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Local representatives attend education commission sessions

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Several representatives from the Swan Valley visited the Manitoba Commission on Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education during their stop in Dauphin last weekend (May 10 and 11).
Two short, private presentations were given on May 10, one by the SVSD ­– represented by Kelli Riehl, Steve Henson, Lynda Parsons, Cam Mateika and Brent Rausch – and the other by the Town of Swan River – represented by Mayor Lance Jacobson and councillors David Moriaux and Duane Whyte.
“We had a very productive hour with them,” said Riehl, who was leading the charge in advocacy for education in the region. “The Commission has put much focus on Canadian and International test scores which have shown there are larger proportions of Manitoba students at lower levels of performance and smaller proportions of students at higher levels, when compared to Canadian averages.
“It was our feeling that if the Government is truly concerned about raising these specific test scores, much emphasis needed to be placed on poverty reduction, and early intervention with young learners to not only identify need, but provide families with appropriate resources to ensure their children are ready to enter Kindergarten.”
The SVSD’s presentation focused on some of the challenges the division is currently facing, including declining enrollment and the need to engage families of children aged 0-4 years. Topics covered included the importance of early years learning and daycares, issues with community safety, the partnerships that the Division has with various groups and organizations, and the vocational programming available at the SVRSS.
“Some of the Commission were very interested to hear about rural ways of life, and so we were able to stress that when our community sees a problem, we are able to band together to use the resources we all have available to get a job done,” said Riehl.
Other discussions regarded the recruitment and retention of teachers in rural Manitoba, special needs programming, the need for greater access to clinicians, the video-conferencing method that SVSD uses to give students the ability to graduate with a French Immersion Diploma, and how we see the potential of the Division being used a large vocational training centre.
“The focus of maintaining our autonomy as a school division was always brought into conversation,” said Riehl. “The Commission is very open to hearing ideas and were pleased with our openness, willingness to collaborate, and positivity.”
The presentation from the Town of Swan River complimented the presentation from the SVSD.
“We felt that the local governance achieves the goals that we feel are important, versus the amalgamation of a single governance structure,” said Moriaux.
Town representatives also highlighted the significance of the partnerships that the SVSD forms with local and neighbouring organizations to achieve their goals, and how education contributes to the local economy.
Jacobson mentioned that the Commission commented on their presentation and were impressed with how much municipal governments seem to be invested in education and making sure that there is a good education system for the citizens of the Swan River Valley.
“They were truly impressed with our passion for community and partnerships with schools,” he said.
Jacobson also noted that – contrary to what others may have said – the Town of Swan River council was always dedicated to lobbying on behalf of the Swan Valley school system.
“Some of our councillors had been working on and discussing at different meetings with the School Division, because we were all approaching this from different directions,” he said.
“This council was unanimous with our presentation, and is deeply concerned about education for our citizens – not only the Town, but for the whole Valley.”
On Saturday (May 11), a small bus was filled to bring local residents to Dauphin to attend a less formal public interactive workshop session.
“The format allowed for any topic you wished to discuss,” said Riehl. “A recorder took notes and highlighted items of importance in each group discussion, and reported to the whole group near the end of the session.
“The last part of the morning had a large sharing circle where people were welcomed to speak for about a minute on anything they wished.”
Riehl noted that approximately 70 people were in attendance at that meeting.
One of which was Swan Valley Teachers’ Association President Nicole Bobick.
“(The Commission) did a very good job facilitating so that people could give their voice,” said Bobick. “There were some commissioners that I felt were very genuine, sincere, and wanted to hear what we had to say.”
Bobick added that she had the opportunity to speak with Avis Glaze herself, who is the consultant who will be writing the final report, and who wrote the recommendations to recently change the education system in Nova Scotia.
“Swan Valley has a direct line; she’s provided us with her personal email,” said Bobick. “All of our recommendations and all of our letters will be sent to her.
“There did seem to be a big cry for her to understand that Manitoba is different than Nova Scotia. You have to look at the poverty rates, the children in care, the violence, the unemployment rates, and take a broader picture of our government systems and how they interconnect and are used together.”
Bobick said in addition to speaking about the issue of poverty, another important topic is mental health, which apparently drew interest among those that attended.
“A lot of the time, we assume poverty has to do with hunger,” she said. “But, it also interconnects with depression, anxiety, addictions, housing, and clothing.
“Parent councils and schools are getting grants to feed the students. There really isn’t much funding that comes directly from Manitoba Education to do that. I hope the public realizes that is where it is coming from.
“There were good ideas generated and there were a lot of people with a wide range of perspectives,” Bobick continued. “It’s good when you have a wide range of perspectives, but also opposing opinions. That’s where you’re going to generated good ideas and maybe get some steps to move forward.”
The SVSD is still planning on submitted a formal submission to the Commission before the consultation period closes. Online submissions from the public such as emailed letters and survey are still available for the public to join the conversation until the end of the month.
“We kindly remind you to consider writing a letter opposing large scale amalgamation and the appointing of large, regional school boards, as this is still a possible outcome of the review,” said Riehl. “Community voice matters in this process. We have 1,000 signatures on our petitions that have been circulated around the Valley, and we are still welcoming letters to be submitted as part of our formal submission.
“The Commission has made it very clear that your voice matters. Please use it.”

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Jeremy Bergen
REPORTER
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