OCTOBER 27TH, 2003
Many of the reports completed in our provincial schools seem to suggest that teachers need to devote more time to teaching science and mathematics. Perhaps we do, but as much attention as those subjects deserve, learning to read has been and must remain the first and last measure of how successful a school really is. Not even the impact of television, the computer and other modern technology has changed the need for children to be successful at learning to read.
According to the Department of Education’s document, “Learning for Life”, reading is the number one priority. It is the key to all learning. How well does your school teach reading? The chances are that it teaches it quite well ----if it has reasonably sized classes, ample although not necessarily elaborate equipment, and the support of our parents. There is probably more “research” done on reading than on any other skills taught in our schools. The Department of Education, along with our Board’s program division, are working with teachers, principals, and parents on a priority basis to increase student achievement in reading as well as writing and grammar. The focus is directed towards:
‒ more books, teachers and classroom resources;
‒ professional development;
‒ more time for reading;
‒ early intervention for at risk students;
‒ testing for progress, support for students having difficulties;
‒ a literacy standard for graduation
In the past, provincial test results have been used by the Department of Education, school boards, and schools to improve programs. For the first time, as a result of individualized scoring, the test results will be used to identify and help struggling students. Again, for the first time, individual students’ tests will be provided to parents. On the week of October 13th, between the days of the 14th - 17th, the grade six Literacy Assessment was administered to all grade six students by the grade six teachers in our system. A support strategy is being developed so that struggling students receive the help they need.
Students will be tested again in grade nine. If some students continue to struggle, added support will continue to be available in high school. Students can write the tests again in grades ten, eleven and twelve. Students are expected to meet a literacy standard, assessed through the testing program, before graduation. Consultation will take place on ways to ensure the standard is fairly applied to all students. When there is practice and motivation at home and at school, most students learn to read successfully. Libraries help, quiet time helps, and surely caring teachers help. But the basic motivation for reading still comes from the home.
Board staff have been busy over the last month with a number of priorities directed by the regional school board. In concert with our Director of Human Resources, Beth MacIsaac, and Co-ordinator, Bernie MacKinnon, we have reached a tentative agreement with the Cape Breton and Northside locals of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union. Talks began in the spring of 2003 and if ratified by the board and membership of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union, the agreement will be effective until July 31st, 2005. A special thanks goes out to our Solicitor, Robert Sampson, Beth MacIsaac and Bernie MacKinnon for their time and effort in helping to bring about a mutual agreement with our Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union staff.
After assessing the progress of the Strategic Plan for the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, it was apparent that the regional board should review its plan, make necessary changes and adjust the Board’s course based on these evaluations and stakeholders’ input. The revised plan takes into consideration emergent strategies, and changes affecting the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board’s intended course for the next several years. Director, Archie MacEachern, along with his staff, took the initial ownership of this process back in the fall of 2001. The process was comprehensive and detailed. A special thank you to Archie MacEachern for his time, devotion and leadership in bringing this most important process to a successful completion. Director MacEachern thanks the staff, the Board, the exterior stakeholders and the exterior Facilitator, Dr. Mike Foster of Carmac Associates, for their work during this planning process.
From our strategic plan, it is obvious that the ultimate vision is far reaching, comprehensive and carries budget implications. We plan to divide this into manageable steps with attainable short time frames. We will all be amazed by what will be accomplished for our students. Budget constraints will have some impact because of our ever declining enrolment, but our strategic plan will be continually assessed and revised as we progress. The Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board is dedicated to advancing forward while developing a top notch, outstanding school region. We will learn from our mistakes, make necessary adjustments and continue our quest to become the very best we can be.
In keeping with my theme of staff appreciation, I would like to take a few minutes to highlight the work and commitment of our Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Board’s bus drivers. The Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board employees 114 regular bus drivers and 30 causal bus drivers. These drivers travel over 3 million kilometers a year with the most precious of all charges – our children. It is most appropriate that we recognize these people during the recent “School Bus Safety Awareness Week” in Nova Scotia. The former Education Minister, Angus MacIsaac, indicated at a past press release that: “We have an excellent safety record in Nova Scotia, thanks to our bus drivers, our support staff, our safety standards and the Department of Education’s bus replacement policy”. When the Minister of Education recognizes the work of bus drivers, it must be a high priority for the government of Nova Scotia.
Our own bus drivers are proud recipients of the Gold Award for safety from the Nova Scotia Pupil Transportation Conference. Our safety record is one of the best in the province. Our drivers continuously go beyond the call of duty to assist the children in our region. When you hear stories of drivers assisting students who miss their connection to home, or when children have a bad day, a friendly comment from a caring driver puts everything back into focus for them. I have seen the kindness of our drivers who provide treats to our children on many occasions. These drivers are people who care for children. Bus drivers are the first contact with young students when they first attend school. For thirteen years, the bus driver is the contact every morning and every evening. When the young adults graduate from school, the bus driver is their last contact.
We are proud of our drivers for their competency, their efficiency, their dedication and for the care that they have for our children. There are no greater cheerleaders for these drivers than what we hear from their Director, Don Matheson; their Supervisor, Colleen MacMullin; the transportation support staff at each department and the administrative bus personnel. Next month we will look at the secretaries that work for our regional board.
Madame Chair, I ask if the Board would take time to review the many reports on awards, events, student celebrations and schools innovations that are attached to my report.