School boards quickly hiring staff for Nova Scotia preprimary program
HALIFAX – As the new school year begins, it appears most Nova Scotia school boards will have hired enough staff for the Liberal government’s promised expansion of pre-primary classes for four-year-olds.With a little over three weeks to go until an end-of-September deadline, only one board — Yarmouth’s Tri-County board — has hired all of its needed staff of one supervisor and 10 early childhood educators.The Halifax Regional School Board reports it has filled 21 of 22 positions, but will also need to fill an additional two positions after the Education Department approved a second class at Joseph Howe Elementary in the Halifax’s north end.Two other boards — Annapolis Valley Regional and South Shore Regional — say they have only one position unfilled, while other boards still have multiple unfilled jobs.“We have a lot of work to do, but at this point the indicators are positive,” said Education Minister Zach Churchill.“We are going to keep working with our partners to achieve what our goal is — to have a full staffing complement to ensure that all kids in these catchment areas have access to this program.”The latest figures come after private and non-profit providers raised questions about whether there were enough early childhood educators to go around in a sector which has historically struggled to find qualified staff.Lisa Davies, chair of the Non Profit Directors Association of Nova Scotia, said it’s unclear at this point whether a significant number of the new hires for the public system are coming from the private sector, potentially creating fresh shortages.“We are hearing a little bit of word about interviews and a couple here and there that have put in their notice,” Davies said. “In the non-profit sector we are starting to hear a little bit around the Halifax Regional Municipality.”Pamela Streeter, who runs several early education programs including pre-primary at Creative Kids Education Centre in Hammonds Plains, is among those who have voiced skepticism about the province’s ability to find enough qualified staff.Streeter said she too has heard some anecdotal evidence the private sector is starting to lose staff. She added she isn’t surprised the Halifax board in particular has been able to hire to the extent that it has.“(Halifax) has found their staff because this is where the majority of them live anyway,” Streeter said. “It will be interesting to see how the rural areas do.”Churchill said he doesn’t have a sense yet of any problems for the private sector, but promised the government would take steps to help.“We encourage them to reach out to our department if they do believe that they are going to encounter a staffing issue as a result of this. We will do our best to help them hire and to find bodies.”Churchill said the department has hired a consultant who will set up a consultation process that will include private providers this fall. An exact date for the beginning of the consultations hasn’t been set.In Cape Breton, the Strait Regional School Board said it has hired a manager and six lead educators, and is in the process of hiring two more lead positions as well as six to eight more support positions.“At this time, we anticipate interviews for the remaining currently unfilled … positions will be completed by the end of the day, Monday,” a board spokeswoman said in an email.There were no firm numbers provided by the remaining school boards, although two — Chignecto-Central and Cape Breton Victoria — say they have completed their interview process, with the Cape Breton board saying it anticipates filling all its positions.“Recruitment will continue until all positions are filled,” the Education Department said in a statement. “The department will continue to work with its partners to open all classrooms by the end of September.”In an interview earlier this week, Tri-County board superintendent Paul Ash said their new hires mean each of the six sites in the school district will have full staffing. The Education Department said Thursday that classes there are set to open the week of Sept. 25 and parents would be contacted with details this week.First announced in April, pre-primary became a major Liberal promise during the spring election campaign. The program is to be introduced across the province over the next four years at a cost of $49.9 million a year.The government announced in mid-July that it wanted to add 30 new classes to 20 existing classes at 43 locations across the province this fall, with availability contingent on the number of available early childhood educators.As of Thursday, the department said the French-language Conseil scolaire acadien provincial has already converted its existing early years program to a pre-primary program.