concerned because my students from rural Nova Scotia don’t have fluoride in their water, and anything we can do that might help prevent dental cavities is a good thing.
ZACH CHURCHILL: The good news on the school psychologist and speech and language pathologist positions is that we have hit our hiring targets every year for those positions. That is highly competitive. Those are always the two most challenging positions to fill but we have managed to hit all of our hires for our new positions for those jobs. That is encouraging.
The current provincial ratio of school psychologists to students is one to 1,300. That’s actually below the commission’s recommendation of one to 1,500. We’re actually doing quite well on the school psychologist front. We’re even ahead of where the Commission on Inclusive Education recommended that we go, so that is positive news.
The fluoride issue - that does fall under, I believe, the health authorities, so I don’t have any information for the member on that.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I’m not sure if maybe the department’s aware, but I know in Cumberland there are some vacancies. If there were hires - I’m not sure if people are off sick or on maternity leaves or whatever, but there are vacancies of school psychologists in Cumberland, which is leaving our schools short by not having access to school psychologists. I just wanted to make sure that the minister is aware of that.
The last thing I wanted to just bring up is the issue - I know there are no more school boards - of the importance of having province-wide policy on issues. It’s funny how what could seem like a minor thing is a big thing for families and parents. A couple of months ago we had a huge head lice outbreak, and it was mass hysteria. Having had four kids go through that on several occasions, I understand the stress that comes with that.
There were some differing policies and communication sent from different administrators that caused some parents to be quite upset. I know there was some concern as to what the policy is and is it different in Chignecto from, say, Pictou or Cape Breton? Is the department looking at creating province-wide policies that address issues such as the head lice policy?
ZACH CHURCHILL: The member is pointing to one of the chief policy rationales for the elimination of school boards. We had essentially nine independent school authorities in the province with different policy frameworks, different programming options, and a different approach at looking at inclusive education and various issues in the system.
That was identified by three independent reports during our time in government, the first being Myra Freeman’s report, which came out when Minister Casey was then Minister of Education. It pointed to the government’s structure needing to be reviewed. Avis Glaze, her report was the one that really pinpointed the governance structures and the policy and programming variances being linked to the disparity in student achievement between regions.
Then we acted on that report and subsequently the Commission on Inclusive Education pointed out that that governance model was, in fact, hindering our ability to respond to the inclusive education needs of our students. We are in the process of trying to bring integration and consistency to the many policies that exist currently in the system. Our focus has been, to this date, on those affecting student achievement and well-being. We’ve really focused our efforts so far on having a consistent and inclusive education policy, directing money where we know it’s most needed.
There are other policy variances that have come up that we’re acting on, as well, and this is one. Policies around health-related well-being issues and procedures, whether it’s having a consistent protocol for looking at sterilization and hygiene in preparation for risks related to something like the COVID-19 virus or something like head lice. We’re in the process of reviewing those policies right now and making sure that the best practices are the standard in every single region.
That hasn’t been the case. We have not had best practices or best standards being applied in every region. I know the member for Dartmouth South continues to oppose that governance change. I’m sure we can talk more when it’s her turn again, but I believe it has been a really important and positive move to modernize our education system, to bring coherency and consistency to education programming and policy. It’s my hope that by doing this one step we’ll start seeing the achievement gaps between regions improve, ensuring that best practices are being applied on a variety of issues including health policy.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I will end that line of questioning. Thank you, minister. I just want to say we have amazing teachers and families in Cumberland North, but I just want to say thank you to your staff for all the work they do with our schools. We have many schools throughout Cumberland North and really, the staff there are amazing.
I will leave you with probably my most pressing concern, which is around the illegal drugs. If it’s health issues, we need to work with our Department of Health and Wellness. If it’s illegal drugs, we need to work with our Department of Justice and work together to do what’s best for our kids. I want to just do a shout-out; I have one son who’s studying to be a physics teacher. Thank you.
ZACH CHURCHILL: Thank you very much and congrats to your son. That’s exciting. It’s a good time to get into teaching. We’ve hired more and more people every single year. We have had a shortage in teachers for physics, along with some other subjects, namely math and French, so it’s a good time to get into that profession.
We’ve done unprecedented hiring in our education system, more than has ever happened before. We’ve got more teachers. The ratio for teacher to student is at its highest point we’ve ever had. Even in areas that are seeing enrolment decline, we are still funding new hires for inclusive education. We’re still funding the hires for the class cap, as well. That has never happened before. Usually when regions were going down in enrolment, under the previous model they would be issuing pink slips to people. There has not been any link to cuts to funding since we’ve been in government, so it’s a good time for your son to get into this profession. We need teachers and we’ve been hiring more than ever before.
On the issue of illicit drugs, I want to assure the member that school communities will co-operate with law enforcement and the Department of Justice in any matters related to this. Whether it’s reporting incidents that happen in the school or enforcing school policy and code of conduct, our folks - it’s their job to do that. I want to assure the member that that co-operation will always be there. We’ll do our best to deal with that challenge that our students are faced with.
THE CHAIR: Thank you, minister. We move on to Ms. Adams.
BARBARA ADAMS: I will echo the comments of my comrade in saying that the teachers that we have in our communities are exceptional. They often have mental health days and one of their favourite things is to throw pies in the faces of teachers and any politicians who happen to be in the school at the time. I always seemed to be the one that shows up right at the right time. (Laughter) I asked them how many of them were in favour of me getting pied in the face. I told them it had to be unanimous, and it was, so there you go.
I have some very broad questions and then I’m going to duck into some local questions that people have asked me to ask. I was having a look through the Canadian results of the OECD PISA 2018 study on 15-year-olds’ achievement - the program for international student assessment. Basically, there’s good news and bad news in that in 2009, when they assessed us compared to other countries, we scored a 516. In 2015, we scored a 517. In 2018, we scored a 516, so we’re exactly where we were 11 years ago.
When you take a little bit more of a dive into how things sort out in a certain category, when you compare the French and English results, the English school students score better. I’m specifically talking now about reading. They do break it down by actual category in terms of where they actually are significantly better; I’ll just reference two of them.
One is in reading - cognitive process sub-skills understanding - and another is in reading - text structure sub-skills in single text structure. There’s quite a difference between the English-speaking schools and the French-speaking schools. I’m just wondering if the minister could comment on why that might be there.
ZACH CHURCHILL: As I referenced in answering previous members’ questions, there’s not just this discrepancy between English and French, there have also been discrepancies from region to region. We’ve had three independent reports that have indicated that the previous governance model - which was a fractured model with nine independent authorities that could implement policy, procedures and programming in different ways - has contributed to variances like those we’ve seen in the system.
We’re attempting to bridge that gap and ensure that best practices are being applied from region to region. We still do have one school board left and that’s Le Conseil scolaire acadien provincial. They have a particular focus on French cultural and language teaching. We work with them as partners to identify areas where students might be struggling or where we want to see improvements. We’re working within our partnership to do our best to improve those outcomes for the students.
Everything we’re doing now, from the governance changes to the investments we’re making in new hires for inclusion to the teaching standards of excellence that we’ve brought in to the attendance policy - is geared towards reducing the gap that has existed in the system between regions and between certain demographics in our province, as well, to bridge those gaps, reduce them and to make sure that everybody is, hopefully, doing better.
Also, under the new governance structure - we were not able to do this under the previous model - we’re actually able to not only have our funding dictated by enrolment but also by need. Under the previous model, we’d have the Hogg formula that directed funding to our agents and to our schools that only looked at enrolment. It did not look at the needs of our students. We now have the ability to direct funding based on the needs that we know exist from region to region and from school to school.
That’s not to say that enrolment does not have a factor to play anymore, in the deployment of resources. It does. It still is the number one factor that contributes to funding to schools and regions. You have the teachers, we have the class cap. There’s that and capital funding, as well, which take up the vast majority of our funding. The new inclusive education funding, we are able to now direct that where it’s most needed.
Also, every school has improvement plans to address the specific priority and problematic areas that students are experiencing in that school community. Those plans are developed even to the individual level.
BARBARA ADAMS: I just want to be clear because I referenced the fact that the students in French schools were not scoring as high as English students and you referenced the fact that CSAP still has a school board. You’re not suggesting that the school board is contributing to their lower scores. I just want to be clear; that’s not what you are saying.
ZACH CHURCHILL: What I said was it was made very clear in three independent reports that the previous governance model was impacting variances in student achievement from region to region and board to board. The reason for that is primarily because of the variance in application of policy and programming. That was picked up by Myra Freeman and her team of experts that looked at our system. That was discovered and pinpointed by Dr. Avis Glaze; that was a finding in the Commission on Inclusive Education, as well.
I didn’t say anything specific to the CSAP. My reference was to a former governance model. I don’t know why the variation exists with the CSAP. As I mentioned previously, we work with them to address areas of mutual concern. Achievement levels, of course, would be an area of mutual concern.
They’ve been great partners to deal with, the CSAP. They play a particularly important role in our system. They have a Charter responsibility on language and culture. We have a responsibility as a department on the broader programming curriculum in that system to do our best to make sure our kids are achieving the levels of success that we want them to.
BARBARA ADAMS: Thank you very much for that. I just want to point out for the record that this report, which is a very long 175-page report, was done when the English schools still had their school boards. These results would not explain it, but I understand what you’re saying.
I just want to go on. One of the other disturbing things is the difference in achievements between boys and girls. I’m happy to say the girls out-achieve the boys by a significant amount, but that’s concerning to me. For those scoring below Level 2 - or Level 1 - for the boys it was 18 per cent and for girls it was only 10 per cent. For boys below Level 3, so Levels 1 and 2, it was 40 per cent and for girls is was only 29 per cent. That’s a big gap. I happen to have had four boys, one of whom ended up with his Ph.D., and another one who tested at the Grade 6 level when he was in Grade 10. I had both experiences of children.
I’m just wondering - again, this is a 2018 report - can you comment on why the boys were underachieving compared to the girls?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Our approach is to look at the individual needs of the student. That’s about working with the achievement gaps that each individual student is facing. Of course, the broader stats can help direct our efforts in that regard, but more importantly we look at the individual achievement levels and well-being information on each student. That’s collected at the local level.
Every school has improvement plans to address the specific areas of challenge for each individual student. They build these improvement plans to help ensure that that student has a better chance at success. Again, the new model that we’ve built in governance allows us to actually direct financial and human resources where we know they are most needed. We did not have the ability to do that before, as a department.
Now we can really target areas where we know there are challenges from an achievement perspective. We can get resources to the specific individual student, as well. That’s the goal. We have a better ability to do that now under the new model. Bridging the gaps in achievement and elevating achievement levels along with well-being is the current raison d’être of the department in our system. We are focused on tackling that challenge.
Nothing’s going to happen overnight. One of the long-term strategies we have in place to really go after this is our pre-Primary program, our early learning program. The research on that program is really, really clear and consistent, whether they’re reports coming out of Europe or North America – it’s the earlier we get to kids and give them an opportunity to learn.
The McCain Foundation has found that having that program at schools can really help set a new trajectory for kids entering the academic learning environment. We’re already starting to see in the first cohorts of pre-Primary students that their achievement levels are improving compared to Primary students who didn’t participate in the program.
Particularly, the research tells us that there can be a really consequential impact to those who face socio-economic challenges. This program has the ability to help us tackle inequality in our province and gives a particular advantage to students that either have disabilities or face learning challenges. The stats are pointing to us having consistent findings here in Nova Scotia already.
We’ve provided specific resources to support boys literacy, as well. An example of that is finding out that, generally speaking, more boys prefer non-fiction to fiction, so there have been adjustments made in the system to make sure that our approach to literacy is in line with the learning priorities of the student.
BARBARA ADAMS: Thank you very much for that response. I’m wondering, given my personal experience with my kids, there was a huge emphasis on sports for my boys. That was a wonderful outlet and I was grateful for it. I’m wondering if there are any specific strategies - I don’t recall seeing it in the Glaze report - where their recommendations were specifically targeting boys who, given the statistics that I was quoting earlier, are technically an at-risk demographic.
I’m wondering what specifically the school RCEs have done to make sure that the boys are not left behind. I’m wondering if there’s a specific program or a strategy in place that’s there to identify boys who might be falling behind?
ZACH CHURCHILL: As I mentioned, we do that at the individual level for the individual student. Every school has improvement plans to address the achievement challenges that each individual student is facing and there have been some broader strategies. I mentioned one of them that had been deployed in the system; Dr. Stan Kutcher has helped us enhance our mental health curriculum, as well. Physical activity’s a big part of that.
