Nfld. & Labrador

New emphasis on reading skills in K-12 system, $7M towards task force recommendations

The provincial government will spend $7 million to implement recommendations by the education task force.

New schools for Coley's Point and Paradise, plans to replace Bay d'Espoir Academy

A child sits in a school classroom. (Tom Woodward/Flickr Creative Commons)

The government is putting a new emphasis on improving reading skills in the public school system.

The new budget includes just under $7 million to bring in some of the recommendations in the Premier's Task Force on Improving Educational Outcomes.

Another goal is to smooth out some of the bumps in the inclusive education system in this province.

Teachers in the K-12 system have been vocal about struggling to meet all the needs of the children in their classes while staying on target with lessons.

A task force to look at how to improve educational outcomes in the province made its second stop in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in February 2017. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The budget includes $3.1 million for reading specialists, learning resource teachers and instructional assistants.

There's also $500,000 for school libraries and learning resource centres, plus $1.9 million toward professional development for teachers.

One year after Education Minister Dale Kirby said there wouldn't be more cuts to education, it seems he has held true to his word — overall spending in education is up from last year's budget.

104 reading specialists within 3 years

Kirby said a pilot project involving 40 schools will start this fall, and some pilots have already started.

Kirby said there will be 104 reading specialists in schools within three years, plus more teacher-librarians. He also promised all schools across the province would see extra resources.

"This will be a three-year project that will transform the system in so many ways," said Kirby.

He said teachers have told him they've seen children go up a grade level or higher with literacy interventions.

Education Minister Dale Kirby speaks with reporters at Confederation Building Tuesday. (John Gushue/CBC)

Kirby has also promised new instructional assistants to help teachers during some of their lessons. He said it's a move to catch up with other provinces who already have them in place.

"Teachers have often said to me, 'I need an extra set of hands. I need help,'" Kirby told reporters.

He also said a new education action plan will be done before the end of the year.

Inclusive education No. 1 issue

Last year, the government's Task Force Report on Improving Educational outcomes put forward a whopping 82 recommendations.

It included changing the way math and language arts are assessed, and coming up with new approaches to students with mental illnesses.

One recommendation was to bring what the authors called "instructional assistants" into the classroom.

Kirby said 15 recommendations have already been acted upon, and the implementation of 50 per cent of the total number will be underway by September.

Inclusive education was the biggest issue teachers raised during a forum with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in early 2017.

Although they expressed support for the concept, teachers said in practice it wasn't working properly.

We are going to make significant changes to how inclusion has been done.- Dale Kirby, education minister

Several referred to the complexities of classrooms with large numbers of students with different types of exceptionalities, including intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities and behavioural problems.

Some teachers said they were having a hard time staying on track with course material because there were so many different learning plans to follow, as well as frequent interruptions. They worried that they didn't have enough time to give every student individual attention.

"We are going to make significant changes to how inclusion has been done so that every child, regardless of their ability, gets the appropriate interventions," Kirby told journalists.

The relationship between Kirby and the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association has been fractious in the past, but Kirby made a point of thanking both the association's leaders and its members for sharing their concerns.  

The windows are boarded up and the doors are shut at the former Bay d'Espoir Academy. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

New schools and new plans

Other K-12 education-related spending announced in the budget includes:

  • $11.4 million to build new schools in Paradise and Coley's Point.
  • $4.3 million to finish an extension to Mobile Central High.
  • $1.4 million for plans for a new Francophone school in St. John's, as well as to plan to replace Bay d'Espoir Academy in Milltown-Head of Bay d'Espoir, which was burned by an arsonist in 2017.
  • $15.5 million to repair and maintain existing schools.
  • No money to replace Bishop Feild Elementary in St. John's. Kirby says he's still waiting for an engineer's report, but said there's money to replace the building, if necessary. Serious structural problems mean the building has been closed for several months.

About the Author

Ramona Dearing has worked as a reporter, host and producer at CBC's St. John's bureau.

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