Rural division left in limbo awaiting province's K-12 review

·2 min read

The unknown release date of Manitoba’s K-12 education review is what one rural superintendent says keeps him up at night.

“How can we continue to move forward without knowing what the future holds?” said Donald Nikkel, superintendent of human resources, public relations and alternative programming at Lakeshore School Division, located in Eriksdale, approximately 140 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

That’s one of many questions Nikkel has for the province.

With 2021-22 budget planning underway, the administrative team at Lakeshore penned a letter to the new education minister this week, to raise concerns about the future of Manitoba’s public school system and what it holds for rural staff and students.

It’s easy for the voices of school leaders in small divisions like Lakeshore to be muted, Nikkel said.

The district is roughly the size of Prince Edward Island, but its student population is less than 1,000, spread across 12 schools, including two colony schools.

“We know our students really, really well, and we’re able to really tailor our education to the particular schools and communities that we’re in,” Nikkel said, adding the division embraces land-based learning and its connections to agriculture. Its small size allowed for two metres of physical distancing to be accommodated in all buildings before classes started in the fall amidst COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Nikkel and board chairman Jim Cooper share in their concern the implementation of the K-12 review could limit rural representation in education decision making, citing the fact amalgamation is widely anticipated.

“We’re not opposed to change, but we want to make sure that we maintain some type of local voice — whether it’s a board system or whatever,” said Cooper, school trustee for Eriksdale.

Cooper added there is concern special programs, such as Lakeshore Education Growth Opportunities, which help students access temporary accommodation and job training in Winnipeg, could be in jeopardy.

Among the Lakeshore team’s other worries: what it claims is a provincial fixation on standardized testing scores, the introduction of Bill 45 (Public Schools Amendment and Manitoba Teachers’ Society Amendment Act) and Bill 64 (Education Modernization Act) before the release of the K-12 review, and a decline in funding for rural divisions in recent years.

Manitoba Education typically releases K-12 funding allocations in January each year.

Education Minister Cliff Cullen was not made available for an interview Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the minister said in a statement the province appreciates Lakeshore’s feedback and will continue to engage with Manitoba’s education community “to make sure our students are receiving the best education.”

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press