BERWICK – There was hardly a dry eye in the room as Lavinia Parrish Zwicker handed yellow roses to school board members at the final Annapolis Valley Regional School Board meeting March 27.
She spoke about how the flowers, which represent joy and friendship, symbolize the bonds and deep respect formed between the board members during their years of collaboration.
Laughter and hugs and tears ensued as each board member received their rose, and hugged Zwicker, the board's chair.
“Everyone take a deep breath – we can do this,” she said.
Vote to dissolve passes
Last reports were given, and no new business was announced as members each had their final meeting minutes approved by the rest of the board.
“It’s sad, and it’s bittersweet, but we recognize that we have a job to do. And tonight, we need to complete that job,” said Zwicker.
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Each member thanked their colleagues and administrative team, recalling past inside jokes and moments of debate, and spoke about the pride they’d taken in serving their communities and working for the students.
“This is a job we really care about. We’re committed for one reason, and that is for students, and that means having to make difficult decisions sometimes,” she said.
The board, first formed in 1996, also voted to formally dissolve, a moment that was followed by a heavy silence.
“Having elected, not handpicked, representatives always meant our varying backgrounds we brought to the table created a thorough and rich discussion.”
Zwicker spoke about her hopes the government will input all recommendations from the Glaze report, including ensuring inter-agency collaborating and new funding formulas, and that their priorities will be in the right place – with the students – moving forward.
“No matter what is transpiring with the adults in our world, we know our students will be protected each day in the classroom,” she said.
Ongoing representation for minorities: concerning
Tassa Kennedy, the board’s Mi’kmaq representative, comfirmed one of the Race Relations, Cross Cultural Understanding and Human Rights, or RCH, committee’s last acts was to submit a letter to education minister Zach Churchill, calling for the government to ensure a greater balance of voices to represent A NS and Mi’kmaq students and families on both the transition team and the provincial advisory council.
She, along with the board’s African Nova Scotian representative Peter Cromwell, are concerned with the elimination of regional representatives for African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaq communities.
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Cromwell said the work accomplished by RCH councils has not just been for the benefit of minority students, and that progress is evident on a local level, with a group of Bridgetown students naming their new school street after Cromwell’s mother, Edith Hope Cromwell.
“When I was young, we didn’t have a hope in hell a street would ever be named for a black woman,” he said.
“It is important students envision the new reality of Canada, in terms of all people living here, and they are doing that. But now, we may lose that. This new representative isn’t Superman – how will he handle every problem? That’s impossible,” said Cromwell.
Loss of local voice also a potential problem
Cromwell and Kennedy agree their biggest concern moving forward lay with rural minority students, rather than those in urban areas near where the new provincial advisory council will set up shop in Halifax.
For Cromwell, he worries that members of disengaged, disenfranchised communities will once again lose out, not being able to find the right avenues for speaking up for their kids.
“This is a real problem, and is not just about African Nova Scotian students,” he said.
Kennedy agreed, saying the reduction in representatives means “a lot of voices will be lost.”
“This is why we drafted the letter – we want more voices, more seats,” she said.
“We’re hoping the transition team works to solve this. Our voices in the Annapolis Valley still need to be heard.”
For Zwicker, the biggest priority is finding out what parametres the new provincial advisory council will have to operate within, and hopes their main focus remains with the students, first.
“We have to recognize the public was in tune they have board member that represents them. They were physically able to come to meetings, since they were held in their area," she said.
"It remains to be seen if that local voice is still there."