We know how much physical activity plays a role in our health and well-being, and mental health in particular. I feel a lot better, personally, when I’m exercising and moving around. I’ve experienced that in my personal life, a big difference. We want to make sure that students and teachers have access to that information, as well. We have a great professional development program that Dr. Kutcher has spearheaded that’s available to every teacher.
We have $7 million that’s set aside for that professional development. We encourage teachers to actually take us up on that funding and go through the mental health curriculum. We think that can be life changing for some people, as well. We don’t have the ability to direct teachers to do that because of Article 60 in the collective agreement. They have the responsibility of self-directing their professional development opportunities, but that funding is there and we encourage folks to take us up on it.
We also have a physically active framework in place that increases opportunities for physical activity every day and year in the system. If the member’s interested - I know she would have an interest in this, actually, because of her previous work as a physiotherapist - but we can provide you that framework if you’d like to see it. I’m happy to receive any of your feedback on it.
BARBARA ADAMS: Thank you very much for that. I appreciate the emphasis on physical activity because, being a physical therapist or physiotherapist, movement is probably one of the greatest ways to manage mental stressors. I’m very happy to hear that.
One of the trends that I’m aware of, that we’re all having to deal with across a lot of departments, is that the Canadian results in reading over time, from 2000 to 2018, is a complete downward trend. At the highest point, in 2000, every score across Canada was 534. It has consistently dropped across the country, except for one little boost in 2015, down to 520. That’s a 14 point drop. Of course, we can all guess as to why that might be - cellphones, the internet, bullying, drugs - there are all sorts of reasons why the average scores in reading would be dropping over time.
The one province that has not dropped over time, from 2009 to 2018, is P.E.I. P.E.I.’s scores are the only ones between 2009 and 2018 that have actually improved, and quite significantly. Their average score was the worst at 486 and last year it was 503. They were 515 down to 503, but that’s still quite a significant increase. They’re the only ones, the only province that has shown that they did not lose ground over the last nine years.
I’m just wondering if you’ve got any experience, or have reached out to P.E.I. Education Ministers, as to why they might be the only province that has improved - although I always know there’s that regression to the mean, where the lowest ones tend to come up and the higher ones tend to come down, but that’s quite a significant improvement. I’m just wondering if you’ve had conversations with the educators in P.E.I. as to why they have shown improvement.
ZACH CHURCHILL: We have conversations with all jurisdictions every year through the Canadian Council of Ministers of Education. I have not spoken to the new Minister of Education and Lifelong Learning specifically about the success they’re seeing in this area.
There has been a focus in Nova Scotia - and this began with Minister Casey - on literacy, math, and also STEAM fields. If you look at the segregated data, one area where we seem to be gaining some ground is for Indigenous students, with their reading and writing levels going up. That’s really encouraging. That’s why the desegregated data is really important, so we can best understand how we’re doing.
That’s a good idea to talk to the minister in P.E.I., a lovely gentleman. We’ve built a friendly relationship already. We’ll be seeing them again, I think, this Summer; we have a conference in Yellowknife. I’m sure this will be a topic of interest for everybody.
In terms of literacy, the deputy’s reminding me that we actually perform quite well. The deputy has actually provided me some clarity on this. P.E.I. is still at the bottom of the list in terms of achievement for literacy. They have improved but they’re still at the bottom of the list. Their numbers are increasing. Nova Scotia is actually second to Alberta, so we’re the second best in terms of literacy. We’ve consistently performed moderately stronger each year. That’s good news. Maybe P.E.I. needs to talk to us, I don’t know.
BARBARA ADAMS: I just want to clarify, though, that according to the report we’re not second. In terms of the boys, they’re in the bottom. The girls are pulling up the average, just to make it clear. There is a gap there.
I want to move on to some questions that some constituents were looking for me to ask. One of them, of course - I’ll start out with this because this is how you and I started out our relationship - is Cole Harbour High School. Students are thrilled, of course, to still be there, as are the teachers. I would be remiss if I didn’t ask: Are there any plans to change anything going on at Cole Harbour High over the next five years?
ZACH CHURCHILL: In terms of having the school open?
BARBARA ADAMS: That would be a good start. Is the school remaining open for the next five years?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Yes, we’ve made a decision to keep that school open. We have not made an adjustment to that decision. Of course, there has been a change at Cole Harbour and that’s the introduction of TAP, which I think is being well received in that community.
There’s also been some focus there on skilled trades. We are actively looking at opportunities to enhance the skilled trades centre there. We’ve been discussing with the region the ability to make it a magnet school for skilled trades in HRM. We’ve not landed on a decision point there yet, but those conversations are ongoing.
We’ve met with the SAC chairs from Auburn and Cole Harbour several times, along with Minster Colwell and Minister Ince, who have been really active in advocating for the educational needs of students in that community, as well. The conversations have really been productive. I don’t know what the long-term demographics are going to yield.
Some government will have to make a different decision in that regard, but right now we don’t have any plans of changing the current course of action. Having a new school in Eastern Passage has created some population issues, so there are fewer students there now than there were before. That has impacted programming at the school, which you’ve also recognized, I think, in the Chamber.
Those are the only things I can think of off the top of my head - TAP, skilled trades, and looking at the ability to turn it into a magnet site for skilled trades in Halifax.
BARBARA ADAMS: That’s good news. As you know, I’ve asked about this before. There are students who live in Eastern Passage and Cow Bay who still go to Cole Harbour High because they’re taking the IB or the skilled trades programs. They did get the courtesy bus before, but it was not offered this year. We have parents whose children are having to choose where to go based on whether they have a bus.
I’m just wondering, now that we’re heading to a new school year and we have a new bus system in place, whether the minister would reconsider having a bus for students going from Cow Bay and Eastern Passage to Cole Harbour High, especially given the high number of students that were going from that area to Cole Harbour High.
ZACH CHURCHILL: I know that there was a courtesy year for busing for folks going to Cole Harbour. It was communicated, I believe, through the principal, Pat Savage, that that was going to be only for a year. I know a letter went out to the community; we can get a copy of that for the member if she needs it.
We do rely heavily on the operations and the Regional Centre for Education to decide routing. That is not an area where I have any level of competent expertise. We’ve brought new resources into the Regional Centre for Education to bring routing in-house. It is the folks there at the Regional Centre for Education that decide routing. It’s no longer one of the companies, so that is a change in the new contract model that we have with the busing operators in Halifax, along with no longer having the Stock monopoly.
I will have to refer you to the Regional Centre for Education on that front. They’re the folks that run that operation and we rely on them. We funded them to bring that expertise in-house and to manage the contracts better. We do rely on their operational expertise on this front. I do trust them, they’ve got high quality people there now.
You might be aware of Jacob, he’s a real solid operator in this area. He has really enhanced our capacity in that regional centre, he and his team. I will refer you to those folks to answer that question.
BARBARA ADAMS: Thank you very much for that. One of the things is that a lot of the students taking the IB program are from Eastern Passage. I’m aware of the process that it takes to get an IB program at a high school, as well as skilled trades. Given the fact that there’s no bus to get those students over to Cole Harbour, has the minister considered making the skilled trades and the IB programs available at Island View High School?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Again, that is a decision that happens in the Regional Centre for Education. They don’t get directives from the department on that. I know that student population is a driving factor for programming options that are available at schools, but I would trust the folks in the Regional Centre for Education to make the appropriate decisions in that regard.
BARBARA ADAMS: Great. Thank you very much for that.
I’ve been asked this by a number of the students in my community who are environmentalists. They know that they get certain green education in Grades 10, 11 and 12. The more vocal ones would say that’s far too late. They would like to see it happening in pre-Primary and Primary and right through every year.
I’m just wondering if there is a current program or a potential new program that would be raising these kids to be environmentally conscious throughout the program, as opposed to having a dedicated class once they reach high school.
ZACH CHURCHILL: Climate is in the curriculum beginning in Primary. It has been renewed and it goes all the way to high school. While there’s not an academic curriculum in pre-Primary, there is a play-based curriculum. We get those kids outside and playing in the environment using loose parts. A lot of programs have access to parks and nature areas and those kids do benefit from outdoor play. There’s a heavy focus on that in the play-based curriculum for our program.
BARBARA ADAMS: I’ll just duck back to something you said earlier, that you were planning on hiring more psychologists to the schools. Can you tell me exactly how many new psychologists, above and beyond what was already there, will be added to the schools throughout the province?
ZACH CHURCHILL: From the Commission on Inclusive Education hires that would be tied to the annual $15 million that we’ve had in the budget for the last two years - this will be the third - there have been, to date, 14 school psychologists or speech pathologists hired in the province. Those are 14 net new positions to the system.
We have not determined yet what positions we’re going to hire for this year. We’re currently doing a needs assessment. Right now, regions are doing that to identify which positions are most needed, based on the needs of the students and, of course, utilizing achievement data and well-being data. We’ll be consulting with Inclusive Education Canada, along with Dr. Sarah Shea, before we release the allocation of funding and hires in this year, as a result of the increase we received in this year’s budget.
THE CHAIR: Time has elapsed for the PC Party. Are we taking a five-minute break?
A five-minute break for everybody. Thank you.
[6:52 p.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[6:59 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: Order. We are resuming with the NDP. Ms. Chender.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Thank you again to the staff. We were talking about school capital. The minister mentioned that now consultation, such as it is, might happen after TIR has identified sites. We’ve gone around and around about our position on this and the minister’s position on this. I don’t think we have to revisit a lot of it other than to just reiterate that from everything that we saw and heard from folks, especially towards the end of the life of the school boards at least in HRM, that consultation process was not significantly delaying construction except for maybe one or two cases. It certainly was bringing the community onboard. Now different things are happening.
The Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Chamber of Commerce & Civic Affairs has been trying to engage in this consultation process. We’ve discussed this before. In the case of the Eastern Shore District High School, a written report on the evaluation of the existing school site is expected this month, is our understanding.
Are you able to table that report? Do you have it? Is it coming?
ZACH CHURCHILL: That report comes from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. I’m not sure what their process is with their reporting on that.
I can say we’ve been engaged with the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce. I’ve met personally with the president to go over the process. I know that they are very interested and have been actively lobbying to have the current site chosen. They’re not the only voice in that community that has an opinion on this. That is one of the issues with site selection that does, and has, contributed to delays is that there’s oftentimes not a consensus on site.
Of course, there are times when there is consensus. We’re experiencing that right now with the school in Wedgeport. The community is very pleased with the site that has been chosen which is adjacent to the new school.
I went to a celebratory tea and cake event in the Eastern Shore when we announced the new school. It became very apparent to me pretty quickly that there was some division in the community in terms of where they wanted that school to be located. That’s why I do think there’s a benefit to focusing on the technical side of the site selection process in advance. I don’t think it’s helpful to have communities split over sites and fighting over sites before we even know if those sites are suitable and can handle a school or service, a school of whichever size it’s going to be.
I do think that there’s a benefit to doing the technical evaluation first. I hope that it’s going to result in quicker site selection timelines. Of course, we are, in some cases here in Halifax for the CSAP school that’s going to be built on the peninsula, having a hard time finding a suitable site. We’re having a hard time finding a suitable site in Springhill. For different reasons in both locations.
That’s not to say that this is going to eliminate all of the challenges and delays in site selection. That’s becoming very clear to me as we proceed through this process. I do hope that, in most cases, it will help. I think the policy rationale is to focus efforts on sites that we have access to and do the technical evaluation first before we engage a community on a conversation about where the site of that school is going to be. That does seem to be reasonable to me.
School communities are brought in at the beginning of the design phase. I feel like this is where most people get really engaged in terms of consultations on the design of the school. That can also lead to delays as well, as we saw with LeMarchant-St. Thomas Elementary because there were a lot of opinions and back and forth between TIR and the school community there to decide on what the design of that school was going to be.
We also have the ability - which I believe they’re going to utilize in Springhill and in Wedgeport and maybe Clare as well - if there are current designs that school communities like in any of our new school builds, then we can have an expedited procurement process and cut down a large part of the upfront design work that happens in a new build. If folks like a current design, that can shave, I’m told, up to half a year off the procurement process before we get to construction.
Our objective here is to get schools built on time so that school communities can have it. I haven’t gotten too much noise over site selection outside of Eastern Shore, to be honest. Springhill isn’t around the site selection, necessarily, it’s about the timelines that the technical discoveries are impacting there.
Outside of Eastern Shore, where there’s a lot of interest in the site, most people just want their school built on time and they want to participate in the design process. I think we’re doing the right thing here. It makes sense from my perspective.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Thank you. Back to the report. Does that report come to you from TIR? So, presumably, you could decide whether or not to release that.
