About 1,000 residents from HRM and parts of the Annapolis Valley joined Education Minister Ramona Jennex on Oct. 18 for the provincial government’s first ever telephone town hall.
Despite a few minor glitches, Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville MLA Mat Whynott said they considered the initiative a success.
Whynott hosted the hour long town hall that focused on education.
“We felt that when you have about 1,000 people discussing education, that’s pretty good. And they can do it from the comfort of their own home,” he said.
About 23,000 homes located in HRM and parts of the Annapolis Valley received pre-recorded phone calls prior to the event. They were advised that in order to participate in the call and hear from education minister Ramona Jennex, all they had to do was pick up the phone on Oct 18 at 7 p.m.
“It is another way to connect with people we represent. It’s new technology everybody can use,” Whynott said in an interview. “We want to start doing this on a regular basis on different issues around the province.”
Jennex fielded questions in the manner of a radio call-in show. The concerns and issues brought forward by participants were varied. They included questions on class sizes, social and mental health services in schools, education to prepare for skilled trades and bullying in schools.
One participant asked the government to ensure children at the earliest levels received proper instruction for reading and writing comprehension.
A young male caller asked the government to consider engaging youth in the democratic process via changes in the education system. Johanna, who identified as a grandmother, expressed great concern about the idea of placing Grade 6 students into Grade 7-8 schools, and having Grade 9 students in high school.
At least one call came from a frustrated Halifax parent named Mary Jane who took exception to the fact the government said it was taking action last month by hiring 45 new teachers to ensure P-Grade 3 classrooms didn’t have more than 25 students each.
“It was your action in the spring that caused the cap to go from 25 to 27,” she said. “We knew in the spring exactly what class sizes would be and you wouldn’t listen.”
Jennex replied that when they saw the numbers in the fall, they took action and she added that they were listening now.
A parent named Shelley from Sackville asked if there was anything the provincial government could do to curb the number of what she considered excessive professional development days. She said her children had on average one, sometimes two per month.
“I understand professional development is important..but I don’t think brain surgeons get this much professional development,” she quipped.
Jennex didn’t offer any solutions, but did say a number of people were concerned about the issue and said she understood personally how disruptive it could be for young families.
Whynott said questions and comment were still rolling in following the Oct. 18 town hall. He expects they’ll organize similar town halls on other issues and target different parts of the province.
“The (NDP) party did pay for this. It was not a government thing,” Whynott said about the town hall. “We feel this is a part of our mandate to talk to people about their ideas.”