Classroom conditions council to spend $9.3M on more teachers, class caps

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Classroom conditions council to spend $9.3M on more teachers, class caps

The group tasked with improving classroom conditions in Nova Scotia is recommending that most of its $10 million in first-year funding be used to hire at least 139 teachers, and that class sizes be capped at higher grades.

The 14-member Council to Improve Classroom Conditions was created earlier this year as part of legislation imposing a four-year contract on more than 9,000 of the province's unionized school teachers. 

The council has a $20 million budget over two years. To date, it has come up with 40 recommendations.

In a report released Friday, the council recommends spending $9.3 million of its year-one funding on the following:  

- A provincewide class cap of 28 students (flexibility up to 30) for junior high and middle school. That would require hiring 49 teachers at a cost of $2.9 million.

- A provincewide class cap of 30 students (flexibility up to 32) for high school. That would require hiring 50 teachers at a cost of $3 million.

- Additional teachers hired to support math and literacy in classrooms that have a high number of students with special needs, which the province calls "complex classrooms." That's estimated to cost $2.4 million. 

- A pilot project to provide $50,000 in grants to "priority schools" where provincial testing has shown a need for additional support in math and literacy. That's at a cost of $1 million.

- A request for the province's Department of Educationto match that $1 million in grants, allowing a total of 40 schools with complex classrooms to get funding.

The province already caps class sizes in elementary school grades.

The council is made up of nine teachers, a guidance counsellor, a parent, a student, a representative from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and the deputy minister of education.

The Department of Education said in a news release it will match the $1 million for the pilot project, and that it will "immediately begin to act on the recommendations."

Education Minister Karen Casey said school boards around the province have been notified regarding the new hires. She said the council has made good progress in a short period of time.

"The $20 million that the government had put forward for the council to use is, I believe, being used well with their recommendations today," she said.

Act quickly to hire new teachers

Michael Cosgrove, an English and philosopy teacher at Dartmouth High School, is one of the committee members.

"You can reach more students and you can spend more time assessing and you can have better relationships one on one. I think it makes sense if you've got less people you can spend more time with them," he said, speaking about classroom caps.

Pam Doyle, a guidance councilor at Lockview High School in Fall River and member of the council, said the group wants to get the ball rolling quickly to hire the new teaching staff. 

"Staffing timelines are very tight. The first round in the [Halifax Regional School Board] is going up for May 10th. We really have to get going in a timely manner on this if we are hiring permanent teaching staff."

Eight of the council's 18 initial recommendations have already been implemented, including fewer standardized tests, simpler report cards, publishing marks less frequently and changes to the way attendance is logged. 

According to a news release from the council, it will make its recommendations on spending the final $700,000 of the first-year funding before the end of the school year.

The council will next meet on May 17, 18 and 19.