Following release of Re-Imagine Education report, participants call for followup action

Sask Bulletin
November 13, 2019

Randy Schmaltz

Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Executive Director Randy Schmaltz
addressed media and those gathered for the release of the Re-Imagine
Education report. Schmaltz served as the chairperson of the Re-Imagine
Education Reference Committee.

REGINA–Rolling out the ambitious Education Re-Imagined initiative to the media, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Executive Director Randy Schmaltz alluded to the 12 Actions for Education, saving the best for last in terms of making sure the message was heard loud and clear.

Schmaltz, who was the chairperson of the Re-Imagine Education Reference Committee, said the 12th action “is the most important” in that it stresses the “actions of education outlined in this report must be acted upon.”

It was clear the message was meant for Education Minister Gord Wyant and his Deputy Minister Rob Currie to mull over from their front row seats.

Wyant, for his part, indicated that while the Ministry has its own initiative for change that is scheduled for completion later this year, with the expressed goal of setting the course for education in the province for the next decade with implementation slated for the fall of 2020, Re-Imagine “certainly seems to have some alignments. Looking at the report, I find it very encouraging and I very much look forward to pursuing this further with our education partners.”

In an interview afterwards, Wyant lauded the tone of the report, which he said was not accusatory in nature and while calling for significant change, it did not suggest the system is broken.

“I think we can all agree that there needs to be change. We are going to work on that together by reaching out to our partners in wanting to have the best possible outcomes for the children in our classrooms. I see strong signs of commonality in this report, and it will take some time but I am very encouraged.”

The aforementioned actions fall into four categories: the learning environment, decision making, legislation and policy, and funding.

Schmaltz underscored that throughout the 10-month process, the underlying goal of this multi-faceted approach was to have strong feedback from the 19 various partners. He stressed that the community at large has a significant role to play and must take ownership of the future of the province’s education system.

Schmaltz shared that the response had been overwhelming, with over 6,000 people completing the survey alone, while consultations were held in 204 schools in 69 different communities.

“The breadth and depth of this engagement is unlike anything we have ever experienced before in the education sector in this province,” he said.

According to Schmaltz, the interest in the initiative showed two things very clearly: that the people of Saskatchewan care deeply about education and they believe it is time to chart a new course.

He acknowledged that a confidence rating of 56.4 percent from those who responded “is a little hard to hear. But we can choose to feel hopeful, because we have before us a monumental opportunity.”

Monica Kreuger, who was a member of the Reference Committee, represented the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce. In her address she made it clear education change is long overdue, suggesting that “we need to do so much more. Our imperative has changed and our education system has not. People are the ones who drive system change and this has to be a movement.”

Speaking afterwards, Kreuger referenced the importance of so many diverse organizations having been involved in the process.

“Because of that diversity, we challenged each other and everyone had their eyes opened. Right now there are so many things happening in education that we can barely keep up. We have to be very sensitive and the system has to be flexible, but we have to open this up and make some major changes. Right now there are just too many boxes. The conversations we had during the process, those have to be ongoing so that they become the norm,” she said.

Schmaltz had indicated that one of the main themes that emerged from the data is the need to re-think the purpose of schools, noting that the school needs to play a larger role in the community.

Part of that envisioned change is to revisit the importance of addressing supports for children who learn in different ways, specifically recommending the need for the restoration of more educational assistants, speech-language pathologists, EAL teachers, counsellors and Elders.

“The system hasn’t kept up to the pace of change when you look at the diversity and social pressures on students,” he said, while bemoaning the fiscal restraints of recent years that invariably put pressure on schools in trying to meet these diverse needs of students.

Kreuger concurred, adding that “now more than ever, our education system needs to support new ways of learning and doing. Because as our system evolves, so will our community.”

Another recommendation that might arguably be difficult to accomplish is the formation of a provincial education council with the expressed view that it be free of politics, thereby ensuring education policy is aligned with best practices.

Wyant actually agreed that keeping politics off to the side would doubtlessly be best for children in the classrooms, but there is ultimately the reality that funding will come down to political decisions.

Kreuger conceded that the changes recommended will for sure cost money, but she maintained that any expenditure has to be seen as an investment in our future.

“We need to work in partnership with the government. I think it’s going to take time and work. People are going to have to roll up their sleeves,” she said, adding that she would anticipate some of the conversations that need to be had will not be easy.

As is always the case when an initiative such as this culminates, there is a hope that, as Kreuger said, “the report doesn’t gather dust
on a shelf.

“This can’t ever be over. All the people who participated in this, they are going to want to see some tangible evidence that they have helped make a difference. I don’t want to be saying in 50 years that our education system is outdated. People have to wake up and realize that if we speak up and come together, we have a powerful voice.”

Schmaltz summed up by insisting “it isn’t too late. The time to act is now. We can create a system that is reflective of the people of Saskatchewan, and one that will meet the needs of tomorrow.”