ZACH CHURCHILL: I haven’t had one of these reports yet, so I don’t know that I’ve been responsible for the release of these reports yet. That is something that we’ll take under advisement and we’ll chat within the department. Principally, I’ve got not problem releasing these things, but I’ll just double check with TIR and with our folks in the department on that.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I expect only transparency from TIR.
Back to Musquodoboit just for a second. Point taken that there are different communities that will be served by this school and, I think, therefore differing views and interests in where the site ought to sit. I doubt this will be the only time that happens, although if you’re lucky, maybe. The understanding of those folks is that engagement only occurs where two or more viable sites are suggested. Is that accurate?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Of course, if there’s only one site that’s deemed to be appropriate, there wouldn’t be too much to consult about. Again, design phase, it’s consultation from day 1 on that. There does need to be multiple sites before we would initiate a public consult. The goal is to get the two sites.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I guess this brings us back to how that site, or those sites, are selected. I will have a look again at those regulations. You sort of talked about private land versus Crown land, all that stuff. I guess one of the issues that we’ve seen come up in a lot of the consultations, and I think that is coming up here in the Eastern Shore, is around other issues. Issues around community viability and transportation and things of that nature.
I think it’s not a mistake here that you have a chamber of commerce that’s advocating for a school to remain in a community that is served by that school. Not only the students are served by that school, but the community itself is served by the school. If you have a school in the centre of a community, folks are more likely to maybe live there, people can walk there, folks might purchase more goods there. It has an impact on a community. I know in this case, the alternate site is in a proposed business park, which certainly wouldn’t have those community impacts in the same way.
Is any of that kind of thing taken into account when you’re determining a site? I hate using the word placemaking because I think it’s very jingo-y, but I think that’s what we’re getting at here. This is what parents want to have input into, right? This is what community members want to talk about, teachers, too: where are my kids going to be all day?
I know, as a parent, for me that was a question, because we were lucky to have an option like French immersion. Where do we want our kids to go to school? It was about where did we want them to be all day, not just a physical building which of course, is very important, that’s what we’re talking about, but the community. How are those things accounted for?
ZACH CHURCHILL: We do take it into consideration. Part of the technical evaluation would include transportation needs of the community. As well, looking at busing routes, looking at serviceability of various locations. We also have some flexibility built in to consider long-term community development, as well, which is important so that we’re not just making a decision based on the current year, but we’re doing our best to look a few years out to see what the changes are that are going to happen in that community.
I mean, I don’t know, the Eastern Shore is a tough one. I don’t know that it’s going to be an easy decision because where the chamber wants the school, which is the current site and is currently being evaluated right now along with the other sites, that is at the far end of that community. It’s not central, but it is a hub of that community. We’ll see what the report yields on the technical front and that will inform how we make a decision.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Now, back to more familiar territory. I have a couple of questions about Dartmouth.
At the end of September, we learned that the government would be spending $28.5 million to buy and renovate the former Newbridge Academy to turn it into a CSAP school. We know that part of that contract and payment was a $10 million contract to DORIC construction to renovate it. We’ve talked about this before.
I think when I asked about this in the Legislature you gave an analogy of like if you bought a piece of land and maybe that purchase price would include clearing the land. I don’t think it’s a good analogy, which is why I bring it back up. Clearing forested land is really different than a $10 million renovation and construction project. Especially with government funds which, as we like to say over and over again, you know we here, and everybody, would like to know the process by which those funds are allocated. This investment, generally, wasn’t included in the five-year capital plan that we saw.
Can you tell us a little bit about how the decision was made, what the timelines were, and how the building was assessed to determine the renovations required?
ZACH CHURCHILL: The CSAP, the only remaining elected school board - a model that I know the member has been a fierce defender of - approached us with a request to purchase Newbridge Academy, to help deal with the high school population pressure that, I think, a variety of their school communities are experiencing in HRM.
We took that request very seriously. That became their priority for that year. We did an evaluation with TIR on the site. We looked at the financial impact and, of course, the opportunity to get kids into a school much sooner, years in advance of what we otherwise would have been able to do with a brand new build. We decided to go forward with it.
I think we got it for around market assessed price, if memory serves me correctly. It was part of the sales agreement to do the renovations. When we purchased the school, we knew that it would be renovated to meet the needs of the population. I think the renovations are primarily around expanding the number of classrooms to handle more students. I’m going on memory here; I think there’s around 700 students that that school could handle, and we needed it to handle about 900. It wasn’t built to public school standards, either: no library, no cafeteria, no kitchen, and no resource room. So, all of these things needed to be done to the school in order to accommodate the population that we need it to accommodate, based on the numbers we received from CSAP. Also to have the facility built to public school standard where they could deliver public school programming.
I think this happens with TIR where if renovations are needed, you can include that in the sales agreement. Let’s use a different analogy; for example, you purchase a home. The home needs a new roof. You have a conditional sales agreement that you’ll take the house when the new roof is on. Maybe that’s an analogy that’s more palatable to the member.
Basically, we wanted it in the sales agreement, to get the school up to where we need it to be. That allowed us to get there more quickly than we otherwise would have been able to do. It’s consistent with the procurement process and protocol that we have in place in the province. There is no deviation from that. I’m told that these things happen this way when it makes sense for them to happen this way.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Okay, so let’s dig into that analogy for a minute. If I was negotiating to buy a house and it needed a new roof, I would say, can you sell me the house for the same price, but can you also throw in a new roof? And if they were like, no, no, we’re going to sell you the house for the same price and then we’re just going to charge you back the exact cost of us putting on a roof. I would say, no thanks, I’m just going to go find my own roofer and make sure it’s the best one.
What I’m hearing here, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that the sale and the sale price were not contingent on the construction contract. The construction contract, from your comments, was about time. You wanted to get it done faster; this was an accepted way of doing that. But you say it’s consistent with the procurement process and that just confuses me.
Again, I would assume that if you’re doing construction on a public building, you would want to put that out to procurement. Why would you just randomly pick the person who owns the building to do it?
ZACH CHURCHILL: First, I’ll say that if that was your negotiation approach to buying a house, you might not have been able to get a deal on that one, but who knows.
I think the member’s asking kind of technical questions about this process that we don’t oversee in the department. So I’m probably not the best person to provide the technical answers to that. By no means am I an expert in the procurement process. I mean, you’re getting to a level of technical questioning that I don’t feel capable of answering to your satisfaction. It might be better off left to TIR to answer those questions.
What I can say is that I have confidence in the process. From what I’m told, the regular procurement process was followed. They consulted with the Procurement office on this purchase. From my perspective, we’ve got a brand new school that we’re going to get kids into much more quickly; years in advance of what we otherwise would have been able to do. They’re going to have access to not just a really beautiful and renovated school, but also have access to really high quality, new municipal recreation facilities right across the parking lot.
From my perspective, this was a really good deal. We had a motivated seller. This building came on the market at the right time; we responded to a request from the CSAP that was delivered to us in earnest.
We responded positively to that, jumped on the opportunity, and now kids are going to have a new school to go to school, and, it’s going to deliver high quality education. All in all, I see this as a positive thing. It was the right move to make and I think we would have regretted it had we not jumped on the opportunity. I think the CSAP was right to approach us on this. I’m happy that we responded positively to the request.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I thank the minister for the answer. I will put this question to TIR. Just to clarify, I’m not challenging the purchase of the school or anything like that. What I want to understand is, did this particular developer get, kind of, a $10 million sweetheart contract because the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development bought their school?
It’s impossible for us to know that if we don’t understand the process and why it didn’t get put out to procurement. It sounds like that’s a question for TIR and we can take it to TIR.
ZACH CHURCHILL: Or a question for the Procurement office who is consulted on every single tender that government does. I think Procurement might be the best group to field those technical questions; their policies, regulations, and guidelines direct these processes as they unfold.
We don’t manage that in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. We make the request to proceed with an evaluation of the opportunity and then make the request to proceed with the purchase. Others do manage that process. I think we have a pretty strict procurement protocol in the province. I don’t remember which government brought those changes in, to be honest. I’m sure we have to follow those rules and guidelines.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: A school that is on the capital plan, and has been for a number of years, is the CSAP high school for the Halifax peninsula. Once a school is included in the capital plan, can you explain the reason why it would be removed? What factors would be considered?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Originally, on the capital plan, there was a request from the CSAP to have a pre-Primary to 12 school on the peninsula. That changed as a result of the CSAP request to look at Newbridge Academy to deal with the high school-aged population pressure. There are a couple of reasons why that happened.
One, of course, it was a great opportunity to get the high school kids in a newer building sooner, but also we’ve had a really hard time finding an appropriate location to build a pre-Primary to 12 school on the peninsula. The member, I’m sure, is very familiar with some of the challenges in terms of acquiring land. It’s really expensive on the peninsula, first and foremost. We’re purchasing and renovating that school for the same price that I think purchasing a lot would cost on the peninsula. We got a school renovated with access to brand new recreational facilities for the same price that the lot would have cost us on the peninsula for a pre-Primary to 12 high school. We have not found a suitable location yet, so that has been delaying that project.
Again, we’re taking our lead from the CSAP on this. I think they’re making good decisions and I stand by their decisions on this. They asked us to adjust our plan in this regard and we did. I think it was prudent to do so. I think it’s better for the students to proceed in this manner, as well. We still have on the capital plan a pre-Primary. The CSAP decided to look at a pre-Primary to Grade 8 for the peninsula, based on, I believe, the conversations I’ve had with TIR that it might be a more feasible size to find an appropriate location on the peninsula. This might very well have been the only option.
That’s where we are. Again, we’re taking the lead from the CSAP on this, as the elected school board that they are. Which I’m sure the member’s very pleased with.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Thank you for that. At any point in the decision to purchase Newbridge Academy - I’m totally clear now that the CSAP was requesting this and involved in this and pushing for this - do you know whether they or the department engaged with families and parents at all through any point in this process?
ZACH CHURCHILL: That would have been up to the CSAP to decide. They’re the elected officials that we still have, so we’re taking our lead from them. I can’t speak to the process they went through to reach that conclusion. They’d be better positioned to do that.
I do think, again, they made the right call with the request and I think we made the right call in acting on it.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Is the department considering purchasing the current site housing the CSAP school on the peninsula for that P through Grade 8?
ZACH CHURCHILL: I can’t say for certain, but I’m sure that that is being considered. That might be one of the different options that they’re looking at right now, but I don’t know with certainty.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: My last question here on school capital is just around overcrowding. We talked a little bit about pressures for pre-Primary, I know that we have some overcrowded schools.
Does the department keep track of how many schools in the province are over capacity or over the number of students allowed based on fire code?
ZACH CHURCHILL: We do, we develop our long-range capital plans to respond to that. Facility conditions and student population pressure are the two driving factors in determining major capital builds; and, A&As along with programming needs, as well.
The new school we’re building in Bedford, that’s in direct response to the population growth there. We know that there are other hot spots that are blowing up in Halifax which is a good thing but it creates challenges in our school communities. I know that the Chair has one of those challenging situations in her school community. We do our best to respond to schools that are overcapacitated with additional staff and portables where that’s possible. Long-term, of course, we look at additions, alterations, or new capital builds to respond to that pressure.
I will note before we get off the capital conversation that we’re engaged in the first multi-year capital plan that we’ve ever had in our province; this process before only happened year to year. School communities were left in the dark on the long-term planning for builds. I’m very pleased that we were given the funding from the Treasury Board to proceed with this multi-year capital plan. Now, at least the affected school communities know what’s happening. We’ve got a timeline that we’re trying to meet to deliver these schools for those school communities.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Just to finish that. Do you know how many schools in the province are over capacity now?
ZACH CHURCHILL: We can get that for the member. I don’t have that with us, but we can get that.
One important thing to clarify is there are none that exceed fire code. That’s very important because I know you mentioned fire code earlier. There are none that exceed fire code, but there are buildings that exceed the design capacity, is the language that I’ve been given, but not fire code.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I’m pleased to hear that, and I look forward to seeing that list. I know of at least one school in my riding that will be on that, probably.
Just a couple of questions about lead in the water. On December 19th of last year, the department indicated that 284 schools had not yet had their drinking water tested for lead. We know, and the minister and I have corresponded on this a little bit, that the updated guidelines around lead levels happened in March. I understand that there are periods of the year where you can’t test. I’m curious when the testing began given that the information was received in March.
ZACH CHURCHILL: The deputy’s getting the timeline when testing began. What I can tell the member is as soon as the guidelines were changed - it’s important to note that they did not come with testing protocols or any advice on how to handle testing or best practices for testing - we had to develop a consistent protocol that we could put in place to ensure that the lead testing would be accurate.
