Nova Scotia to hire over 190 professionals to help with classroom inclusion
HALIFAX -- The upcoming school year will see the hiring of more than 190 specialized education professionals as Nova Scotia boosts resources for its increasingly complex classrooms.
Tuesday's announcement by Education Minister Zach Churchill is part of an initial $15 million effort for targeted areas including behavioural issues and autism.
Churchill said the new hirings will include a range of professionals to support teachers whom he says "can't do it alone."
"But this is the beginning of the story, it's not the end," he said. "We believe by changing the structure of the system as we have, we will have a greater ability to ensure these resources are applied consistently and in a way that will be most effective."
It was one of the key issues in the province's recent bitter dispute with the teachers' union, which said the inclusive-classrooms model adopted in 1997 left schools without enough staff to assist pupils with learning disabilities and other challenges.
The hirings include 40 child youth care practitioners and 60 education assistants; 70 specialist teachers with expertise in supporting children with behavioural challenges; 11 parent navigators to help families get programs and services; four student health nurses; and six school psychologists and speech language pathologists.
The department is also funding eight alternative education programs throughout the province and two programs to help students with complex needs to prepare for life after high school.
Teachers will also received specialized training to help deal with complex classrooms, and teacher and education assistants will also receive training in autism support.
Churchill said it's about addressing the most pressing needs first.
"Behavioural supports have been what people have identified as being lacking right now," he said. "That's created some of the greatest pressures and challenges for our classrooms, so I think the focus on behavioural and autism supports are a key."
The minister also said a tender would go out this spring for an independent third-party researcher to help assess the province's progress in addressing inclusive education.
Churchill said that "research team" would produce an annual report to the public. He said the province would also enlist the services of Inclusive Education Canada to help with the oversight and implementation of initiatives.
Tuesday's announcement follows the release of an independent commission's report on inclusive education in March that recommended hiring between 600 and 700 more specialists by 2022.
The report also recommended an increase in funding over five years to around $70- to $80 million annually -- a seven per cent increase in the Education Department's overall budget.
Commission chairwoman Sarah Shea said it would take time and further resources to fully meet the report's goals, but she called Churchill's announcement "an excellent start."
"The planned steps align well with the areas that were identified as priorities and provide more support for students, parents, and educators," Shea said in a government news release.
Autism Nova Scotia also applauded the government's move, saying it was "particularly encouraged" by plans to offer additional professional development to teachers and other professionals in the system, as well as efforts to work with parents through the use of parent navigators.
The organization said it hoped the announcement marks a "moment of real change."
"The status quo is not acceptable; this isn't optional or up for debate," said executive director Cynthia Carroll.
"This is the first step and we're ready to work with government to make the change this province needs."
The Nova Scotia Teachers Union also reacted positively to changes it said validated concerns it expressed during the bitter contract dispute with the province that was settled through legislation early last year.
However, the union said it was concerned the government isn't creating an institute of inclusive education to help with evaluation and accountability, as recommended in the commission's report.
Churchill said the institute would have been too costly, with startup expenses of up to $1 million.
"We think those dollars are best invested in our schools and classrooms," he said.