'People are feeling that their voices weren't heard': Home and School seeks changes to advisory councils

The P.E.I. Home and School Federation is asking the provincial government to make significant changes to the advisory councils it created as part of a major shake-up of education almost two years ago.

Group feels councils were being asked to react rather than collaborate

The P.E.I. Home and School Federation is asking the province to make changes to the way district advisory councils operate. (Shutterstock/Syda Productions)

The P.E.I. Home and School Federation is asking the provincial government to make significant changes to the advisory councils it created as part of a major shake-up of education almost two years ago.

In November 2015 the MacLauchlan government announced it would dissolve the province's last remaining English-language school board, and set up a number of district advisory councils [DACs] comprised of local parents, high school students and Home and School representatives.

According to a government press release at the time, the councils would "give students and parents greater opportunity to provide meaningful advice on the K-12 education system."

But the Home and School Federation says the DACs haven't provided the opportunity for members to work collaboratively with government to try to improve the school system.

Not able to impact decisions

"I think people are feeling that their voices weren't heard, and that it was not designed to be the kind of discussion that can have an impact on the way that decisions are made," said Lisa MacDougall, president of the federation.

At a meeting in July, the federation presented a letter to another education council created by the MacLauchlan government — the Learning Partners Advisory Council, co-chaired by Premier Wade MacLauchlan.

Lisa MacDougall, head of the P.E.I. Home and School Federation, says members of the province's district advisory councils don't feel their voices are being heard. (Al MacCormick/CBC News)

"The feeling that predominates is that councils could work more effectively as collaborative rather than consultative bodies," the letter states.

MacDougall explained members felt government was deciding on its own course of action, then asking the council members for their reaction, rather than coming up with a plan in collaboration with the councils.

Government says it's open to suggestions

"I think the horse has to come before the cart," MacDougall said of that approach.

A spokesperson from the P.E.I. Department of Education, Early Learning and Culture provided the CBC with a written statement.

"Government is supportive of hearing council member's suggestions for any potential changes to their advisory process, and looks forward to that input once the District Advisory Councils begin their fall meetings," the statement says.

According to the statement government has incorporated feedback from Home and School in a redesign of the position of engagement officer — the government staff person who liaises with the DACs. The position has been posted after the contract of the previous officer expired.

'We're keeping an open mind'

"Education governance is more collaborative and consultative than ever before," the statement continues. "The advisory model gives students, parents and communities a stronger voice in education."

But MacDougall isn't yet convinced that the upending of education in the province almost two years ago has led to a better system overall.

"I think that remains to be seen," she said. "We're keeping an open mind."

MacDougall said parents lost a connection to the education system when the province got rid of the school board and its trustees, "And that is that participation in the decision making. And I think that because the district advisory councils exist, that we could take the opportunity that's there to make them serve the purposes that we need."

'I don't want to be a part of just window dressing'

Doug Lyon is a former educator who's a member of the Westisle advisory council.

"The frustrations are widespread throughout DACs across the province," he said. "A lot of us felt our agenda items were being dictated to us, we weren't getting feedback back from the minister or the minister's office on any of the items we were putting forward.

Lyon said his two-year position with the council ends in December. He said he'd like to stay with the council beyond that — but only if he sees a change in the way the councils operate.

"I would like to stay with it because I think that if it's really done properly, I could have a role. But I don't want to be a part of just window dressing. It's a waste of my time."