That work began immediately after the guidelines were changed by Health Canada. As soon as those protocols were developed then we began testing, we believe, in September but we’ll confirm.
Okay we have that information. The testing began in the Fall of 2019, after the protocol was developed.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I’m impressed with the information staff has at their disposal; if it takes a minute to get to it, that’s fine. We are patient in this room at this moment.
I just want to know what the timeline is. We have a protocol now; soon the testing will be able to begin again, I assume. When will it be done?
ZACH CHURCHILL: If the weather co-operates, we’re anticipating May will be when we have the consistent higher temperatures that we need for testing. I believe we expect to have testing completed before the end of Summer. Yes, I’m not mistaken in that, before the end of Summer. I think we’ve tested - sometimes it’s best to not go from memory - over 90 schools to date. The rest will be completed by the end of Summer.
In the meantime, every school has been provided with bottled water. Again, there was not a health and safety issue according to the Chief Medical Officer of Health, but we did know that anxiety was increasing in those schools. We know when that happens and people are worried about their water, they might not be focused on teaching and learning in the school.
We just wanted to deal with that issue so that people could focus in the areas where we want them to focus without worry. That was in response to primarily a concern that was expressed by the union, so we responded to that.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: My understanding is that that drinking water is being provided to 324 schools across Nova Scotia. Does that show up in the budget? Is this being budgeted for, providing all that water to schools?
ZACH CHURCHILL: The majority of this funding will be represented in the current fiscal year. This is in addition to our budget that we sought from Treasury Board that they granted to us to deliver the bottled water. For the period of April to June, that period of financial impact for delivering bottled water will show up in this year’s budget; so, April to June will show up, but not the previous months.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Thank you. I have a few questions about inclusion. We’ve covered some of this.
It goes without saying that our main question is how does the $15 million in the budget get spent? There’s a road map in the Students First report that does not appear to be directly the road map that the government is following. I know that you’ve noted several times that you’re consulting with Sarah Shea and the commissioners.
We filed a FOIPOP request a year ago, February 20, 2019, for the most recent version of the document called Students First Next Steps Gap Analysis and Tracking which presumably is what tells us, like, how that implementation goes. I sat down to read it and it was literally nine black pages, three-quarters of a black page, and then one little line that said, the decision has been made not to hire an Executive Director of Inclusive Education. It also appeared that the document remained in draft form.
If there is a rollout plan that’s articulated and available somewhere and you’re willing to share that with us, then we’ll just feel like we won the lottery tonight.
If there isn’t, I guess my question is: What’s the document? What’s the plan? How was that amount determined in the budget?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Broadly speaking, the road map in the commission’s report is the road map that we’re following. Not to the letter, of course, as the member knows but broadly speaking, that’s what we’re doing.
It’s the same with any report that comes into government. You get it and then you have to conduct your own assessments and proceed based on the information from the report, assessment from staff, and in this case, assessment of the needs of the system. Our goal here is to be responsive to the needs of the system.
We can’t always plan out a specific blueprint that determines what students are going to need in any given year. What we’re doing now is assessing the needs that we know our kids have. We’re using achievement data and well-being data to help identify where resources are needed. That is helping us determine what hires will occur, what positions we’re going to hire for.
The process we use for this is we have the general road map as outlined in the commission report. We work with Inclusive Education Canada on the rollout of our investments each year - we work with Dr. Gordon Porter, whom I know the member has met here in the Legislature - they assist us in determining where to go. That also coincides with a system evaluation of student needs and achievement levels. That informs how the budget is deployed and the resources are deployed in the system.
The $15 million is specifically in line with the recommendation from the commission to have $80 million infused into the system in five years. We’ve maintained our commitment to that increase in investment directly in line with the recommendation from the reports.
I know the member is looking for something more specific here, but that’s not something that we have. Nor is it something I think we should have because we do need to have a bit of flexibility here in terms of responding to needs every year. Needs change every year, pressures change every year in the system. We have to have flexibility to assess and respond to those while following the general principles and directions of the recommendations in the report.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: That’s helpful. So basically what I understand now is that you’ve taken the commission’s recommendation budget-wise and then you’re sort of allocating that amount of money and then figuring out what you can achieve in the report given that budget and the flexibility you need and the advice that you’re getting. Would that be accurate?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Yes. The way the process works is we’re in line with the recommendation on investment. We align ourselves with the broader recommendations of the report. We utilize the expertise in Inclusive Education Canada; this is instead of having an institute. This is part of the response to the institute. We consult with the commission Chair to see if we’re on the right track from her perspective as the chief author of the report.
Also in that process we assess, to the best of our ability, the needs in the system of the student population. That’s looked at from a regional level, from the school level, and an individual level. We now have more flexibility with that funding to actually get those dollars to where we believe we can have the biggest bang for our buck.
I think the flexibility is actually really key to being successful here. The needs are changing every year at the individual level, at the school level, and at the regional level. We maintain the right to direct funding in a way that we believe is going to have the greatest impact on the kids. I’ll also remind the member that a third party - Drs. Hargreaves and Whitley - are conducting an independent evaluation, as well, for the next three years. We’ll get the first of their reports and evaluations at some point this Spring. I don’t have a date when that’s coming out. Of course, that evaluation will also influence any changes that we need to take in this regard.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I guess first, will the minister share that report when it’s available?
ZACH CHURCHILL: That report is going to be made available to the public. It will be available for Opposition consumption, public consumption, system consumption. We’re trying to deal with the situation on the institute in a different way; I do think we’ve hit a better solution and a more cost-effective solution to oversight and accountability on this funding. This independent evaluation is key to that.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I understand that there’s not a kind of specific implementation plan, it sounds like. Are there specific recommendations? Are there needs assessments that have been given to the minister? I understand who the minister and department are working with to determine needs, but how does that information actually get to the department and get actioned, is my question?
ZACH CHURCHILL: To say there’s not a plan wouldn’t be accurate. We do have a plan for assessing need and deploying resources. I think the member’s looking for something that’s more fixed but I would argue that the needs of the system aren’t fixed. The needs of the system are fluid; they change from year to year, from school to school, and in some circumstances from region to region, at least over the long term.
I think it’s incumbent upon us to be able to respond to that fluidity to the best of our ability. I don’t think that having a fixed plan - these people are going here, or these people are going here and this is what it’s going to look like for the next five years - I don’t see that as being effective to helping us achieve our goal of being more responsive to changing needs within the system.
We’re using the report to help guide our direction. We’re utilizing Inclusive Education Canada to assist with the specific rollout and helping us assess the needs that we’re identifying and respond to them. We’re relying on an independent third party to conduct evaluations that will also help inform us of any course corrections that need to be made.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Okay. For now.
One of the recommendations from the Students First report was to replace the 2012 Developing and Implementing Programming for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder document, to have updated provincial guidelines that reflect the new model of inclusive education and multi-tiered supports as part of a new provincial autism strategy. Will this be part of the work in this budget year?
ZACH CHURCHILL: We’re currently working with Autism Nova Scotia on implementation of this and developing a plan in partnership with them. They have been incredible partners to deal with. So far, they have been very excited and have endorsed the moves that we’ve made on inclusive education. That would be a work in progress at this point.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I think they’re a great organization. I just want to clarify, so is there work being done on a new provincial autism strategy? Is that work being done as part of this budget?
ZACH CHURCHILL: We haven’t finalized the plan for deployment of those resources yet. It sort of depends on where we land with work on that and where we decide the resources are going to go; that has yet to be determined at this point. We’re happy to have the money.
We’re happy to have the money and once the budget’s passed - well, we’ve started before the budget’s passed because we’re anticipating the budget will pass - the work of assessment and determining where those dollars are going to be spent and who’s going to be hired is ongoing. That has happened every year and it coincides with hiring timelines as well. We’ll have that work completed before we need to get out in the field and do hires.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Can the minister comment on whether students and families in the CSAP have the same access to inclusion supports as those in the English system?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Yes, of course.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Has the department received any feedback? I know I personally have received feedback from families who feel that, in some cases, the CSAP acts as sort of an almost de facto, gosh what’s the word, like tiered schooling.
It’s sometimes more difficult to function in a second language or to function in two languages, the students who have learning disabilities or challenges in a learning environment sort of self-select, sometimes, out of the French school board. Also, if they don’t self-select, are sometimes not supported in their learning needs. Is that feedback that has come to the department at all?
ZACH CHURCHILL: That’s not feedback that I’m familiar with, going on memory.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Perhaps we could have more conversation about it.
ZACH CHURCHILL: It is important to note it is French first language, not secondary language. The CSAP is there to provide education to French-first speakers.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I appreciate that correction, but I also acknowledge that I believe the guidelines are that the family are francophone. I personally know tons of students who function with English as a first language and French as a second language. It’s semantics, but it’s true that the vast majority of students accessing the French school board - at least in HRM - are speaking as much English as they are French. That’s the point that I was making.
I want to talk a little bit about the achievement gap. This is something we hear a lot about. We know, and I know that my colleagues in the PC caucus have brought this up during this conversation, that this achievement gap that exists for African Nova Scotian and Indigenous students was kind of a big piece of both the Glaze report and the report from the Commission on Inclusive Education.
The Glaze report recommended to “Develop a coordinated workforce strategy to identify, recruit and retain teachers, specialists and educational support staff in the communities that need them. In addition, particular attention should be paid to increasing diversity in teaching and educational leadership programs, particularly African Nova Scotian, Mi’kmaw and Acadian teachers.”
I know that some work has been done. We’ve talked a little bit about that with seats, I think, in early childhood education programs.
The commission also recommended the establishment of an institute. That institute, based on the report, was to support “innovation and research in inclusive education in areas that include . . . culturally responsive assessment, instruction, and intervention practices” and “equitable and effective educational programming and supports tailored to culturally diverse learners, including African Nova Scotian and Indigenous students.”
A few minutes ago, the minister mentioned that the work with this third party was to take the place of the institute, if I understood correctly. I’m wondering if the kind of consulting relationship with them can truly fulfill the role outlined in the kind of pieces that I just shared.
ZACH CHURCHILL: A really important question. I know it is of interest to everybody in the Chamber. Focusing on the achievement gap and doing a better job from an education perspective is a priority. We are following through with various recommendations in this regard: we’ve got new executive director positions in the department with a focus on developing policies and initiatives on this front; they work closely with the CACE - our African Nova Scotian advisory group - and the Council on Mi’kmaq Education, as well.
The member is right. We do have seats for pre-Primary positions for Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotians, as well. I believe those bursaries have been successful in increasing uptake of those programs. We also have engaged in culturally responsive pedagogy training for our workforce.
I believe we talked about this yesterday, but we had Dr. Sharroky Hollie come in on contract and do culturally responsive pedagogical training with almost every single teacher in the system. The feedback from teachers on that was actually really exciting. The member could find some of that feedback maybe if she looks at Twitter and social media posts coming live from those events last year. I was keeping track of a bit of that. It was really encouraging where teachers were kind of recognizing in real time that, oh, this is a bias that I’ve had. Not to say the work’s completed on that, that needs to be continuous but that was exciting.
We’ve also graduated this year, I believe, our first cohort of African Nova Scotian guidance counsellors from Mount Saint Vincent University. There is a lot of important work and I think steps that are happening in this regard.
We’ve also hired Mi’kmaw and African Nova Scotian support workers in the system in each of our regions; those have been part of our new hires, as well. Student support workers that are linked to our African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaq learning branches, as well.
We’re staffing up in the system. We’re engaged in broad-based professional development in culturally responsive pedagogy. We’re trying to diversify our workforce in our pre-Primary program and for the regulated child care sector. Also, there has been a focus on the guidance counsellors, as well.
To your question around the institute versus what we’re doing, I think we’ve made a better decision, to be honest, than moving forward with an institute. That was costed up at about $1 million a year. It also would put this work in the hands of stakeholders that do come from special interest communities. I think, talking about bias, it’s impossible to eliminate some of that bias.
We thought that it would be better and more cost effective to actually go to the organizations that are driven by evidence-based decision making like Inclusive Education Canada who have an expertise in this regard, who have a mandate to improve inclusive education across the country and ensure that an independent third body was conducting the evaluation so that they’re, to the best of our ability, eliminating any bias in those evaluations.
I think this will result in a process that is more driven by evidence and less driven by special interests within the system or political agendas. It also ensures that we can spend more money on hiring people and getting more resources in the system long term. That’s the rationale why we decided to do what we did.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I know it’s early days, but I guess my question is: Is it working?
