Since I will be referring to the Reavis Report from time to time in my schools series, here is the background on it. All accompanying pictures are from 1948. The above photo is from the 1948 Winnipeg Santa Claus Parade. If you click the pic you can watch a Super 8 movie of the parade.
During the 1940s, education changed dramatically. Innovative teaching methods, curriculum, research and administration styles developed, creating new challenges and complexities. This left some school boards wondering about the modernity of their own systems. The looming post-war population surge forced educators to take action. Winnipeg School Division #1 (WSD #1) undertook an intense self-study to gain perspective on its present state and most beneficial future actions.
To conduct the survey, WSD #1 sought the University of Chicago’s Department of Education Field Services Committee under the chair of William Reavis.
The directed self-survey methodology used questionnaires almost exclusively. Sixteen core committees and 73 sub committees involving over 500 parents, school officials, administrators and teachers participated. The survey explored every aspect of the educational process including trustees, superintendents and principals, school buildings, finance and administration and curriculum at every level. The survey occurred during one week in October 1947.
As a result, in September 1948 the Reavis Report offered over 300 recommendations intended to update and modernize WSD #1. The Report recommended that the Board of School Trustees reduce its membership from fifteen to nine and find a better way of selecting trustees. The Report encouraged improvements in utilizing the professional leadership of the Superintendent in relation to trustees, schools, teachers and students. School principals, often confused by their role as intermediaries between students and communities on one hand and school authorities on the other, needed more opportunities for personal and administrative improvement including in-service workshops and a clear manual of instructions.
Teacher recommendations focused on recruitment, selection, standards of living, appraisals, instructional development and workload considerations. Over 200 of Reavis’ recommendations fell under the heading of curriculum changes.
Elementary school recommendations encouraged smaller class sizes, enrichment of library facilities, improved instructional materials and
expanded teaching techniques. Reading in Winnipeg schools at the elementary and high school levels lagged behind national averages. The Report recommended special attention for reading and language arts.
Junior and senior high schools, while generally effective, required establishment of core common teachings needed by all students mixed with curriculum options to help students discover their own proclivities. Other recommendations included fewer and longer class periods, a University Entrance Exam, reorganization of subjects and expansion of practical arts and vocational education.
Tec Voc was in the planning stages at the time of the survey. The Report encouraged expansion of home economics and industrial arts and the introduction of agriculture courses at the new technical school.
The Report identified the high dropout rate at the secondary school level as a major problem. One way of improving dropout rates was by establishing and adequately financing more personal services for students. Among these services, the Report touted Child Guidance Clinics as essential to modern secondary education. Guidance clinics in combination with newly available vocational opportunities meant students could more easily adapt to the machinery of mass education.
The Report found that board finances and the administration of school business could be improved through more thorough budget considerations and by exploring new sources of revenue. The Report pinpointed the need for a central maintenance shop and storage building for equipment and supplies.
Reavis felt the system lacked modern “school plants” declaring it encumbered by too many “obsolete” fully depreciated buildings. The Report recommended 14 old three-storey schools should be razed, rebuilt or relocated and replaced with new buildings as soon as possible. The Report stated a dozen other old schools needed the same treatment
but less urgently. Although most of the Report’s findings proved helpful, the demolition of old schools was controversial in local communities, eliciting many objections from area parents and residents.
The introduction of a one-mill capital levy made a vigorous
building program possible. Between 1948 and 1957, the School Division built 25 schools to accommodate the baby boom. In that same decade, just four of the schools Reavis recommended for demolition succumbed to the wrecker’s ball – Argyle, Fort Rouge, Norquay and Aberdeen. Largely due to the heroic efforts of neighbourhood residents, many of the other schools de-listed by Reavis remain standing today.
The Reavis Report’s impact on WSD #1 increased sensitivity to principals’ leadership roles and motivated teachers and other staff to improve procedures in the teaching and learning process. Administration changes made the Superintendent the chief executive officer of the Board. Because of the Report, Winnipeg established the first fully modern school administration in Canada. The constructive efforts of Division employees and communities involved in the survey created long-term improvements in education and better prepared the Division to cope with present and future challenges. The Division also discovered a way to satisfy the needs of communities using responsive attention while involving them in modernizing the schooling process. Perhaps inadvertently, this delicate balance of needs may be the Reavis Report’s greatest legacy.