Teachers, parents give their take on what Manitoba's school system needs

Teachers, parents, and school administrators came together Saturday to give the commission reviewing Manitoba's kindergarten-to-Grade-12 school system their take on what the province's education system needs.

Public consultations part of education review

Clayton Manness, right, co-chair of Manitoba's Commission on Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education, speaks to participants of a workshop held Saturday to gather feedback from the public. (Sarah Petz/CBC)

Teachers, parents and school administrators came together Saturday to educate a review commission about what Manitoba's school system needs. 

It's part of a provincial review of Manitoba's K to 12 education system, searching for a "renewed vision" and possible changes to existing systems, structures and programs. Despite recent improvements on standardized tests, Manitoba students still get the lowest scores in the country in reading, math and science.

Public consultations began Wednesday, and will be held across the province in coming weeks.

Nicholas Kelly, a principal in the Louis Riel School Division, said it was crucial for teachers and principals to make their voices heard.

"There isn't a more important thing for me to do on a Saturday morning than to be involved in this process," he said.

Kelly said he sees poverty as the key barrier educators are facing, because kids are coming to school hungry, and without their basic needs met.

"Until we address that need and address how we're going to remove those barriers that are put in place for children and families due to poverty, we're gonna continue to have low test scores, we're gonna to continue to have struggling students," he said.

"We need to continue to send the same message to our government, that teachers and schools can't do it all, and that we need greater support in addressing the issues and the impact that poverty has on student learning and impacts on families."

A mix of teachers, parents, and others connected to Manitoba's education system gathered at the Canad Inns Club Regent Saturday to give their feedback to the commission. (Sarah Petz/CBC)

Kelly added that he thinks the commissioners need to get into schools, to see firsthand the realities that teachers are facing.

During the workshop, Lorelei Bunkowski, a teacher and principal with Seven Oaks School Division, spoke out about her concerns that the province might remove principals and vice-principals from the teachers union.

This was something consultant Avis Glaze, who was hired by the Manitoba government to help lead the review, recommended in her review of Nova Scotia's education system.

Bunkowski said she was worried that this would take principals and vice-principals out of the classroom and make them disconnected from the day-to-day realities in their schools.

"The question … I think for principals is, if we are taken out of the union, then who are we? Are we just simply managers, are we just supervisors?" she said.

"We want to keep that … idea that I'm a principal/teacher, I'm someone that knows a lot about good classroom practice, and that can then translate into the work I do with teachers and kids and families."

Reg Klassen, chief superintendent for Frontier School Division, said the review is an opportunity to make some significant changes and, as a province, to be a leader in education reform. 

"Let's not just do what other provinces have done," he said.

Participants were asked to discuss and give feedback on a wide range of ideas. (Sarah Petz/CBC)

Participants in Saturday's workshop were asked to give their opinion on a wide range of topics, including sex education, literacy, teacher/staff workloads, and amalgamating or eliminating local school boards.

Clayton Manness, co-chair of the commission, said the workshop was meant to give the commission a better sense of how people view the system.

"We are trying to focus on what it is we can do for the student body to be able to give them a better opportunity to learn going forward," he said.

The commission is expected to release its findings in February 2020.