The removal of principals from the teachers union is among sweeping changes planned for public education in the province — and one the Manitoba Teachers’ Society plans to fight with full force.
On Monday, the province published Bill 64 (Education Modernization Act), the K-12 education review, and its plan to implement the commission’s 75 recommendations “in spirit and principle.”
Three of the recommendations target effective school leadership: reinforcing principals as instructional leaders; creating a principals association; and designing business manager positions in schools to take over maintenance and accounting roles so principals can focus on school leadership.
“Are they trying to impose some sort of business model onto schools? Schools aren’t businesses; schools are places of learning,” said James Bedford, president of MTS, which represents upwards of 16,000 educators.
Bedford said he questions how many of the changes — including the controversial proposal to replace 37 English language school boards with 15 regional entities that report to a centralized authority board of government appointees — will improve the student experience.
If principals and vice-principals are represented by a different bargaining unit, he said the “collegial working environment” in schools will disappear and ultimately, trickle down and affect student learning.
The commission made that proposal to remove the potential for conflict of interest when management and employees are in the same union. “This will resolve many issues related to hiring, work assignments, and performance management,” states the 180-page report.
Retired school principal Rick Haley said awkward situations arise when the same union represents a principal and teacher during a grievance meeting, but he sees this move as the province trying to “drive a spike” between staff.
“So much of this is a slap in the face to educators,” wrote Haley, an instructor at the University of Winnipeg, in an emailed statement.
He added, “The title, (Education) Modernization Act implies that we are still teaching with blackboards… The government implies that we don’t care about low test scores. Maybe they are right. Test scores are not the be-all and end-all, but there is not an educator who doesn’t lose sleep over students who are struggling.”
Cameron Hauseman has his fair share of critiques about the province’s blueprint — from a loss of local control to the recruitment of parents who want to engage in “toothless” volunteer councils.
The assistant professor of educational administration at the University of Manitoba, however, said recommendations to both create a college of teachers and a principals union are promising.
“We want to make sure our teachers aren’t overburdened with work intensification or extreme challenges in their work, but I do think tension could be a good thing. It could light a fire under the whole system,” said Hauseman, adding that in Ontario, where he is a certified teacher, student outcomes have improved under the province’s multiple-union model.
As for a college of teachers, Hauseman said it would provide transparency; anyone can search an educator’s teaching records, including disciplinary files, on the online Ontario and B.C. college registries.
Bedford said there is no need for a college, citing MTS ensuring accountability and providing robust professional development.
The province stopped short of accepting the college recommendation in full, as it announced only plans to further explore the option.
“I don’t know how they can cherry-pick some recommendations and not others,” Hauseman said.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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