Classroom conditions council releases first 18 recommendations

The first areas up for discussion included attendance policy, student assessments, and the contentious computer programs PowerSchool and TIENET.

Council is tasked with examining concerns about teacher overwork and other systemic classroom problems

The Council to Improve Classroom Conditions held its first meetings in Halifax from March 21 to 23. (CBC)

The group tasked with making recommendations to improve classrooms in Nova Scotia released its initial ideas Thursday following three days of meetings. 

The first subjects under discussion included attendance policy, student assessments, and the contentious computer programs PowerSchool and TIENET. 

Dartmouth High school English teacher Michael Cosgrove said he went into the discussions with an open mind but "a healthy amount of skepticism." By day three, he said he thought the session was "intensely engaging, productive, and very open." 

"It was good," he said. "I guess ultimately time will tell. The teachers, students, parents, and Nova Scotians will be ultimately the judge of it."

The group includes nine teachers, one student, a parent, a guidance counsellor and representatives from the teachers union and the education department. The creation and mandate of the council was included in the contract the provincial government imposed on teachers in February. 

18 recommendations so far

Some of the 18 recommendations include items that could quickly be put into practice, like allowing teachers to take up to two business days to respond to parent emails in order to minimize the disruption to class time. 

The group also recommended changes to the education department's attendance policy. 

"In terms of attendance, going forward we want to allow teachers to have age appropriate consequences and supports for students that are unexcused, that's a big one for us," Cosgrove said.  

Other recommendations included: 

  • Asking Service Nova Scotia to recommend changes to streamline the PowerSchool/TIENET programs, which teachers have called difficult to use
  • Ending three provincial student assessments
  • Putting a five-year moratorium on any new assessments

The council is expected to produce an initial report by April 28. Michael Cosgrove said he thought that could happen. 

"I think it was an aggressive schedule, and we're on task," he said. "We got a lot done...we spent a lot of time in that room talking about some of the issues that Nova Scotians and educators really feel deeply about." 

Education Minister Karen Casey has not been part of the meetings but said she's been briefed and they seem to be proceeding "very well." 

"I'm anxiously waiting to see what comes out of their three day [session,]" she said. 

"We'll hear that today, and if there are things that we can implement immediately, that's exactly what we want to do. We've said that there will be an interim report at the end of April, but that doesn't mean we can't do anything before the end of April." 

The council is scheduled to meet again for four days next month. 

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Shaina Luck

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Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca