Peter Whittle did not expect last week to find himself thrust into the position of president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils (NLFSC).
It was only a few months ago that Whittle nominated his former colleague Nathan Whalen to remain in that same position for another one-year term.
But last week Whalen told the board of directors he had to leave the position due to work-related commitments. Whittle had supported Whalen when he was first elected in 2013.
“I wasn’t expecting to be stepping up to a leadership role this year,” said Whittle, who officially replaced Whalen Thursday night.
But with experience on his side as a former first vice-president and secretary for the organization and current involvement with two school councils, Whittle feels more than ready to take on the challenge of leading an organization that acts as a collective voice for school councils and parents.
“It’s a time-consuming role, but certainly I’ve spent the last 24 or 25 years of my life engaged in public policy in some role or another, and I’ve been on school councils for the past 14,” said Whittle, a father of three young boys who lives in St. John’s. “It’s just sort of a natural fit.”
It will be full steam ahead for NLFSC as it looks towards a new school year and an election year in 2015. Whittle says the province’s newfound wealth in recent years has certainly benefitted its education system, but issues requiring further attention remain.
“You’d have to be blind or really have an issue from a partisan perspective to not acknowledge the fact that with the newfound wealth the province is experiencing since 2003, there has been significant investments in infrastructure, in programming, in salaries, and at the school level books are free now. We used to have to pay for books. All of this has changed, and these are all positive initiatives. But there are still things that we believe are unfinished or incomplete.”
On teacher allocations, Whittle sees the need to move towards a needs-based formula and rethink the student-to-teacher ratio.
“There are different needs in rural Newfoundland sometimes than in urban areas, and the per-pupil based (formula) doesn’t necessarily work as well as the needs-based formula that we’re pretty interested in,” he said. NLFSC also wants the government to take another look at the no-zero policy and assess its effectiveness.
Whittle is also curious to see how negotiations on a new collective agreement between teachers and government play out. News broke over the weekend that the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association’s collective bargaining unit and government had reached a tentative agreement.
As for the school councils, Whittle hopes to get them more involved in the federation.
“People don’t seem to step up their time to volunteer in organizations like (school councils). They hear of meetings and formalities and stuff like that. I’d like to see more parents get engaged in school councils and be more active,” he said, adding that a more regionally-defined board structure may prove beneficial.
To help school councils better understand their role, NLFSC has produced a tool kit document for the new school year outlining both their role and that of the federation.