We’re still seeing big differentials out of some of the schools. In predominantly racialized communities, we’re seeing issues with suspensions. We’re still, as far as I know, seeing a kind of disproportional use of IPPs. These are all things that were mentioned. Are we seeing any progress? Is the needle moving so far?
ZACH CHURCHILL: I think we can look at the literacy rate in Indigenous learners going up pretty significantly, as one indication that we’re having some success here. Not all the issues are, obviously, resolving themselves overnight or in year two of what we’re trying to do. We are taking a long-term view on what we need to do.
The evaluation that will be coming out this Spring will also help us better assess how we’re doing. That feedback is going to be really important; either telling us to stay the course or make course corrections or whatever else, other recommendations that they come out with. We’ll have a better sense once the first report’s done, from Drs. Hargreaves and Whitley, this Spring. I think it’ll help us determine objectively where we’re at and how we’re doing.
There’s some, I think, positive outcomes that we can take heart from at this particular point in time. The fact that people are actually recognizing that we have some of these issues in the system is a step in the right direction; that hadn’t happened before at the individual level, not the system level. I think if you’re looking at that as being a positive, I think we’re getting somewhere on that front.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: That’s good to know. Certainly, the people at the wrong end of these statistics have known that it has been happening for a long time. I take your point that at the kind of structural level it’s being acknowledged more.
I guess, pointing to that report, are there specific benchmarks? Are they the ones that I kind of noted that came out of the recommendations, that you’re looking at as you measure progress? Is it just academic achievement? What are the indicators?
ZACH CHURCHILL: The recommendations of the report I believe are going to help guide the evaluations. Academic achievement is a key criterion that we’ll be looking at as well as well-being data would be an additional primary criterion. It’s early to determine what the full scope of the evaluation is going to look like from those folks because we are leaving it up to them to do that.
THE CHAIR: Order. The time has elapsed for the NDP. We move on now to the PC caucus. We have Mr. Tim Halman, the member for Pictou East.
TIM HALMAN: I’m the other Tim. Dartmouth East.
THE CHAIR: Oh, Dartmouth East. Sorry.
TIM HALMAN: Minister and staff, do you require a bathroom break? Go for it.
[7:59 p.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[8:05 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: Welcome back, everybody. It’s 8:05 p.m. so we had six minutes for the break. We are starting back with the PC Party with Mr. Tim Halman.
TIM HALMAN: Good evening, minister. Good evening, staff. I’d like to pick up where I left off the last round with you. It was on the topic of busing. This was a major issue, as the minister and staff know, in 2018-19. Certainly, nobody wants a return of the situations that arose in that academic year. Obviously, most are fully aware we’ll now have three different companies providing bus services.
Minister, the most common question I’m asked is what mechanisms and accountability are going to be built in to these new bus companies? As you know, one of the most common frustrations was just not being able to get information, the frustration with the lack of accountability. So, what are the mechanisms for accountability under these new companies and contracts?
ZACH CHURCHILL: The member will be happy to know that we have made some significant changes in this regard. One, is actually having the in-house ability to manage and oversee the contracts and having operational expertise and capacity within the region, that did not exist before. Essentially, Stock Transportation Ltd. had a monopoly contract and was managing their own contract.
That has changed. We’ve now brought expertise in-house who are able to manage that contract. There are also stiff penalties in this contract if the standards are not met. To not meet the standards can result in significant losses to the companies, including loss of routes which I think can cost them about $70,000 to $100,000 each. That did not exist before. Those are, I think, two changes on the accountability front; that we’ll see improvement with management oversight and ensuring adherence to the contract and the standards.
On the service to parents front, we have also taken on communication. The member, I think, accurately pointed out that communication was a reoccurring problem that was being identified by parents. We’ve brought communications and routing in-house, so we’ve got now operational capacity for routing, oversight of contract, and we’re now responsible for the communication to parents. The feedback we’ve received is that communication has been improved significantly this year.
TIM HALMAN: Obviously it was a noticeable difference in the number of incidents in 2018-19. Certainly, when I use the term incidents, I realize there’s a range from dropping students off late and dropping students off at the incorrect locations. Is there data on the number of incidents that we had in 2018-19? Was that being tracked at that time? If not, under these new contracts, are we going to be tracking that information?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Yes, and yes.
TIM HALMAN: With respect to in-house ability to monitor for accountability, there is a specific position in the RCEs to monitor these busing companies, correct?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Correct. We actually have hired 11 new positions in the Regional Centre for Education to help us implement improvements in busing. This is for communications, for oversight, and for routing.
TIM HALMAN: What’s the formal title of those positions?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Most of the positions are communications and routing, but we can get the official titles of those positions for the member. We don’t have that list in front of us.
TIM HALMAN: We’re into the weeds now, minister. Who are they accountable to within the RCEs? Is it to you or is it to the Education director?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Their direct line of accountability is to the director of operations who’s accountable to the regional executive director, who’s accountable to the deputies, who are accountable to the minister, who’s accountable to the Premier. That would be the operational line of accountability beginning with those folks. Their immediate supervisor would be the director of operations.
TIM HALMAN: Of course, as elected officials, we’re accountable to the people as the minister knows. That’s right.
What you’ve outlined there, certainly, I think parents and guardians in the province, as you know, are certainly going to be monitoring this. Obviously, we all recognize change had to happen because the status quo was unacceptable in the busing of our students. We know that. Certainly, I think people will be watching very closely how this, I guess, unravels in the Fall of 2020.
With respect to the CSAP, to what extent is there a difference in terms of the structure? Is it a different structure with the CSAP when it comes to busing in terms of operations?
ZACH CHURCHILL: There have been no adjustments to the CSAP or the other regions in their busing operations.
As the member might remember, we conducted a province-wide consultation on busing. This included SACs, and I think we received 8,000 submissions from the public. What that consultation informed us of was that the concern, frustration, of parents and students, was focused here in HRM. We did not have a similar level of frustration in the CSAP or in any of the regions at all, really. This is where the problem seemed to lie.
I think this is primarily related to the fact that the previous board made decisions to off-load. I would suggest that they were trying to act in what they believed was the best interests of kids of getting the FTEs they had, and in their board, into the classroom, or in areas that were probably focused more on areas of student need.
They did end up making a decision to off-load capacity in the region and expertise around busing to Stock Transportation Ltd. That impacted oversight of the contract; it impacted management of the contract. Of course, Stock Transportation Ltd. was in a monopoly position where there weren’t even really any other major competitors, outside of maybe one other company, that could compete for that contract.
When there’s not competition, that can create negative consequences from a service delivery perspective, I think, in any sector. We have adjusted those two problem areas. One, getting expertise back in-house, having 11 FTEs dedicated to this; two, having a more competitive procurement process for this. Smaller companies could now bid on these routes and it has opened the door up to have other providers get in and deliver service.
Stock Transportation Ltd. did get one of the contracts for special needs. We think they’ve also improved their operations from last year, as a result of what happened.
This is an area where we could take decisive action that was necessary and disrupted the status quo; now, we’re hopefully going to see some long-term improvements.
TIM HALMAN: Why was the contract awarded to Stock Transportation Ltd. for transportation for our diverse learners? What was the criteria for that? I ask because I have been asked. If you could comment on that, minister.
ZACH CHURCHILL: Listen, the Halifax Regional Centre for Education is the one that built the terms of that bidding process, so they’d be in the best position to answer a question of that technical nature.
TIM HALMAN: In other words, ask Elwin. Fair enough.
Moving from busing to a topic that’s in the media now - I’m quite sure you’re probably aware of it - the Technology Advantage Program. It’s being reported that that program has been cancelled. Could you comment on that, minister? Has it, in point of fact, been cancelled?
ZACH CHURCHILL: No. That’s not accurate whatsoever. The pilot program that we’re running for Technology Advantage and the cohorts of students that are in that pilot are only in year one of a six-year pilot. Their progress through TAP will continue for the next six years, in line with our original announcement on the pilot.
I think where the confusion has come up over this is, I think people forgot that we were running a pilot project, it seems. I know that the union was asking questions about not taking in an additional cohort of students. When they received the information back that there would not be an additional cohort of students enrolled in the program - which is exactly how we planned to run it up until this point - I think that led some people to suggest that it was being cancelled. That’s not the case at all.
The pilot’s continuing and it will continue for the next five years. Again, taking this cohort of students from Grade 9 through to two years of post-secondary education and into at least granting them an opportunity to interview for positions. There have been no changes whatsoever to the pilot and there may be opportunities for enhancement. We’re evaluating the program with St. F.X. I don’t know that this will be the case, but there might be opportunities for enhancing that program before the pilot’s completed. It’s too early to determine that.
For the record, there has been no cancellation to the TAP pilot. It’s proceeding as planned and as we announced it would. The fact, I think, that people get disappointed that there wasn’t a new cohort being put in speaks to how excited people are about it, particularly the teachers that are involved in it. There have been no changes to the course on this at all.
TIM HALMAN: I appreciate you clarifying that. How then do you go to communicate that to parents, what you have stated here? The story’s out there now, minister.
ZACH CHURCHILL: That’s a problem that exists all the time. Stories get out there that aren’t true, and they spread really quickly. We used to believe that wouldn’t happen in the traditional media; you expect it to happen in social media, but you don’t expect it to kind of be perpetuated through traditional media.
The situation’s changed. We saw that with O2, with rumours that there were cuts to the O2 program, which wasn’t accurate. I’ve seen stories run on CTV that suggest that there were education cuts happening in a time when we were having unprecedented increases in investment in education. We now have a story running that suggests this program’s being cancelled, when it’s not. There has been no deviation from it whatsoever.
Of course, that’s frustrating when it’s so easy for misinformation to spread so rapidly, even through traditional media. I don’t understand how that happens because you would assume that due diligence is done before stories are printed. But, nevertheless, it is what it is. Our associate deputy minister instructed staff to reach out to teachers, who seem to have initiated this conversation, to clarify the plan on the pilot with them, if there was confusion on that. That’s where we’ve begun to try and clarify the record. It’s going to be further clarified during parent meetings that are planned, the associate deputy has informed me.
We always seem to have to play catch-up here, where misinformation spreads and then we have to deploy department resources to clarify the record. I mean, that is a frustrating challenge, to be sure. We’ll keep responding in ways that are appropriate to make sure people have the most accurate information possible.
TIM HALMAN: I’d like to take a few moments to discuss school site selection. I know it has been brought up by my colleague. Certainly, I’ve had individuals over the years approach me with concerns about the school site selection process.
I’m wondering if you can clarify for me, specifically, the policy regarding community engagement; there’s a lot of discussion about that. I’m asking if you can clarify, under these new rules for school site selection, what’s happening with community engagement.
ZACH CHURCHILL: Thank you for the question. We got into this in detail with the member for Dartmouth South. We can maybe get another copy of the regulations for the member for Dartmouth East, as well. We did table that.
THE CHAIR: I’m going to table them tonight.
ZACH CHURCHILL: Okay, great. Thank you, Madam Chair. We do have the new regulations that are tabled, member, if you’re interested in reading those. Essentially what we’re doing is flipping the process from what it was previously.
Before, there would be a very robust community-led process that would develop a list of potential sites that would then receive a technical evaluation after their submission. That did contribute to some delays in site selection because oftentimes there wouldn’t be the engineering expertise, of course, on these community-led committees to know if any of the sites, in fact, were suitable for servicing a school. That would lead to sometimes back and forth where there would even be up to 12 sites being submitted for technical evaluation, and then none of those sites actually being serviceable.
We’ve tried to flip that model on its head where the technical evaluation happens first. We let the technical evaluation determine a short list of sites; we try to get it to at least two if the current site is not an option. Once we have two sites, then we go to the community and see which one they would prefer. Again, these would be sites that we know are serviceable, that we know can handle the development of a school of whichever size. Then, the community input will impact what the final decision is when there are multiple sites.
There very well might be situations where the current site’s chosen, it works, and we move forward. In the event that there’s only one site, then there won’t be consultation if that’s the only option; in the event that there’re two sites, then they go to the community. We’re doing this right now in communities across the province. The CSAP has chosen a site for their Wedgeport location working with TIR; and, in Clare, I think they were down to two sites that they’re consulting the community with.
Then we get to the design phase and the community is involved and engaged in that process from day one. We want to know what kind of school communities want, what options they want from a facilities perspective, what designs they like. There is an option for school communities that I’m hoping the communities utilize - particularly Springhill where we’ve had a difficult time finding a site and we haven’t found an appropriate one yet; none that have not been problematic from a geotechnical standpoint - the option is available for school communities, if they like a design in one of our new builds, say the new Bible Hill Consolidated School is one that actually, the community of Wedgeport has indicated they’re satisfied with; then that can actually lead to an expedited procurement process and a shorter design process that can shave, maybe, at least hopefully half a year off the timeline of these projects. That option is available. School communities can also have input on a brand new design and features, as well.
