Open Letter to Clarence Hansen, Chair VSB

Dear Mr. Hansen,

I would like to convey to you some of my thoughts and concerns that have emerged as the public process of consultation has developed these past few weeks. I would also like to convey to you my personal perspective on the importance of rebuilding our schools as is described in the EFR phase 1 document.

There has been much discussion and commentary within our communities and in the various public media. As this discussion has proceeded the public face of the issue appears to have become a story about ‘what will happen to a small westside annex as a result of the intransigence of a large corporate institution (UBC) combined with bureaucracy locked into a faulty process (VSB). Yet, such a representation is not supported in the empirical facts of the situation.

From my perspective, and that of many of the other parents I know in this area, the issue is about two very important issues: the need to rebuild our schools, and; the lack of capital funding to do what needs to be done.

It is clear to those of us who have made the commitment to live in the new residential areas on Point Grey that the University has gone a long way toward making the rebuilding of our schools possible. We can, as always hope for more from the university, but to wait for a miracle would be to place the needs of many, many young children and families at risk of a further disruption to their education.

As adults wrangle over words and sentences in arcane planning documents our children are growing up. My own boys will not have the opportunity to attend the long sought after rebuilt school, even if it is put in place at the earliest date implied. We need the school out here and what I hear when I walk through my neighbourhood is that it’s time to start rebuilding.

Perhaps a few words about the community that makes up the student population at the two U Hill Schools would be of some interest. In terms of demographics you will already know that both schools are at the limit of their enrolment capacity. According to the BC Statistics census tract data for the UBC/UEL area there are 1545 school age children (6 to 17 years of age) living in our community. There are an additional 680 children living in this area under the age of 6. The overall population in this area has increased by nearly 40% since the 2001 census (see previous post for data). This compares with a next to nil population increase in the surrounding census tract areas (i.e. Dunbar and West Tenth areas immediately adjacent to the UEL.

It is difficult to make the decision to close any school for any reason. I would personally prefer that some other source of funding be found as opposed to the proceeds of a small school. However, if waiting for new money or new mechanisms means losing the opportunity to rebuild our schools then I do not believe that is the reasonable and prudent thing to do. We need to start Rebuilding Our Schools and we need to do it sooner rather than later.

Some have asked which school might be next? Perhaps we should ask which student must stand in line for the bus, which students must sit in a seismically unsound building, . . . Not as elegant a slogan, but more in tune with the reality of the need to rebuild our schools. Our children need a proper place to go to school and learn. On behalf of 500 hundred young people without a neighbourhood school I ask that you hold the course and start rebuilding.


Charles Menzies
Parent of a U Hill Secondary Student.

VSB’s EFR for the Dunbar to UBC Study Area – Let’s Keep Our Focus

Guest Commentary, Mankee Mah, Co-Chair U Hill Elementary PAC

In its Educational Facilities Review for the Dunbar to UBC Study Area, VSB proposes:
1. To close Queen Elizabeth Annex
2. To build 2 new schools at UBC
3. To carry out seismic upgrades

Some argue that the need to build 2 new schools is why VSB is closing Queen Elizabeth Annex (QEA). Is it?

Let us imagine, for a moment, that there is no need to build new schools at UBC. Would QEA still be considered for closure?VSB’s operating budget grant from the provincial government is based on student enrolment and not on the number of buildings, the amount of floor space, or how much more expensive it is to maintain a particular building. In order words, money spent on maintaining excess space equal less money for education.

The catchment area that QEA is part of has 2 elementary schools for English instruction (QEA and Queen Elizabeth) and 2 elementary schools for French Immersion (QEA and Jules Quesnel). QEA is a K-3 school with 129 students. After grade 3, students in English instruction continue their studies at Queen Elizabeth. Students in French Immersion continue their studies at Jules Quesnel.

In their review of excess space, VSB recommends that QEA move in with Queen Elizabeth. Both QEA and Queen Elizabeth already share the same school Principal and the French Immersion program will continue at Queen Elizabeth. With the higher cost of maintaining an annex, closing down QEA would put more money back into education than just simply downsizing Queen Elizabeth. VSB estimates an average savings of $1000 per student space. In the case of QEA, that could be $130,000 a year.

True, our children’s education is not for sale. But, is that the case here? Queen Elizabeth is still a wonderful school in the same, wonderful neighbourhood. Children in French Immersion will still go on to Jules Quesnel after grade 3.

Let’s look at what giving up a savings of $130,000 a year could mean to us. With declining enrolment that translates to declining provincial funding, could that mean more cut-backs to resource teachers, books, or hot lunch programs? We expect our government and its public entities to use our tax dollars effectively. Why then do we, at the same time, want to prevent them from doing so?

Time to put the needs of not one but 2 new schools at UBC back in the picture. Yes, proceeds from the sale of the QEA grounds can help make the new secondary school and a new elementary school in the UBC neighbourhood a reality. But, VSB has already stated in their proposal that the closure of QEA is for the “future financial sustainability” of the district.

In the last 3 weeks, UBC has been under fire by parents who have misinterpreted their planning documents and demanded that UBC pay for the new schools. I trust that recent statements from UBC have quieted down those discussions. If you’ve missed the Vancouver Sun articles or the detailed statement circulated by UBC, you can get a copy from the UHill Elementary PAC’s website at

Lost in the midst of all above controversies are the seismic upgrades at Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, and Jules Quesnel. Unlike Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary that can rotate their renovations by moving students around in the school, Jules Quesnel is bursting at the seams. VSB recommends that while Jules Quesnel undergoes seismic upgrades, the entire student body would re-locate to the new elementary school at UBC before the new school is open for full occupancy by local students. If there is no new school for Jules Quesnel students to go to, some or all of the students would be moved into portables. But since there is limited space at Jules Quesnel, these portables will be placed on the grounds of Queen Elizabeth. What would this mean? If all of the students from Jules Quesnel are moved into portables, Queen Elizabeth will have to share its gym, cafeteria, library, and washrooms with 400+ more students. If only some of the students are moved into portables, they will be separated from their friends and their school. Given the alternatives, relocating students to the new elementary is a better solution for the students.

We seem to have a good knack for knocking down suggestions. We want to debate them before we can accept or support them. I appreciate this process as this is what makes us human. But, let’s not forget that this proposal for the Dunbar to UBC Study Area is the result of more than 5 years of discussions with parents, UBC, and VSB. We must remain focused on a solution that works for all our children.

From the QEA web page

The following are the instructions to QEA supporters posted on their web page for filling out the feedback form along with suggested cut and paste options for the comments section.

We need to ensure that the Vancouver School Board hears our community’s objections to their proposal to close and sell our school from as many people as possible. One of the most important ways you can do this is to fill out the VSB On-Line Feedback form! (takes 5 Minutes). Make sure to put comments in the free form section of the form. If you want to refer to some comments/background info, please refer to this great letter Example #4 – you could even cut and paste into the OnLine form.

The VSB will tabulate data collected from these forms to assist with their decision re: closure of our school

As Dawn Steele pointed out in a comment on the Vancouver Sun Blog, the VSB consultative survey methodology is seriously flawed. Anyone can fill out the survey as many times as they wish. There is no mechanism in place to control block submissions or cut and paste answers on the feedback form. Let’s hope that when the school board makes their decision that they rely upon a sound methodological measure of community sentiment, not a vote once, vote often survey.