The Nova Scotia government has hired an expert who once served as Ontario's royal commissioner on education to conduct an in-depth examination of how education is administered in the province — and expects the newly hired Avis Glaze to complete her work by the end of the year.

Even the "internationally recognized expert" admits it's a lot of work and little time to do it.

"It is a tall order," she told reporters during a news conference to outline her work. "I'll work day and night.

"I'm used to working long hours but we will get it done."

Education Minister Zach Churchill has conferred a hefty mandate on the one-time special education teacher.

"We're giving a lot of leeway to Dr. Glaze here to focus on areas she believes are important for student success, from an administrative perspective," he said.

"She has not been given any directives in terms of outcomes that we're seeking."

Timeline too short?

According to the one-and-a-half page Terms of Reference supplied by the Education Department, Glaze is to "conduct a review with a focus on a student-centred education system and make recommendations for improvement" in four areas:

  • Roles, responsibilities and administrative structure of school boards and board administration, as well as the Department of Education.
  • Processes and management structure in all areas of administration and operations including human resources, finance, transportation and programs to ensure effective and efficient use of resources.
  • Increased accountability, transparency, effectiveness and efficiency in decision-making, including budget decisions and resource allocation.
  • Strengthening interagency service delivery for children, youth and their families.

Although a final report is due by the end of the year, an interim report is due the first week of November.

That worries the head of the association that represents school boards in Nova Scotia.

Hank Middleton, president of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, is pleased that Glaze has been chosen to conduct the review.

Avis Glaze and Zach Churchill

Avis Glaze, shown next to Education Minister Zach Churchill, previously served as Ontario's education commissioner. (Jean LaRoche/CBC)

"She has immense expertise nationally, internationally in education and if this review is going to be carried out in an impartial manner she would seem to be the person to do it," he told reporters after the introductory news conference.

But Middleton believes the timeline for her work is insufficient.

"We don't think it's enough time but it's the time that's allotted," he said. "Should more time be needed, we have the guarantee from the minister that more time will be allocated."

'Absolutely open'

Glaze said she was approaching her work with a completely open mind.

'I think we have one of best minds in education in the world to lead this for us.' - Education Minister Zach Churchill

"I don't have an idea of what I'm going to write," she said. "Believe me it's an open, tabula rasa (blank slate), they would say. Absolutely open but I want to spend most of my time listening to people first before even thinking of making recommendations." 

Churchill confirmed anything is possible in terms of change, from the elimination of school boards or their amalgamation or an overhaul of his own department.

"We've put a tall order in front of her, for sure, but I think we have one of best minds in education in the world to lead this for us."

NDP Education Critic Claudia Chender worried the education system, which is being subjected to multiple reviews and examinations this year, may be overwhelmed by yet more work.

"My concern is that we have two other processes ongoing currently," she said. "We have the commission on inclusive education and we have the classroom conditions and all of these, and we have the pre-primary review starting. 

"These all have different end dates so the idea that these could be a coordinated effort is very challenging for me to understand."

The province is paying Glaze $75,000 and covering her expenses while she is in the province including meals, travel and accommodations.