TIM HALMAN: Specifically, with the Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Chamber of Commerce & Civic Affairs, there seems to be a disconnect between what you’re describing and what I guess they’re experiencing. Can you just describe when and what consultations have taken place in that community? You’ve outlined fairly well how this is supposed to play out. Where’s the disconnect?
ZACH CHURCHILL: I think there’s divergence of opinions in that community. I think there are different organizations or community members that want the school to be in different sites. Right now, we’re engaged in the technical evaluation of the current site and another two sites, as well. So, we’re still in the technical phase.
That said, we’ve engaged the chamber of commerce. I’ve met personally with Kent on this subject. I know he’s very engaged in this; there’s an economic motivation for that from the chamber’s perspective, they represent retailers and small businesses that exist around the current site of the school. So, they have a business interest that they’re advancing to the department.
They’ve done that through multiple letters. That message has been delivered to me from the president in person in a meeting that I had with him. That is one voice in that community, but there are other voices that don’t agree with the Chamber of Commerce. Before we get to that stage, we still need to conclude the technical evaluations.
Eastern Shore actually is a good example of why doing the technical evaluations first is really useful. You have a variety of opinions in that community, depending on where folks live, where they’d like to see that school. Under the previous model, that debate would have been hashed out in the community before technical evaluations had even happened. I think that’s a good example of why the new system hopefully will prove to be more effective and help us build these buildings on time.
TIM HALMAN: Where else in the province is this new site selection process playing out? Are we seeing issues like this in other parts of the province, the disconnect?
ZACH CHURCHILL: The same process is being used right now for every new school build. The response from the Eastern Shore has been unique compared to other communities. I think it’s because it’s a big community, so it’s a large geographic area and there are different communities living in different parts of that constituency. People have different opinions on where they want their school but it’s important that we at least know what sites are suitable before we go to the community with the final consultation, if there are multiple sites that prove to be suitable.
TIM HALMAN: Let’s switch to the role of educational program assistants. In my experience they are fundamental to a successful classroom, especially with a variety of needs in your classroom.
Do you feel that the role of program assistant or teaching assistant is under-utilized? Are there ongoing discussions within the department to perhaps enhance the role of program assistants or teaching assistants moving forward, as we make these investments in the inclusion model?
ZACH CHURCHILL: I believe these positions are critical whether they’re EPAs in certain areas, or EAs, or TAs in others. We’ve hired more of these positions every single year; net new positions to the system.
Mr. Potter is doing the math on how many we have hired. Since 2013-14, which would have been the beginning of our first mandate, there has been a net increase of 271 EA, TA or EPA positions infused into the system. There have been 271 new hires for these positions. I expect that that number will continue to grow.
These folks are really valuable. They help relieve a lot of pressure off of our teachers in complex classrooms; they deliver much needed individualized support to our students. They are positions that we value and that we’ve hired more of - Mr. Potter has just provided me with the ratio, now we have one TA for every 52 students.
One more thing I might add, Madam Chair, is we’re also investing in them from a professional development perspective. We’ve increased access to PD opportunities for TAs and we’re encouraging them to take advantage of those to enhance their skill sets and enhance their value to the students and the system.
TIM HALMAN: Could you specify in what areas and which professional development will be taking place. Certainly, they are critical in a classroom. I’m hearing from a lot of program assistants that they certainly want that enhanced training. Is that professional development in line with the prescribed outcomes of what we want to achieve with the new investments in inclusion?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Yes, that’s correct. NCRP, our PD’s in line with those and inclusive education policy. I do just want to note, the Students First inclusive education report, they requested that the ratio for TAs should be 1 to 75 and we are at now 1 to 52. We are doing better than what was recommended in the Students First report; that’s how much we value these folks.
TIM HALMAN: Professional development, obviously, through the course of your career, is critical. Any professional worker, you never stop learning. Are there any plans to enhance the training of program assistants? Whether it’s creating a program at NSCC to better prepare program assistants for autism or dyslexia, are there any plans that the department’s having with respect to that?
ZACH CHURCHILL: We work with the NSCC to fund opportunities to enhance their programming for TAs, that happens on a fairly regular basis. We also have opportunities for TAs to actually get into B.Ed. programs and become teachers, if that is a career choice that they’re interested in doing.
We also have hands-on mentoring that happens in our schools, with all the autism specialists that we’ve hired and behavioural specialists and child and youth care practitioners. Those folks provide ongoing guidance to teachers, TAs, and other staff on how to handle certain complex issues that people might not have training with.
There’s a lot happening to ensure that the skill levels of these folks can be increased and their impact on the lives of students can be enhanced. There’s also online student service modules that are available for TAs, as well.
TIM HALMAN: With all the hires that have happened since 2013, you’ve indicated, if I’ve understood correctly, 271. What is the criteria in an education centre to deploy these program assistants? What is the criteria that you use in terms of identifying the needs at the schools and so forth? What’s the formula that you use?
ZACH CHURCHILL: There’s no formula for that. It’s informed by staff assessments on the individual needs of students. We’ve got folks in the Regional Centres for Education who work with principals and teachers to assess the needs of students and deploy resources to the best of their ability, to get those people where they’re most needed.
TIM HALMAN: Our program assistants often work with many of our students that require enhanced supports. I can’t overemphasize just how critical they are in the delivery of the PSP in our public system. What added safeguards have you invested in to ensure their safety on the job?
This is a role that at times can be very challenging and present some physical challenges, emotional challenges. What supports has the department put in place to ensure occupational health and safety?
ZACH CHURCHILL: There is occupational health and safety training that occurs but that’s a very good question. I do want to make sure that we give you a fulsome answer on that; I want to take some time and make sure that we get back to you on that.
Right now, I know they’re linked in with the support of other staff people; they receive occupational health and safety training. I want to investigate that question with staff. That’s a very good question that I’m interested in getting a more in-depth answer to for you.
TIM HALMAN: That’s certainly appreciated. My follow up is: Does the department track incidents of injury for our program assistants? Do we have data on that?
ZACH CHURCHILL: We do. That would be collected at the regional level, not the department level.
TIM HALMAN: I’m correct in saying that that’s an expectation the department has for the education centres to compile information such as that, I’m correct in saying that?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Of course. We want to know what’s happening from an occupational health and safety standpoint. They are mandated to report incidences where occupational health and safety is implicated.
TIM HALMAN: So many topics to get to here. Moving on to the topic of home-based daycares.
In 2018 the government launched the Strategic Growth for Regulated Child Care Settings which was predicted to create 1,000 new spaces. Can you confirm how many spaces were reported to have been created under the initiative of the strategic growth for regulated child care?
ZACH CHURCHILL: The number I have is 2,200 spaces.
TIM HALMAN: Funding is still available through this program?
ZACH CHURCHILL: The expansion funding was tied to a three-year bilateral agreement with the federal government, so that money has been spent. The good news is that the federal government, and I’m very pleased that our current federal government has been re-elected because they were the only one, of the two Parties that had a chance of winning government, that committed to enhanced funding for child care and early learning.
We recently had a meeting in January in Ottawa with my provincial and territorial counterparts as well as the federal minister. This meeting was actually called urgently by the federal minister to discuss the upcoming bilateral, because they’re putting at least $7.5 billion on the table for the federation to invest in strategic areas for regulated child care and early learning. While we’ve exhausted the last round of funds from the previous bilateral, we’re anticipating a new one to be signed. The federal minister actually indicated that they might be interested in providing some transition funding in the interim before that bilateral is signed. The last pot of money has been exhausted.
We provided funding to every single regulated child care centre that applied that met the criteria. So, everybody that applied that met the criteria received funding, not just for the expansion grants, but also for inclusion grants and infant care spaces as well.
We look forward to doing that again, once we get a bilateral signed and hopefully even before, with federal transitionary money.
TIM HALMAN: With respect to the Strategic Growth for Regulated Child Care Settings, can you break down any spaces that were created specifically for Acadian, francophone, African Nova Scotian, Indigenous, and newcomer communities? I understand this is a stated priority for these spaces. Do we have some figures on that?
ZACH CHURCHILL: The criteria was not that specific. We received applications from areas that were deemed to be child care deserts; where there wasn’t access to regulated child care. I’ll remind the member that before the expansion of the regulated sector and the introduction of pre-Primary, only 1 in 4 preschool-aged children were accessing any of these programs. There was a lack of service in areas across the province. All the expansion grants that were given out the criterion was in areas where the service was not being delivered.
However, on the diversity front, that is something that we’ve done some really important work on, as well; to diversify the workforce. We have targeted bursaries for African Nova Scotian, francophone, and Indigenous learners to get into early childhood education. I believe we’ve been successful in deploying those bursaries and getting a more diversified student body being trained, and some of whom might be graduating this coming year. Diversity is very important; we have not had a high level of diversity in this sector. We’re in the process of making some improvements on that front.
TIM HALMAN: So, minister, I’m going to mention a facility, a family day home, in your area of Yarmouth, the Lil' Jems Early Learning Childcare Centre family day home. The family day home agencies, as you know, are the only access point through which a family day home can become registered and for their clients to receive a subsidy.
It’s my understanding on November 28, 2019, the Lil' Jems family daycare agency in Yarmouth was suspended and all day homes under its supervision no longer had registered status. Did the department consider alternative methods of inspecting and supervising these registered day homes before cutting them off due to their supervising agency’s problems?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Can the member repeat his question?
TIM HALMAN: No problem. Did the department consider alternative methods of inspecting and supervising these registered day homes before cutting them off due to their supervising agency’s problems?
ZACH CHURCHILL: According to the regulations and the contract that’s signed with our regulated child care centres, they do have the responsibility for oversight. I can’t speak to the specifics of the case that the member referenced because there is an ongoing conversation that’s happening around that, that has not reached its conclusion yet.
I can tell the member that, I think it was 22 out of 27 of the home care spaces were very rapidly picked up by other licence holders and continued to deliver care to communities. That happened very quickly; that happened within two days.
TIM HALMAN: When will an agency resume operation in the Yarmouth area?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Again, there’s - investigation is not the right word, but that situation is still under review. It has not reached a conclusion yet and there has not been a final determination on that agency. There are other agencies that, indeed, serve that area and that have picked up those home care agencies.
TIM HALMAN: I’d like to return to the topic of specialists that my colleague for Dartmouth South brought up yesterday. It’s an issue that’s being discussed in the education world; I’ve had a number of specialists reach out to me over the past year and a half with concerns.
Last night, you used the term volunteer to describe how teachers work through the Summer; teachers choose to step up and are paid to work through the Summer months. I’m curious, were specialists ever afforded the opportunity to choose this? Just like a teacher would work in the Summer to provide Summer school.
ZACH CHURCHILL: I can’t speak to the conversations that Labour Relations had with the union on this front. I can say from my perspective, having that be voluntary was not the approach that we deemed to be the best course of action. We had 300 students that utilized this in year one of having the services available in the Summer. We know how critical mental health supports are for students, we know they don’t stop when the school day’s over, when holidays are happening, or when the Summer months begin, and school is completed.
While I can’t speak to the specific conversations that happen between Labour Relations and the union on this front, I can say that I don’t deem it to be the best option to have that service be dependent on volunteerism. Again, this conversation is ongoing. We’ve got a process in place that we’re following through. We’ll see where it ends up at the end of the day.
TIM HALMAN: I notice when going through the budget that there’s no line item for specialists who are recently removed from the NSTU. Can you tell me which budget item includes their salary?
ZACH CHURCHILL: I’d refer the member to Page 7.11. That salary is represented in the line, P-12 Base Funding - Operating Grants on Page 7.11.
TIM HALMAN: Did their compensation remain the same for 2019-20?
ZACH CHURCHILL: We don’t have the specific numbers. The deputy minister’s looking for that, but we did have a pro-rated salary for those folks. We can get you the details on that.
TIM HALMAN: I’m curious, has a Summer hours schedule been distributed to specialists already?
ZACH CHURCHILL: I just remembered. The pro-rated amount was, I think, an increase of 15 per cent. It was 15 per cent, yes.
To answer your last question, I don’t think we have yet because we still have a process that we’re undergoing with the union on this front. Unless I’m mistaken in that. That would be done through the regions, as well, not the department.
TIM HALMAN: Let me get to the heart of the matter. You have an organization, the NSTU, and the Government of Nova Scotia. You’re actually united with the same end goal, which is to provide wraparound services for students. That, I know, we’re all agreed upon. Why then can agreement not be reached amicably through discussions? Again, where’s the disconnect?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Labour Relations is still in the process of negotiating that with the union.
