The passing of James Shea and the future of school boards
West Quebec’s anglophones were saddened to learn of James Shea’s passing after his lifetime of commitment to our community. His funeral reminds us that the threat to minority-language school boards is real. Mr Shea appealed for respect for Québec’s minority community’s constitutional protections, especially school boards. However, he did not argue that board administrators themselves must do more, and do things differently, in order to protect the boards, yet this is surely needed.
Nor did Mr Shea address the government’s argument, that since so few bother to vote for board commissioners, it’s safe to assume the boards have little popular support. “Use it or lose it”, argues the CAQ, referring to more than voting. The administration, employees, and parents bear roles in making best use of the boards.
“Using it” means more than parents sending kids to school (or paying school taxes) and does includes voting for board commissioners. If only a few bother to vote, election after election, that points to a gulf between the school boards and the population they serve.
A second “using it” would be by the boards themselves – building a closer involvement with the communities they serve. “Using it” means integrating each board and its infrastructure with each community’s needs. Presently, school boards appear to operate in vacuums: can’t a board’s buildings have community uses besides as classrooms? Can’t a board speak out on community questions and ambitions like literacy and cultural events? Teachers already are super-involved, but the bureaucracy itself?
A third “using it” would be constant improvement to education. Every board must fulfill its mandate from the Ministry of Education, but it also has a mandate to produce educated members of society. That means graduating citizens aware of their history, able to think rationally, and aware of options on social, political, health, cultural, and recreational fronts. Our boards barely make passing grades here – students’ rates of success or of advancing to higher levels may be “acceptable”, but our communities’ understanding of political issues, health outcomes of certain practices, and so on, is nothing to brag about. It was suggested to Mr Shea that he apply the Winston Churchill Test: go out among school grads, check their understanding and their skill levels. Quebec needs more scientists, creators, entrepreneurs, more teachers of others.
So, within these three areas of “using” a school board (or losing it), there are plenty of grounds for questioning the present effectiveness of school boards and the management of the educational process.
But do we really need the CAQ’s massive “service centres”? Wouldn’t decentralized, locally-engaged and bilingual boards work better? A locally managed, provincially regulated and equally-funded school system? --not Jim Shea’s ideal, but maybe as close to his ambitions as we can get.