Former President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils, Peter Whittle says there has been a critical breakdown in communication between Education Minister, Dale Kirby and education advocates in the province.
The Provincial Federation of School Councils acts as liaison between school councils across the province and advocates for change based on their membership’s concerns.
Whittle says Kirby worked with the NL Federation of School Councils several times while he was in the opposition as a New Democrat and later a Liberal. Kirby helped the organization lobby for many issues including smaller classroom sizes. However,Whittle says, since becoming Minister of Education Kirby has not maintained his position on these issues.
“Mr. Kirby changed his position on pretty much everything we lobbied for together while he was in opposition,” Whittle said.
Whittle feels that it is difficult to approach Kirby with concerns about policy because the Minister is overly defensive about having changed his approach to so many issues.
“…it’s difficult to take the Minister at his word and negotiate with him or discuss things with him,” Whittle said.
Whittle says he is not the only education advocate who has been having trouble communicating with Kirby, citing a recent public disagreement between the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association, Jim Dinn and the Minister.
Whittle is frustrated that he wasn’t able to have productive discussions with Kirby about how students and teachers have been impacted by the most recent provincial budget.
He says cuts to the school system have led to overcrowded classrooms and not enough classroom materials.
“Schools in this province have been cut to the bone as we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, parents are being asked to bring in supplies to help augment the education process,” Whittle said.
The NL Federation of School Councils was also disappointed that the provincial budget didn’t put any more resources into the inclusion program.
The inclusion model sees that students of varying learning capabilities are all taught in the same classroom. If it is properly resourced the inclusion program allows students who require additional support to get the assistance they need while participating in the school community.
Whittle says that for the inclusion model to be effective schools need more resources to hire behavioural specialists and individuals who are trained to provide additional support.
The deterioration of communication between the Minister and education advocates in the province has meant that these concerns aren’t being addressed.
“We continue to bring the issues forward to the Minister but we haven’t made any headway. The government decided the approach it was going to take and has pretty much stuck to that approach.”
Whittle says he doesn’t know what to expect from upcoming budgets but he hopes any further cuts will have a less direct impact on students.
“The quality of education that our kids need and deserve is what’s under threat here, so I would hope that future budgets are going to focus more on administration at the confederation building within the department and board.”
Peter Whittle resigned from his position as this article was being posted.