I would say to suggest that we always share the motivations or incentives wouldn’t be accurate. I think that’s demonstrable in certain actions of the union. Their job isn’t focused around the needs of kids, our students. That’s not what they’re there for, that’s not what they’re paid to do. They’re there to represent the interests of our educators.
They do a very good job of that. They’ve done a great job representing those folks in collective bargaining, which is their primary function in the system. They’ve negotiated really strong contracts for their members. In some cases, they have been seen as positive impacts for kids and others, I think, might be prohibitive to us achieving greater outcomes for our students.
To suggest that there’s always this unity in objectives, I don’t think that’s accurate, to be frank. When there are opportunities to find alignment and objectives, of course it’s important to go after those. That’s when we have the best chance of succeeding.
TIM HALMAN: So, you don’t see alignment on this issue, when it has been stated that they want to work with government to ensure the wraparound services? That there are other avenues to achieve that? Would you agree that there are other avenues to achieve that, through dialogue and discussion with the NSTU?
ZACH CHURCHILL: I don’t think there’s an alignment of objectives here. I think that’s pretty obvious. We’ve made the determination that specialized, non-teaching positions in this regard shouldn’t be certified as teachers. That makes sense from my perspective. I don’t know why we’ve had a culture of certifying specialized employees who don’t have B.Ed.s, or who aren’t teachers, certifying them as teachers.
I think the training of teachers is a specialized training. It’s a specialized degree. I don’t really understand why the certification process has kind of expanded beyond the scope of teachers, to be honest. My personal opinion does not align with the union’s position on that.
Obviously, there’s not alignment in terms of having these folks work year-round in a mandated way that’s defined in the terms and conditions of their contract. It’s obvious there’s not alignment there. If there was then there wouldn’t be this grievance process that we’ve been undergoing.
That’s not to say that there aren’t opportunities and important opportunities for dialogue that we shouldn’t gravitate to. I think those conversations are ongoing, as we speak. Again, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s not the lead on those conversations. Labour Relations is.
TIM HALMAN: How many of each type of specialist are there in Nova Scotia? What are the numbers that we have on that? How many of each type of specialist?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Just for clarity - for inclusion? From the inclusion report?
TIM HALMAN: How many speech-language pathologists? How many behaviour specialists, psychologists, and so forth?
ZACH CHURCHILL: We have 100 SLPs, 92 school psychologists, 253 guidance counsellors, 971 resource and learning centre, and that includes autism and behavioural specialists.
TIM HALMAN: How are regional considerations taken into account with the hiring of specialists when the needs vary from region to region?
ZACH CHURCHILL: We look at the assessed needs in the system. We look at the achievement levels. We look at achievement gaps. We look at well-being data. That’s the primary data that drives decision making for allocation of inclusive education resources.
TIM HALMAN: While classes are not in session in the Summer, whose responsibility is it to transport the students to the specialists, or is the specialist to be responsible to travel to the student?
ZACH CHURCHILL: The responsibility would be with parents for travel.
TIM HALMAN: I’m curious, minister. If much of the work of specialists, I know, is done in co-operation with the classroom teachers, how much work can be accomplished in the Summer months if it has been accomplished in the past through collaborative teams?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Well, we had 300 students access these services this past Summer.
TIM HALMAN: Are we tracking the success rate of those interventions? Are we keeping data on that?
ZACH CHURCHILL: That is correct.
TIM HALMAN: So, there is ongoing monitoring of those Summer interventions? Tracking outcomes and so forth. That ongoing work is continuing?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Correct. That’s part of the broader monitoring that happens throughout the school year, as well. Anything that’s collected in the Summer months would be added to the file of those individuals.
I’ll remind the member, also, that SchoolsPlus is active all Summer, as well. The work that our specialists would be doing this Summer would be tied into the SchoolsPlus network and data collection.
TIM HALMAN: In the short time I have left, I’d like to switch to early childhood educators. It’s my understanding that ECEs are being governed by two different systems. ECEs working in the licensed early learning centres follow the Nova Scotia Day Care Regulations. Then, of course, ECEs working under the government program, as you know, are governed by the Pre-Primary Education Act.
It has been indicated to me by ECEs that this has proven to be problematic in many instances. What steps are being taken to streamline - to provide some consistency - with respect to this?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Just to clarify, do you mean between the regulated child care sector and the government program? Okay.
The challenge in terms of finding consistency is that we’re dealing with a government set of employees and private sector not-for-profit employees. I’m not sure if this is what you’re asking, but we actually have a working group. I just met with them today, coincidentally, before the House.
You might remember there were some concerns expressed last year around remuneration, pension benefits of government employees, and health and dental benefits in comparison with those in the private, not-for-profit sector. Recognizing that we don’t control - other than the wage floor that we invest millions of dollars into, close to $30 million, to ensure that there are competitive wages in the regulated child care sector. That didn’t exist before Minister Casey intervened on that. We had the lowest wages in the country.
Beyond that, government doesn’t really have a role to play in terms of providing pension benefits to employees of private businesses or not-for-profits. That said, we’ve played a facilitative role. When that conversation came to a head last year and we heard from ECEs and providers that were registering a lot of concern over their inability to compete with government wages and benefits, we actually put a working group together.
I met with them today. I knew it was going to be the highlight of my day because it was so positive, and I told them that. They’ve informed me that they’ve submitted a list of ideas that we’re pursuing. The department staff are currently evaluating those and we’re moving to action some of those out in terms of getting that sector more coordinated and facilitating with them the ability to gain critical mass through coordination.
There are some different options that we’re considering that will allow them to look at better access to, and more buying power, when it comes to private pensions and private benefit plans. That conversation has been ongoing. You’ll note that there hasn’t been much said in the media over the last little bit; that’s because we’re achieving a high level of success here.
THE CHAIR: I’m about to say order. The time has elapsed for the PC Party. We are moving to the NDP. Ms. Lisa Roberts.
LISA ROBERTS: Thank you very much. I actually just have a few minutes before I’m going to ask questions in the other Chamber.
I’m taking this opportunity to ask for an update around the renovation project at St. Joseph’s-Alexander McKay School. In a letter on May 7, 2019, from yourself, you wrote that it was scheduled to begin in fiscal 2020-21. It was anticipated that during the fiscal year that’s ending, a design lead will be contracted and a detailed analysis done of the SJAM structure to enable government to begin detailed planning and design work early in fiscal 2020-21 for occupancy by students for September 2023. My contacts at the school are anxious to see evidence of that process starting.
ZACH CHURCHILL: We’ll get confirmation, but I know that the RFP was scheduled to be issued in February or March. I can’t confirm that that has happened. That happens through TIR. We’ll try to get you an answer as quickly as we can.
LISA ROBERTS: Is it typical that the RFP part of the process would ensue without some opportunity for the SAC to comment on, or help to construct, that RFP? Or is the RFP only for the design work? I think there’s an expectation that there’s going to be some dialogue, so I just want to make sure of that.
ZACH CHURCHILL: The RFP is just for the contract. They’ll be required to consult on the design with the school community.
LISA ROBERTS: Maybe you can just be specific with me in terms of what language that RFP is? Obviously, there will be another RFP for the actual build, but this RFP would be for what, in fact?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Again, this doesn’t happen in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. This happens through TIR. From what I understand, this RFP is for the design component. For any design for any new school build or addition or alteration, the community is fully engaged in that conversation and will have a say in what the design eventually looks like.
LISA ROBERTS: Maybe I could reach out to your staff. It would be great to be able to just actually share that RFP with the school, so that they can see evidence that this is starting.
ZACH CHURCHILL: We will get you confirmation of whether that RFP has been issued or not. We can do that through our department. We’ll get that information from TIR for you. We’ll also get the specifics on what the RFP is for.
LISA ROBERTS: Just quickly, regarding the purchase of the Newbridge Academy building in Burnside, which happened outside of the regular capital rollout, I know that some parents, or many parents, at École Mer et Monde on the Halifax peninsula don’t welcome the opportunity to send their kids to that school because they’re enjoying their kids having access to public transit to get back and forth to school, and the opportunity for parents to be engaged at the school and participate more than they were when they were at École secondaire du Sommet, which was a long distance. Burnside is seen as a yet more inhospitable environment. What information or message would you share with those parents?
ZACH CHURCHILL: We took our lead from the CSAP on this. They’re the ones that initiated the request and changed their priority capital request to the department because of the opportunity that arose with Newbridge coming onto the market for sale. There are reasons they did that that I think are sound.
We’ve had a very hard time finding a location on the peninsula that could accommodate a pre-Primary to Grade 12 school. That has proved to be a challenge. This project has been delayed as a result of not being able to find an appropriate location. We’re still years out from that project. We don’t know when - if there was even going to be a suitable piece of land or a facility that we could renovate to turn into an appropriately sized school for that.
We don’t even know at this point whether it was possible to achieve that original request from the CSAP, which is why they, I think, changed course. They saw the purchase of Newbridge as an opportunity to deal with a number of population pressure issues that they’re experiencing in HRM, not just at Mer et Monde but also Carrefour and Bois-Joli. This provides a solution to a variety of issues. It’s more cost effective. I was mentioning this to your colleague earlier. We were able to purchase and renovate this building for probably the same price that it would have cost us just to buy a piece of land on the peninsula.
Recognizing the difficulty in finding an appropriate piece of land where we could even build a school to the size to meet the pre-Primary to Grade 12 population on the peninsula. Recognizing that might not even have been a possibility to begin with. Recognizing that we had a great opportunity to purchase a brand new school and renovate it to public school standards and get kids in there years in advance of what we otherwise would have been able to do. I think the CSAP made the right decision to change course on their capital priority list.
I’m fully supportive of the decision that they made, to be honest. I think it was the best decision. I think the parents that do choose to send their kids to Newbridge will have access to a really high quality program in a brand new and fully renovated facility, one of the newest schools in the province, that also has direct access to brand new municipal recreation facilities.
I do get the concern over the distance. I can empathize with that, but the fact is we might not have had another option. There’s also going to be programming and facilities available at this new school that we would not have had available on the peninsula because we just wouldn’t have the land to build these facilities or have access to these facilities. I think the rationale was sound on this one. I’m quite pleased that we moved forward with the purchase.
Parents will have to do their own assessments of what their priorities are and look at the pros and cons from their own perspective of what they want for a learning experience for their kids. I understand that that can be a challenge, but we’re still committed to - it’s probably going to be a Primary to Grade 8, is what I’m hearing the CSAP has decided on, for the peninsula. We’re trying to find the location where we can proceed with that project and get it built so we can get the kids in their new facility because we know they need it.
LISA ROBERTS: Can I just ask, will the P-8 - I understood that there was an offer to the province that it could purchase the current École Mer et Monde, or is that not the case?
ZACH CHURCHILL: It would be a pre-Primary to Grade 8. I don’t know the answer to that question. It might be better asked of the CSAP.
LISA ROBERTS: I’ll yield my time to my colleague. Thank you very much.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Thank you, Madam Chair. Home stretch. Just a few minutes left. I want to just ask a couple of questions to conclude, around dyslexia.
This is an issue that we’ve heard from a lot of folks about. The minister read a proclamation around Dyslexia Awareness Day in the Chamber; I think it was last session. I’m curious, what supports are included in this budget to support children specifically diagnosed with dyslexia?
ZACH CHURCHILL: That’s a really important question. We’ve been meeting with a group that we recognize - I think, actually, Mr. Horne recognized that group in the Legislature the day they were here in the Chamber. We’ve had meetings with that group, I think several meetings at this point. I met with them personally in the initial stages. Then we had had follow-up meetings between Everyone Reads Nova Scotia and the curriculum.
I think there has been a recognition that enhanced work on the phonics side could be valuable, so we’re looking at options there, as we speak. That is actually part of our literacy strategy, too. We’re looking at technology that can be applied in school, as well. That conversation is ongoing; I’m hearing that it’s moving along. I think it will result in some positive enhancements.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Just to clarify, it sounds like you’re exploring specific interventions for kids with dyslexia. What we’ve heard is that while Reading Recovery is a great program - I know parents who have raved about it - according to these parents, it doesn’t actually meet the specific needs of learners with dyslexia.
One parent described it to me as, I think, if you need glasses but you don’t have glasses and you’re trying to learn how to read but you can’t see the page - just being made to try to read it over and over and over without actually getting the glasses - a different kind of intervention is needed.
Just back to my question: Is there money in this budget to support the interventions that are being explored? Is this sort of an exploration for a future date in terms of the phonics work or other specific interventions?
