News / Halifax

Nova Scotia schools to expand class caps, add 139 new teachers: minister

Sean Barker speaks to other members at the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions last week.

Patrick Fulgencio/For Metro Halifax

Sean Barker speaks to other members at the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions last week.

HALIFAX — Schools in Nova Scotia are to be staffed by 139 more teachers this September, after the provincial government accepted the recommendations of a council looking at classroom conditions.

The council was established after the province imposed a contract on its 9,300 unionized teachers in February, following a lengthy contract dispute.

In a report released Friday, the council also asked for an expansion of class caps to junior and senior high schools.

The council said it had allocated $9.3 million of its $20 million two-year budget to address the recommendations.

Education Minister Karen Casey said her department would act to implement the 40 recommendations, including the big ticket items: the caps and the hiring of the new teachers.

She said word has gone out to the school boards.

"It's a great opportunity for young teachers who are not employed or for part-time teachers who want full-time, so the boards are going to try to make that happen," said Casey.

Council member Michael Cosgrove, a teacher at Dartmouth High School, said the council moved to address the most pressing needs for teachers.

"We had to be careful with the decisions we made and I think at the end of the day the main point will be that we asked to put 139 teachers into Nova Scotia classrooms in order to get our class caps down and to help with some of the complex classrooms," said Cosgrove.

Under the recommendations, the class cap for junior high would be set at 28 students, with flexibility to expand that number to 30, requiring the hiring of 49 teachers at a cost of about $2.9 million.

The high school cap would be set at 30 students with flexibility to expand to 32, requiring the hiring of 50 teachers at a cost of around $3 million.

Another 40 teachers would be hired at the junior high level for a $2.4 million pilot project to support math and literacy skills in classrooms with high numbers of special needs students.

The government also said it would match the $1 million put forward by the council for the pilot project to provide grants to priority schools.

Cosgrove said while class sizes do vary across the province and from school-to-school, he and other teachers have worked in classrooms with up to 40 students. He said the reduction of class caps to 30 students or less would lead to a more desirable environment for teaching.

"You can reach more students, you can spend more time assessing," he said. "It makes sense. If you've got less people you can spend more time with them."

Pamela Doyle, a guidance counsellor at Lockview High School in Fall River, said the council was conscious that another committee is looking at classroom inclusion issues.

"There's a lot of concern with complex classrooms but we also know that the inclusion commission will be looking at that," said Doyle. "So we wanted to put some things to deal with that, but we didn't want to go to in depth because we want to hear their recommendations and work collaboratively with them."

The government's acceptance of the report comes ahead of a possible election call this weekend.

Other recommendations from the council will affect such things as student assessment and evaluation, attendance, data collection and reporting, and marking days.

The council is scheduled to meet again for three days beginning May 17.

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