Rob Currie wasted little time in attempting to make a connection with those attending the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Annual Meeting of Council by alluding to his three-plus decades in the education sector, including his tenure as a classroom teacher, administrator and director.
On this occasion he was there in his current role as Assistant Deputy Minister with the Ministry of Education, and he was speaking to an audience that had its reservations about some of the latest communication coming from the department.
Currie’s tactic, both in his perfunctory speech and subsequent interview, was to keep things close to the vest while trying to assure teachers that the Ministry values the partnership with the province’s teachers. This partnership is for the benefit of students as part of the government’s commitment to the Student First approach.
He did acknowledge the fiscal challenges the provincial government is currently saddled with in asking the public service sector–and teachers specifically–to appreciate the reasoning for the espoused 3.5 percent public service reduction, which he said will be dealt with in the upcoming provincial collective bargaining process.
Currie also made mention of the fact that in the recent provincial budget, locally elected school boards remained unchanged while noting the expectation that school divisions will look to find cost efficiencies in order to keep as much money as possible in the classroom.
In the interview, Currie suggested that having worn as many hats as he has during his education career, he has an understanding from various perspectives about the current challenges the sector is facing.
“I have significant empathy for the classroom teachers and administrators when it comes to funding, but at the end of the day it’s about the classroom teacher facing that child and, above all, we need to continue to remember that. Collectively we need to meet those fundamental needs as best as we can.
“That relationship is what we’re all here about and we need to keep that in front of us. There’s no question we need to provide significant dollars for education.”
Currie agreed that one of the significant challenges for teachers now is the rapidly increasing diversity in the student population, which he said will require us to utilize resources differently than before.
“I understand the challenges and realities we’re facing in terms of providing the best-possible education to every student in the province. I’m not underestimating the challenges before us, but I remain encouraged because we have committed, dedicated educators and administrators who will meet those challenges for their students because we know they are counting on us.”
According to Currie, it’s based on what he has seen in the past that convinces him the future is not bleak despite the current challenges.
“It’s not to say it will be easy, but we will get through this together. It’s important that we maintain our relationships and shared targets as opposed to what might sometimes seem to polarize us.
“Ultimately, education can’t be looked at as just dollars and cents. We need to have those conversations as a sector in terms of what is working and, if necessary, revise what needs to be looked at.”