Nfld. & Labrador

5-year education plan showing early success as 2nd year begins, says province

Just over a year after St. John Bosco was one of the first schools to participate in the province's new plan, its principal says the benefits are already evident.

'I could not be more thankful,' says St. John Bosco principal

St. John Bosco principal Linda Hart says her school is thankful to be one of the first under the province's education action plan. (CBC)

The provincial government says it's making significant progress on its five-year education action plan, with 60 per cent of the recommended actions taken, or underway, so far.

The three-phase plan began in 40 schools across the province last year, and was expanded to another 40 for this school year.

"I could not be more thankful for the Phase 1 program and how it has played out in our school," said Linda Hart, principal of St. John Bosco, which was among the first schools in the province to be part of the plan.

For schools like hers, the plan has meant new staffers focusing on reading and learning, additional resources in the school's library or learning commons, and varying approaches to increasing student literacy in math and reading.

"There's just all kinds of wonderful things happening throughout the day," Hart said at a press conference Thursday held by the provincial government to tout the plan's progress so far.

The action plan

The need to improve the K-12 education system in Newfoundland and Labrador was recognized early in the Liberal government's mandate, Finance Minister Tom Osborne said at the event.

The plan has nine areas of focus: inclusive education, student mental health and wellness, mathematics and reading, Indigenous education, early years, multicultural education, career and co-operative education, and teacher education and professional development.

Students at St. John Bosco pose with their principal and government officials on Thursday. (CBC)

Within each of the focus areas, various measures have been introduced or will be introduced as the rollout continues. The plan includes the introduction of new roles, and the expansion of staffers in existing roles: school-based reading specialists, teaching and learning assistants, learning resource teachers, math specialists, and English as a Second Language teachers.

"Overall, 350 teacher resources are being hired over a three-year period to ensure students have access to the supports they need," said Brian Warr, the province's education minister.

A framework for multicultural education is being developed that will expand programming for ESL students and bring multiculturalism into the curriculum at all grade levels. There is also a focus on improving outcomes for Indigenous students, developed in consultation with all Indigenous groups, that will allow those groups more flexibility to develop their own curriculum, said the provincial government.

The program has provided more resources for teachers as well, Hart said. A bursary program was introduced for K-6 teachers who want to upgrade their math qualifications, and so far 115 teachers have taken advantage, according to a government press release. 

A social and emotional curriculum was introduced last fall, and work is ongoing with the school districts to introduce new healthy-eating policies and guidelines. New policies have been introduced to improve the co-ordination of services for students with exceptionalities, and there are two new courses at Memorial University's faculty of education focusing on exceptionalities.

The 2019 provincial budget allocated $13 million for the plan's implementation, up $6 million from the previous year.

The results so far

Now, a year and three months after the plan's July 2018 launch, 50 actions are completed or substantially underway and 32 medium- and long-term plans are underway, according to the provincial government said.

Hart said the results are already being seen at her school. The new employees have been a "rich resource" for both the students and their colleagues, she said, and the new approach gives teachers the chance to learn more skills and collaborate and reflect on the work being done in the classrooms.

Most important, Hart said, students are benefiting. The approach to improving math and reading literacy begins at a universal level, she said, then gets more specific, looking into how individual students can be helped.

Education Minister Brian Warr, left, and Finance Minister Tom Osborne say the education action plan is a priority for the province. (CBC)

"What our teachers really love is that supports can be provided at any grade level to any child," she said.

It's important that the additional resources incorporate the children's interests, Hart said. For example, the learning commons has computers and tablets in addition to books, and coding is part of the curriculum.

"When you go back to student engagement and looking at where students are nowadays, they like the gadgets and they like the electronics," she said.

The non-academic aspects of the changes, like the social and emotional learning, are valuable as well, Hart said.

"It's not an add on, it's not an extra course, it's teaching students things about good character, resilience, being kind to one another."

Schools that have not yet been incorporated into the plan will be part of it in the next school year, said Warr.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Anthony Germain

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