Over the past decade in Saskatchewan we have seen the benefits that a growing economy can provide. My vision for an accessible, inclusive, and competitive K-12 education system is rooted in the fundamental fact that not a wheel turns within our provincial economy without education. Now more than ever, innovation is at the heart of our 21st Century economy, and we need a 21st Century education system to ensure our students are fully equipped to take advantage of the opportunities the new Saskatchewan holds.
A flexible, integrated, student-focused approach
No two Saskatchewan students are the same: different learning styles and abilities, different literacy and language skills, different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, and different cognitive, behavioural, and even mental health issues within our student population all make today’s classroom an increasingly complex environment. It is clear that we need integrated solutions that recognize and support the individual needs of students within the classroom setting.
Because I believe that we do everyone a disservice when we introduce a strategic plan, but not provide adequate resources to properly implement it, I would initiate an immediate review of the Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP) for 2014-2020 to ensure that we are directing appropriate funds to the right places to achieve the Plan’s goals. This review will demand a full and honest dialogue with our partners: teachers, school boards, and the Ministry of Education.
This review will emphasize supports for literacy and English as an Additional Language (EAL) to ensure that children are ‘school-ready’ with a particular focus on the critical K-3 years. I am also firmly committed to working with the federal government to ensure that the treaty right of every First Nations child to receive a quality education is honoured - and fully funded. I also believe that Treaty education in the K-12 system is fundamental to reconciliation and am supportive of bolstering indigenous education in Saskatchewan.
As Premier, I would also support expanding our provincial curriculum to include a strong civics component, emphasizing the responsibility of citizenship and the need for our students to be engaged in their communities. Celebration of our shared values and respect for our varied backgrounds are essential to building a strong future for our province, and I believe our education system has a critical role to play in teaching and nurturing civic responsibility in our young people.
Because individual students have unique and often complex needs, we must do more than talk about ‘inclusive education’ - we need to fund it. This means directing government dollars towards programming, professionals, and tailored supports that will show results. This starts with a commitment to data-driven decision making. We need to move past a purely per-student funding model, and instead look closely at the data we have regarding special needs students, EAL students, students with behavioural or cognitive challenges, and then we need to direct more intensive supports directly towards those students.
Earlier in my campaign, I announced that as Premier, I will chair a cabinet sub-committee with the Ministers of Education, Health, Social Services, and Justice to focus specifically on mental health issues. I believe that the work of this subcommittee can be expanded to consider both in-home and in-classroom supports for our young people.
Inclusive education also means a learning environment that is safe, secure, and welcoming. As Premier, I will support partnerships between schools, municipalities, law enforcement, and community organizations to implement programs and initiatives that foster understanding, tolerance, and acceptance. Through these partnerships, we can also establish crisis prevention, preparedness and communication protocols in our schools. This will allow us to respond in a timely and effective manner should any critical incidents arise.
Rebuilding our Relationship with Teachers
There can be no doubt that building an inclusive and modern education system in Saskatchewan demands that our government maintain regular, respectful dialogue with teachers. These front-line professionals serve and support not only Saskatchewan students, but also Saskatchewan communities. I am very proud of our government’s record in hiring more than 800 new teachers since 2007, but I also believe that our government has work to do in rebuilding our relationship with the over 13,000 educators in our K-12 system. I’m also very proud of our government’s record in building 40 new or replacement schools since we took office because a positive physical space does contribute to learning; but I also recognize that bricks and mortar don’t teach. Supporting our students starts with supporting our teachers, and as Premier, I will commit to a meaningful and open discourse with our educators, ensuring they have both a voice in education policy and the freedom to teach in the classroom.
Supporting choice and local input
The feedback received through Mr. Dan Perrins’ consultations this past year on education governance provide a clear message to our government. We heard from parents, teachers, and administrators that local direction and decision-making at the community level must be maintained within our K-12 system. As a former school board trustee and chair of the Saskatoon Public School Board, I understand why local input is so critical. I also support freedom of choice in education because I believe that religious and private education opportunities should be able to co-exist with a publicly funded system. As Premier, I will ensure we utilize the on-the-ground expertise and experience available to us. I am committed to on-going dialogue and consultations with all partners in our education sector so that all decisions made regarding education policy – especially decisions made at the cabinet table - are made with the best interests of students in mind.