ZACH CHURCHILL: There is $600,000 for the assistive technology that we’re pursuing, but the conversation on this is continuing. Of course, I think it’s really important to get the feedback from the parents and the lived experience that their students have had in the system. We need to compare that to the best research that’s available, as well, on this topic. We will ensure that the evidence guides our direction on this, but, of course, the feedback that we’re getting from the group and the research that they have been providing us will help us there. I think there has been a recognition that enhancement in assistive technology, phonics, is key to seeing some improvements on this front.
The deputy has given me some more information on what’s happening. We’ve got a phonics awareness continuum in the Primary to Grade 3 system. This is part of our balanced literacy program. I can provide the member with the details of that program and what’s happening with it. This is being implemented now in our system.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: You mentioned being provided with literature by some of these folks advocating for their kids. We know that in many cases they’re out of pocket hundreds or thousands of dollars per year to support these learning needs outside of the school system.
Is there any kind of formal needs assessment or literature review or research being done? You mentioned you’re exploring some stuff, but how is that being determined within the department?
ZACH CHURCHILL: That happens on an ongoing basis. We stay up to speed on research and do our best to keep up with best practices. As we further develop our assistive technology plan, we think we’ll see some helpful progress on this front, as well.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Can you tell me who would be in charge of implementing these changes in the department?
ZACH CHURCHILL: There are two executive directors that share this responsibility; one is the Executive Director of Education Innovation Programs and Services and the other is the Executive Director of Student Services.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Do you know if these folks are liaising with that group of parents regularly, or others?
ZACH CHURCHILL: Yes. I’ve met with them personally. Staff have had follow-up meetings. I believe there are more meetings scheduled, as well. There will be more meetings scheduled, as well.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I’m really glad to hear that. I think, with that, I’ve been through most of the questions that we have. I’m sure we will have more.
I want to thank, again, the minister and the Departments of both Finance and Treasury Board and Education and Early Childhood Development for taking the time to be here and answer all our questions late into the evening, and answer them very promptly. I look forward to receiving the supplementary information.
I know that there are a few minutes left, so if the minister has closing remarks, that would be great. Or perhaps some of my colleagues would like to ask a question or two.
THE CHAIR: I believe we have a couple of members from the Liberal Party who would like to ask some questions. Yes. We need to use another 20 minutes.
HON. DEREK MOMBOURQUETTE: Excellent. Get your notebook out, minister. It’s going to be an interesting 20 minutes.
I’ll start us off and some of my other colleagues may want to jump in. What I always do when I have this opportunity in Estimates is talk a bit about home, in Cape Breton, and some of the work that has been happening on the Island.
I can tell you from my own experience - I’d like to go on the record and thank all the educators at home, regardless of the role that they play. They play one of the most important roles on the Island in educating our kids. I see it every day with my wife, who is a teacher at Riverview High; she’s in the learning centre there. She loves her job and she’s been with the school for a while. I see how hard she works and how hard her colleagues work every day.
I guess to talk a bit about Cape Breton, there’s been a lot of investments that have happened on the Island. I can say that as a young family trying to start out, my wife was one of those teachers that travelled around the Island to get those consecutive terms to eventually get to a contract. It was about a 10-year process for her at the time. At that time, really, this was previous to some of the investments in the class caps and some of the things that have happened in the last number of years.
Minister, if you want to elaborate a bit just on some of the investments that you have made on the Island, if you have it in front of you, that would be appreciated.
ZACH CHURCHILL: Thank you so much for the question. This has been a very exciting time for the education system. We have embarked on unprecedented increases in investment as a government. We’ve hired more people than ever before. This has happened at a time where, in some areas, we’re actually seeing declines in enrolment, which is happening, actually, in Cape Breton Island.
Under the old system, over the last few years, Cape Breton would have seen a decrease in full-time equivalent positions for the Island, but because of the approach that our government has taken, you’ve actually had a net increase of 131-plus net new staff to the Island.
I can go over where those positions have been. For the class cap, we’ve had 39 full-time equivalents hired. Reading Recovery, we’ve had 13.5. Actually, we’ve had 14.5 for Reading Recovery. Math mentors, we’ve had nine. Math interventionists, we have six. Literacy leads and literacy mentors, we have four. There have been three additional guidance counsellors hired. This is all just last year. Sorry, this is since 2013-14.
We’ve had an additional 10 full-times hired for class caps for Grades 7 to 12. Junior high math and literacy supports, we have another five full-time equivalents. Two attendance workers. Senior high support - all of this came from the Council on Classroom Conditions - we have 11 there. From the Commission on Inclusive Education - this is for the 2018-19 year - we have three behavioural supports, two autism specialists, two specialists for LCT, LST and PP.
We have alternative education teachers, too, to deliver the alternative education program. We’ve got two guidance counsellors - this is for 2019-20 - two additional autism teaching specialists, two additional resource teachers. We have two more alternative education teachers. For non-NSTU positions, we have four child and youth care practitioners, six more educational assistants, a parent navigator, one school psychologist, and a speech language pathologist.
Student health nurses - we have one, and, again, another alternative program EA. In 2019-20, we also have an additional four child and youth care practitioners, four education assistants, and one more student support worker in this budget, three additional SchoolsPlus support workers, a 0.5 student health nurse, a school psychologist at one new FTE and another EA for the alternative program.
The total of teaching and non-teaching supports since our government has been in power is 131. Again, this is at a time of enrolment decline in Cape Breton. We’ve got another round of hires happening as a result of our budget this year, which has an additional $15 million to hire more inclusive education supports. These numbers are going to go up this year. I’m excited to have you and Minister MacLellan get back to Cape Breton Island and talk about how many people we’re hiring for the education system there.
DEREK MOMBOURQUETTE: That’s actually excellent information for everyone to have at home. I’m going to pass it over to my colleague here from Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank, he has a question to ask you.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank.
BILL HORNE: I’d like to ask a question on the new alignment of the schools out in the Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank area. I guess the Grade 6s are going to be going to Georges P. Vanier for Fall River, but Beaver Bank-Monarch Drive Elementary for Beaver Bank. I’m just wondering if you can talk about how that’s going to work. Do we need portables?
ZACH CHURCHILL: In order to accommodate the final rollout of pre-Primary and recognizing that there’s already some space challenges in HRM as a result of the population growth here, there is some grade reconfiguration that’s happening. I’ll get the member the specifics on those schools. He’s right; the school that he mentioned - Grade 6s, I believe - will be heading to the middle school.
They will have access to enhanced programming opportunities. There are more extracurricular and recreational opportunities at that school. We do recognize that it can be a concern for some parents when they first get the news. Grade reconfiguration has been something that’s always happened in the education system.
It happens when there are space pressures, when there’s growth or decreases in student body populations. The transitions tend to go very smoothly. They’ve happened in my own constituency on various occasions since I’ve been representing that area. Although there’s an initial concern, once the students start experiencing their education experience, those concerns tend to dissipate.
There may be an additional portable that’s required. We’re going to get staff to confirm that and get back to you. Oh, sorry. They have the information already; you folks are weapons. Georges P. Vanier is going to be requiring two portables. Harold T. Barrett and Georges P. Vanier are the only two junior high schools in the HRCE with two grades - 7 and 8. Having the students in each school for three years will allow them to build a stronger connection with their peers, teachers and support staff, according to this brief.
BILL HORNE: I understand that SchoolsPlus goes along with the new changes in the schools? We haven’t had it before except for one school out in Oldfield. I’m just wondering if you can just elaborate a little bit about SchoolsPlus.
ZACH CHURCHILL: Absolutely. I’m very happy to. SchoolsPlus is a program that is now accessible at every single school community in the province. The purpose of that program is to provide enhanced mental health supports and wraparound services for students, whether a student is dealing with regular stress associated with the challenge of student life or acute mental health issues or anxiety issues or having an issue at home or any sort of challenge. SchoolsPlus is designed to help get them to the right areas where they could be serviced properly, whether that’s a child and youth care practitioner in the education system, whether that is a guidance counsellor, whether that is a school psychologist.
They also have the network to provide other government department support and to connect students and families to other government supports. If there is a mental health issue and we need to have a referral to the hospital or anything like that, that can happen, as well. If the issue is a justice-related issue or a community service-related issue, then there’s support there for families and students.
This is all about providing that wraparound care for students and is connected to all the other specialists and behavioural supports and folks that we’ve hired in the system to deal with these challenging issues. Now every single school community in the province has access to this.
BILL HORNE: Just to follow up on the possibilities that Lockview High’s family of schools might change a little bit. Maybe some of the students in high school, instead of going to Lockview would go to Millwood? I understand Millwood might be having not as many students there? Maybe that’s in five years from now, or 10? Is there anything to this story?
ZACH CHURCHILL: We haven’t been advised of that by the region, but that’s certainly a conversation we can facilitate between the member and the regional executive director, who might have some better insights in terms of what the long-term plans are for school configuration in that community.
THE CHAIR: Thank you, Mr. Horne. We move on to the member for Halifax Armdale. Ms. Diab.
HON. LENA METLEGE DIAB: I appreciate this opportunity. It’s rare that it happens. I don’t think I’ve ever had an opportunity to actually ask a question in Estimates to any of my colleagues. This is - what - the seventh year? So, I very much appreciate this.
Let me just take an opportunity to put it on record, to really thank the department, minister, staff, all those involved. I can’t express enough on behalf of my constituents, and really, my grandchildren, quite frankly, the fact that we now have a pre-Primary program. I cannot tell you how excited I was as a grandmother. My kids are all older now, but as a grandmother to have seen my first grandchild actually attend the pre-Primary. Now I’ve got the second one attending this coming September.
Just a bit of a story on that. I have been, as a parent, involved in elementary, junior high, high school - so basically Primary to Grade 12. I have a large gap between my first and my fourth child, so I’ve been involved in the school system for 25 consecutive years as a parent. The year that my youngest was completing Grade 12, my grandchild was starting school. For me, it has been a continuous experience. It has all been in the Halifax city system.
As a parent, I’ve lived through a lot with my children. There was a period of time, back in the 1990s, when I camped out in front of a school to allow my children to go to French immersion because it was, at that time, a first-come-first-served basis. I remember actually camping out to have my kids go there. I also remember back as long ago as 1995 when we actually had portables in the school. My daughter was in Grade 4, 5 and it’s actually the same school that I now serve that community – and we still have the portables.
We’ve come a long way. In terms of pre-Primary, again, I cannot express enough my appreciation to the Premier, quite frankly, for having the insight and the foresight to put this forward. Also, having ministers and staff and everybody to push and push hard for it. Really, in fact, there was a lot of skepticism out there in terms of this being too ambitious.
You know what? In government we don’t move as fast as we’d like to, particularly for some of us who’ve never been in government before getting elected to this. Coming from the private world, sometimes you think government doesn’t work as fast. With this particular one, I think we got it. I’m very pleased with that.
I’m also very pleased to have attended the final announcement at École Chebucto Heights Elementary School, where you did speak about the principal, Craig, who is a phenomenal principal in his own right. His personal story, he tells it when the students finish Grade 6, a couple of times, it’s very inspiring. He tells it and every time, I think, parents and we on the stage actually shed tears.
He was an individual, when he was going through elementary, who was very much struggling. He struggled to a point where he dropped out. Through encouragement and through whatnot, he ended up finishing his school and ended up getting his education degree and everything else. He’s now a superb, superb educator and a principal. Part of the reason, I think, is because he lived that life. Sometimes when you live an experience, it’s much easier than - I know there’s only a couple of minutes left.
I also want to thank - let me put this on record - the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development for approving the personal development credit option for high school students.
ZACH CHURCHILL: Thank you so much, everyone, for your comments. Ministers Diab and Mombourquette and member Horne, thank you so much for your comments.
I want to thank the Minister of Immigration for her help in making sure that we immigrate new Canadians through the early childhood education stream that she developed in her department. She has shown incredible leadership on the immigration file. It’s actually helping us staff the 600-plus jobs - soon to be 800-plus jobs - that we’re creating for early childhood educators.
I do want to thank the members of the Opposition for your thoughtful commentary, as always. I very much appreciated the opportunity to get to know you folks over the last couple of years. You’re formidable opponents. You have forced me to be better at my job, to answer your questions and to keep up with you both in the House. Thank you very much for your questions here and your approach to debate, always, in the Chamber and in the Red Room.
THE CHAIR: Shall Resolution E5 stand?
The resolution stands.
Thank you, everyone. Thank you, minister. This has been amazing information that we all have enjoyed thoroughly. Thank you.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 9:42 p.m.]