School's changing role
Educators refocus the three Rs

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 04/97) - Educators are turning more than ever to community groups to deal with classroom problems, saying they can't do it alone anymore.

And Ken Woodley, superintendent of the public school board, said schools are re-evaluating their role in more ways than one.

Among the board's new tools is a future needs committee to identify the future of schools. "We're taking stock right now," Woodley said. "We've always been torn between what the legislated requirements are and what we see as needed in the schools."

Schools now place more attention on areas that include career placement and emotional health -- in short, a more holistic approach to the needs of students that can challenge educators.

Because of resource shortages, this approach involves getting outside agencies to help provide the services required of this new educational system.

"Because of time and money constraints, we have to be clear on our mandate," said Liz Baile, special needs co-ordinator for the Catholic school board.

"Education is a shared responsibility in the community," she said.

But Baile said she doesn't feel that schools are trying to do too many things.

"Because of economics, people are re-evaluating their mandate ... how to be more efficient with their resources. But we have to build more collaboration."

Woodley said that the school has always been "a convenient grouping of students in one place" that has had some problems dealing with the individual needs of students.

"The school is not, and never should be a dumping ground," he said.

While schools have always struggled with problems in the classroom, educators are now taking a holistic approach to students' well-being and education.

"Educators can't do it alone -- we have to co-ordinate with different community groups even though our mandate is education and our approach is more holistic, we need outside services," said Baile.

"We have to do this because we have the reality of having the students onsite for eight hours a day."

Woodley said it's difficult for schools to do all of these things.

"The schools are not malls -- a mall has a variety of stores in which people shop for different needs," he said. "I don't think it's realistic to suggest that schools can address the problems of students."

Woodley said that schools are moving away from the philosophy that all students move in the same direction.

"I'm looking to the day when the school system will be large enough for all students to see that the system meets their needs --- and allows them to maximize their potential," he said.

But Baile warns that the process of moving in this direction isn't easy.

"There's always the question of finding funding," she said.

"To do this with such uncertainty can be quite frustrating. We can't keep letting families fall through the cracks. It's pretty incredible how students aren't getting service in this city."