School board reps worry diverse voices will be silenced with education changes

The controversial shakeup to education in Nova Scotia is worrying some school board representatives who say it risks silencing the voices of Mi'kmaq and African Nova Scotian communities.

'That's a sad day for us because we fought hard to have that,' says Darren Googoo

Nova Scotia is doing away with regional school boards in exchange for stronger school advisory councils and a single, provincial council.

Upcoming changes to the education system in Nova Scotia concern some school board representatives who advocate for Mi'kmaq and African Nova Scotian families.

On the advice of consultant Avis Glaze, the province has moved to dissolve school boards, meaning there will be no regional representatives for diverse communities. 

"There have been some good things and some good work being done around the province when it comes to education, but this report, I think personally, is going to stifle that," said Archy Beals, African Nova Scotian representative with the Halifax Regional School Board. 

"And we are going to continue to be lost in a system that has not been, and continues not to be, friendly to us as a community, as a marginalized, disenfranchised and disengaged community. It's going to be even worse," he added. 

Regional representation needed

Beals said it's his job to advocate on behalf of students and raise important issues, like reporting the number of racist incidents in schools.

He doesn't know what happens to that work now. 

The province has said it will replace schools boards by strengthening school advisory councils and creating a single provincial advisory council. 

Archy Beals is a member of the Halifax Regional School Board. (CBC)

But one council can't address the varied needs of different communities across the province, said Beals. 

"You know, rural issues are different from urban issues. Issues in the African Nova Scotian community are different than issues in the Mi'kmaq community. Personally, I don't know how this council is going to work," he said. 

Darren Googoo, Mi'kmaw representative with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, agrees the province's alternatives could still leave gaps.

Regional boards got things done because they had direct communication with the superintendent, he said. 

Darren Googoo with Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board wants to know what kind of mechanisms communities will have to have their voices heard. (Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board)

"So we lose our voice there and that's a sad day for us because we fought hard to have that," said Googoo, who's also director of education for Membertou First Nation. 

In her report, Glaze also recommended that teachers and principals have the power to buy their own textbooks and resource materials.

"That's a concern for me because if you have a teacher with bias then the potential always exists for them in their school to exclude the Mi'kmaq, to exclude them from their teaching, to exclude them from their classroom experience," Googoo said.

Consultation underway

Karen Hudson, executive director of the Black Educators Association, said the elected African Nova Scotian reps have worked hard to have their voices heard when it comes to issues like closing the achievement gap.

"Those learners who have been disenfranchised, they're marginalized for so long, how do we ensure that they're included in those discussions? So I'm trying to figure that out," said Hudson. 

Dr. Glaze noted in her report the importance of ensuring that the diversity of our culture was reflected in the highest-levels of decision-making within the department.- Nova Scotia Department of Education 

In an email, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said it's working with several groups, including the Black Educators' Association and Council on Mi'kmaq Education, to determine what representation will look like on the advisory councils. 

The department said it will also create two new positions at the executive director level "to ensure Mi'kmaq and African Nova Scotians education and student achievement needs are represented in the curriculum.

"Dr. Glaze noted in her report the importance of ensuring that the diversity of our culture was reflected in the highest-levels of decision-making within the department," wrote spokesperson Heather Fairbairn.

The Department of Education, led by Minister Zach Churchill, says it's creating two new executive director positions to ensure Mi'kmaq and African Nova Scotian voices are heard. (Canadian Press)

But both Googoo and Beals say they already have a seat at the provincial table, and what's needed is representation at the community level. 

Googoo is a member of the Council on Mi'kmaq Education, which was created on the recommendation of a 1993 task force.

He said while some progress has been made since then, many of the recommendations were never implemented.

"I don't think it's a matter of us having better voice. Sometimes it's a matter of the province having stronger ears," he said. 

About the Author

Emma Smith

Reporter

Emma Smith is a journalist from B.C. who has covered rural issues and Indigenous communities. Before joining CBC Nova Scotia in 2017, she worked as the editor of a community newspaper. Have a story idea to send her way? Email emma.smith@cbc.ca