For 29 years, Elizabeth Brideau-Clark watched as working conditions in Nova Scotia's classrooms became increasingly challenging.
Now she has a chance to do something about it.
Brideau-Clark — who is a teacher at Bayview Community School in Mahone Bay — was one of nine teachers from around the province announced on Tuesday as members of a new provincial council to address classroom concerns. The creation of the group stems from the recent legislation to impose a contract on teachers.
The group, which will have $10 million in each of the next two years for its work, is charged with finding solutions to long-standing frustrations for teachers such as classroom sizes and composition, data entry, paperwork and the need for a student attendance policy.
The committee is co-chaired by representatives from the Education Department and Nova Scotia Teachers Union. In addition to the nine teachers — chosen by school board superintendents — the group also includes a parent, student and guidance counsellor — appointed by the government.
They are to meet for the first time by March 21 and deliver initial recommendations no later than April 28.
"It seems to be quite quick but that also means that people have to be decisive and have to know what they're speaking about, trying to get information from the people, which I hope to do here on the South Shore," said Brideau-Clark.
"We're going to have to be efficient."
An 'intense' selection process
The list of nine teachers was chosen by school board superintendents and was reached after a week of reviewing almost 800 applications.
Education Minister Karen Casey called the process "intense," but said she knew nothing else about it other than that superintendents met for one day to produce the final list after going through applications from their respective boards.
Casey provided two points of guidance on the selection process: that it be regionally representative and include three teachers each from the elementary, junior and senior high levels.
"I accepted [the list] exactly as it was presented to both me and to the president of the union at the same time," Casey told reporters on Tuesday.
Changes don't have to wait
The minister said if the council has solutions ahead of April 28, it doesn't have to wait to send them to her department. It's her hope the group stays together for at least the next two years.
"They're not going to have solutions to all of those issues by April or by June or by September," said Casey.
"I want that council to stay in place until those concerns have been addressed [and] until there are solutions in place."
In a statement, teachers union president Liette Doucet said she believes the committee will work hard but expressed concerns about the transparency of the effort and the ability for people to register dissenting opinions.
Casey said the meetings would be private, but the outcomes would be public. The council would work by consensus, she said, and will have a facilitator and — if need be — an arbitrator to reach that point.
Sean Barker, another member of the council, said the priority would be making the changes teachers have called for.
"[The] No. 1 priority, I guess, just needs to be around making sure that classrooms and teachers and students are being fully supported," said Barker, who is a Grade 2 teacher at the Antigonish Education Centre with 17 years of experience as both a teacher and administrator.
- Sean Barker, Antigonish Education Centre.
- Mélanie Belliveau, École Acadienne de Pomquet, Antigonish County.
- Cheryl Bourque-Wells, Drumlin Heights Consolidated School, Argyle, Yarmouth County.
- Elizabeth Brideau-Clark, Bayview Community School, Mahone Bay.
- Michael Cosgrove, Dartmouth High School.
- Melanie Morrissey, Bible Hill Junior High School, Colchester County.
- Reagan O'Hara, Avon View High School, Windsor.
- Kerri Lynn Power, Memorial High School, Sydney Mines.
- Rachel Ross-Mantley, Central Spryfield Elementary.
- Myles Fox, Grade 10 student at Cobequid Educational Centre, Truro.
- Amy MacKinnon, parent, Shelburne County.
- Pamela Doyle, guidance counsellor at Lockview High School, Fall River.
- Joan Ling, executive director of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, council co-chair.
- Sandra McKenzie, deputy minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, council co-chair.