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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 3, November/December 2005

The learning round table

Cautious optimism after first meeting

The attendees at the first meeting of the learning round table held October 23, 2005 were:

  • BC Teachers’ Federation: Jinny Sims, Irene Lanzinger, Susan Lambert, Ken Novakowski
  • Co-Chairs: Honourable Gordon Campbell, premier; Honourable Shirley Bond, minister of education and deputy premier; Emery Dosdall, deputy minister of education; Rick Davis from the Ministry of Education
  • BC School Trustees Association: two representatives
  • BC School Superintendents’ Association: two representatives
  • BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils: two representatives
  • BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association: two representatives

The premier: The premier chaired the meeting and opened with comments. He talked about the round table as an open partnership with the groups in attendance, and expressed the need to hear from groups that were not at the table. He identified class size and composition as the first issue the round table needed to address, and said that, if there were problems with the school act, then "let’s fix it." The premier also identified the need for a common database on class-size issues and indicated that the ministry would have information collected and available for the next meeting of the round table. He identified the goal as a "great public education system," with BC being the most literate jurisdiction in North America. He said that the "government could not achieve that by itself." He also stated that if this exercise is going to be real, and it was identified that additional resources were required, government would try to deliver. Twice during the meeting, the premier informed the round table that government would be having separate meetings with the BCTF on the issue of teaching conditions, specifically class size and composition. Those meetings will be with the minister of education.

Minister of education: Shirley Bond indicated that she needed to meet with the BCTF as we did not complete the agenda in our first meeting in late August. She agreed to meet at the BCTF building and a time will be set soon. The minister also expressed her desire to visit schools and classrooms and asked the BCTF to assist her with this.

BCTF: Jinny Sims spoke on behalf of all 38,000 public school teachers in the province and responded positively to the words of the premier. She talked about the passion of teachers for teaching and their continual advocacy role for the needs of students. She talked about class size as an important learning and working condition, and identified not only the need for maximums in the Grade 4 to 12 classes, but specifically cited labs and shops as potential safety problems. She referred to the need for clear language on class composition and identified the problems that have arisen in the system since 2002. Sims also went back to earlier government decisions to integrate students with special needs into classrooms and affirmed the BCTF support for this policy. She stated that governments have never fully committed the resources necessary to make this policy work. Sims raised the issue of the four-day school week in some districts and how the resultant intensification of teaching and learning is taking a toll on teachers and students. She also identified textbooks and other learning resources as in need of attention by the round table, and spoke about the significant amount of money that teachers spend out of their own pockets on classroom supplies.

BCSTA: Penny Tees talked about the need to improve student achievement through working together. She said school boards make trade-offs after they consider all factors involved.

BCPVPA: Tom Hierck talked about all the factors that need to be considered, including what a reasonable class size would be. He also identified the need for a funding base to support educational decisions. He said that it is clear that the status quo is not good enough.

BCSSA: Sheila Rooney said she hoped the round table would be a vehicle for discussing how the system can meet student needs. We can all learn from each other and the perspectives we bring. Real progress will have a positive impact on the education system as a whole. She stated that we need to analyze the pros and cons of any initiative before acting, and hoped the round table would help to create a new confidence in public education.

BCCPAC: Kim Howland spoke about how pleased parents were to be at the round table and to be involved in education policy discussions rather than simply playing the "hot-dog-sales" role they had in the past. She hoped the round table would deal with the whole range of educational issues and mentioned teacher training as one.

Following comments by the groups at the table, there were various statements made by individuals. Of particular note, the premier stated that he agreed with Sims that there had not been sufficient public investment in public policy decisions around inclusion. He also said that teachers should not have to pay for supplies and books out of their own pockets.

Operating procedures

The following were generally agreed as operating procedures:

  1. The round table will meet at least once a month and will try to maintain a consistent membership for each year of its operation.
  2. Sims made a strong case for CUPE to be represented at the round table. Others argued for students, First Nations, etc. After discussion, it was agreed the round table will hold special meetings, perhaps all day sessions, where it will hear from other groups not at the table (CUPE, First Nations, etc.), including specific groups of teachers from within the BCTF.
  3. Minutes will be kept of each meeting and, once approved by the group at the subsequent meeting, will be posted on the ministry web site. It was agreed that groups at the table will be able to report out to their members prior to the official minutes being available.
  4. Recommendations from the round table will go to the minister of education by October of each year so that any cost increases accepted by government can be built into the government budget-setting process for the following year. It was clarified that, in spite of the late date regarding the government budget-setting process, if government does agree to changes in class size and composition they can still be implemented in the next school year (2006–07).
  5. The round table will hold its next meeting in the next two to three weeks, when information from school districts regarding class size/composition is available. The meeting will be at the cabinet offices in Vancouver and will deal with class size and composition.
  6. The round table has the capacity to initiate research projects it feels necessary to acquire information to inform its recommendations.

Toward the end of the meeting, Sims talked about the BCTF Professional Development and Social Justice programs; she referred to our PSAs, Lesson Aids, Program for Quality Teaching, and our social justice and international solidarity initiatives. The premier seemed very interested, particularly in the work of PSAs. Sims extended an open invitation to the premier to visit the BCTF building to find out what we really are all about. He laughed and jokingly said, "Maybe in a week." Sims, in the humour of the moment, said, "You should. I came to your den today."

Sims spoke to media after the meeting and expressed cautious optimism about the work of the roundtable. Clearly, she said, it will be the actions, and not the words of government, that teachers will be looking for to make a difference in their classrooms.

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