Story by George Stephenson & Samantha Turenne
When Kelvin Goertzen was the province’s health minister he recalls how many people working in the field were reluctant to make suggestions on how to improve the system.
“It took me awhile to realize people were scared to bring forward ideas,” he said in an interview with The Teacher. “People had a learned experience that it wasn’t appreciated when they brought ideas forward. It took a while to get that message in the system that we may not accept all of your ideas but we don’t want you to stop bringing ideas forward.”
Now, as education minister in charge of the upcoming once-in-a-generation review of K-12 education, he says he wants that message heard.
“So, very early now, as minister of education, I’m trying to send a message that, listen, bring forward ideas that you might feel are outside the box or that you brought forward before and they weren’t accepted. We accepted a lot of ideas in health that had been kicking around for 20 years.
“If you have an experience with education, whether you’re a teacher, a parent, a superintendent, a trustee, a janitor, whatever, bring forward an idea.”
He’s calling on the ideas for the education review, to begin early next year, which could bring about monumental changes in the K-12 system that would touch every classroom and teacher in Manitoba. At the time of the interview, Goertzen had yet to announce the five-to-10 member commission that would carry out the review. As well, terms of reference, had yet to be set, but Goertzen said there will be obvious areas of interest.
“I think you know the areas you’d expect to be on the table. We want to hear about classroom experience both from the perspective of a teacher and parent. I think there will be quite a bit of discussion around school boards, the number of school boards, and the role of school boards.”
He said it is especially important to hear from teachers because “whose opinions would have any more value than the people who are in the classrooms every day?”
Goertzen couldn’t say specifically if one issue or another would be examined, since much will depend on how broad the commission wants to make the review and it’s unknown which issues will be raised in public forums.
For example, one of the concerns of MTS is whether changes in teachers’ pensions might be contemplated.
“I don’t think we’ll be getting into questions of wages and pensions,” Goertzen said. “It is more about how the system works.”
He does, however, see some other concerns of teachers being raised during the review. The idea of principals and vice-principals being taken out of MTS might be raised and possibly the creation of a teachers’ college, which would govern the profession.
On both those issues, Goertzen said he doesn’t have strong feelings one way or the other, but raising the ideas could be beneficial.
He did emphasize he has no preconceived plans for changes to the system, except to ensure transparency and accountability.
“There’s no point in having consultations on anything if you already have the solutions to everything. And these have to be real consultations.
“I hear a lot about why do we have so many school divisions compared with other provinces, why does Winnipeg have so many compared with other cities? Well, that’s a legitimate question. I don’t know the answer to that. Those are the sorts of discussions that we should have.
“Maybe there are some very legitimate reasons why we have more school divisions than other provinces, but maybe there are not, but I’m trying to keep as open a mind as possible going into the review or why would we bother to have a review?”
There is one general area in education, however, where Goertzen says his views are set.
“I do certainly have some strong feelings about ensuring we are bringing transparency to the system, accountability within the system. I think that’s important and I’m looking for ideas on that. How do we ensure we are all more accountable?”
An example of his quest for transparency was the decision to make public Grade 12 test scores by division.
He says he has had many discussions on such issues as student achievement and about who is responsible.
“Sometimes I hear that we are all responsible. The problem is when everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible. We need to ensure we have those clear points within the system where we have responsibility for such things as outcomes and classroom environment and how our kids are doing.
“Those are things that to all of us, whether an education minister or parent, are important.”
Goertzen said he expects the review to take at least a year, with a report completed in early 2020. However, he says the process won’t be rushed and will take longer than the health care overhaul. Work had been done in advance of the revamping of health care. That hasn’t happened in education.
“So, it’s going to be a longer process, but we don’t want to rush this. If you’re only going to do this every 20 or 30 years, and that seems to be the pattern, then don’t rush it when you do it. It will take the time that it needs to take to get it right and to give everybody the opportunity to have input.”
Consultations will involve an online component, public forums and direct discussions with education organizations. This will give everyone a chance to comment, he said, adding the online component is important because it will provide the opportunity for those who don’t feel comfortable making a public presentation.
Some work will be done by staff in the education department, but the commission will have the flexibility to hire outside expertise if necessary. Goertzen says outside eyes can be important.
Goertzen says he expects plenty of diverse views and differences of opinion, but that is all to the better.
“I think we’re all going for the same outcomes. Everybody wants to ensure that the young people and those in university are getting to do the best they can. We’re all aiming for that same goal, but in any big system, people will have different ideas on how to get there.”
— This story was originally printed in the December 2018 issue of The Manitoba Teacher Magazine