1000 hits since January 10th

1000 hits and over 2500 individual page views since the Vancouver School Board released its Educational Facilities Review-Phase 1 Report. This is the highest period of view on the site since the the provincial teacher’s strike in 2005. Visits to this site have steadying increased each day peaking between the period of January 29th and February 7th,

The Schools We Need Blog

Deputy’s newsletter – The Schools We Need Forums

Thanks to Charles Menzies, updates I came across this newsletter from the new Deputy Minister of Education, James Gorman.

His focus is on the new District Literacy Plan. He itemizes a few things that came out of a “Provincial District Literacy Planning Forum.” Who knew? Anyway, they came up with a list of “main themes that emerged through the day.” None of which leave me with any hope at all of anything concrete coming out of this, but one in particular resonated within my brain, being,

“Developing relationships takes time and patience.”

Time to Rebuild Our Schools – Letter to the Media

In the educational facilities review discussion ongoing in Vancouver it’s a shame that the discussion is being turned from educational needs of our children to a focus on UBC’s role as developer. UBC is cast as in someway being negligent by creating much needed and relatively affordable places for people to live. In other parts of the city such actions are lauded. But not west of Blanca. UBC has developed housing that reduces commuting, ‘eco-densifies’ the neighbourhood, and provides important social amenities to community members (our community is rich and diverse. We are students, families, new immigrants, UBC employees, and many other people who find living in a sustainable environment a plus). As with any large institution there are lots of things to complain about -however, in terms of working toward schools west of Blanca, UBC has been doing as much or more than any other developer in the lower mainland. We might productively ask why developers are not obliged to do more and pay for the social impacts that their developments cause, but to place all of that responsibility upon UBC is to allow the VSB and the provincial government to evade their responsibilities.

Last year the VSB submitted a proposal, developed by UBC Properties Trust, to the provincial government. Apparently the plan involved UBCPT financing the renovation and construction costs for a rebuilt high school west of Blanca. The lease agreement between UBC and VSB would have allowed VSB to pay back these costs amortized over 25 or 30 years. The provincial government is said to have rejected that arrangement.

It’s too bad that our provincial government refused to accept an arrangement that would have solved our school needs over a year ago. If they’d picked up the ball we wouldn’t be in the current crisis.

The situation for the 1,500 school aged and 680 preschool children living west of Blanca is serious. The two neighbourhood schools can only take in about 1100 of the children living here. Is it the fault of these children that the adults haven’t done anything for close to ten years? Should these children be made to pay the price of the inaction of adults? While adults bicker and call for moratoriums on the rebuilding of our schools hundreds of children -who are part of the Vancouver School District- are being deprived of their neighbourhood school.

The VSB plan is not perfect, but it is a plan that will put children into schools in their community. It will disrupt a few dozen children whose school is to be closed. This is never a happy thing to do. With care and good will any disruption can be minimized. We can always hope and pray for a miracle that will meet the needs of the many and the desires of the few. But, in the meantime it is time that we stopped blaming and started building.

Our kids deserve that.

Deputy Minister of Education -Report on Education (new series)

James Gorman, Emery Dosdall’s replacement, has finally released his first Report on Education. Following Mr. Dosdall’s last report we wondered if the new ND would follow in his footsteps. Well the answer is yes, but no. The first newsletter comes out with the announcement that it will now be a monthly affair. One thing that must be said about Mr. Dosdall (whether one agreed with his a approach or not) was that he was first and foremost an educator. Mr. Gorman falls more firmly within the career technocrat mold. He has held several posts more akin to chief financial officer then chief educator and, at least in this newsletter, it seems to show. Read it here.

Read past issues of the former DM’s newsletters here.

Tactics of Resistance and School Closures

In the ongoing struggle over school closings some tried and true methods are being applied. From the BCTF guide on how to save a school through Vancouver’s current struggles (see, QEA’s action page and Garibaldi’s attempt to forge community alliances) to the earlier wave of political actions including occupations and sit-ins in rural schools such as the embittered Forest Grove struggle) parents, staff and members of their surrounding communities have struggled to hold back the recent tide of school closures.

Not all schools are the same, nor are all situations of school closures identical. Factors leading to school closures, however, are consistently linked to declining enrollment and fiscal constraints.
There has been significant research into school closures and consolidations over the 20th century. This research can be said to, very loosely, identify two major moments or processes of school closure: (1) that linked to the decline of rural agriculture and rural resource extraction industries, and (2) that linked to late 20th century neo-liberal economic theories. Both are not of course truly independent of each other, but keeping them apart has a useful analytic value.

British Columbia’s economic history of the last 150 years is a history linked to rural resource extraction industries -forestry, fishing, mining. The early development of these industries required large flexible labour forces. In human terms, this meant the creation of quickly growing small resource dependent communities throughout BC. This process carried on fairly predictably until the mid-late 1970s. At which point global economic forces conspired with vested local interests to produce a wave of economic consolidation, rationalization, and concentration. In human terms -job loss, declining rural and resource community population, fewer bigger processing plants, and the combination of declining wages with growing profits. This economic backdrop provided the impetus to what I have described as the first moment of school closures, a process that had its primary impact on rural areas and smaller communities.

The processes described above also lead to the rise of neo-liberal economic theories as the primary guiding force of governments and the reigning popular orthodoxy. The implication for schools and other public interests is that a particular notion of ‘fiscal’ responsibility and accountability becomes the guiding principle. Backed by a common sense ideology that government is too big and taxes are a problem, public institutions have been forced to curtail expenditures and to reorganize themselves in ways that mirror the concentration and consolidation of BC’s resource extraction industries. In human terms? -Close schools to concentrate the production of measurably successful students in fewer sites of production (i.e. schools) that are larger and operated with fewer employees. This is particularly important to neo-liberal theorists as public institutions are seen as economic dead weights and thus the less one spends on them the better off a society will be. Many of the school closures in BC since 2001 have been closed as a result of neo0liberal economic theories operating as government policy.

The current proposal to close QEA is an excellent example of neo-liberal fiscal polices masquerading as educational policy. Here is a school that is functioning, doing a great job, but is planned for closure to meet a capital funding requirement. And, the capital funds are required because of provincial government policies. To be clear, the provincial government provides the money and sets the rules. The school board has to follow the rules and make decisions regarding its budget. The school board thus does indeed make its own decisions, but not under conditions of its own choosing. But by any other way (and despite surface appearances) it is the school board who are the shock troops of provincial policies.

The dilemma is that within the context Boards of Education can either accept the status quo (do nothing), accept the rules and do what the VSB is doing, or try and break the rules which would then lead back to the imposition of the status quo. Not really much of a choice.

Here are a couple of articles on school closing that may be of interest.

  • On the debate between small vs large schools (though small seems to be considered between 250 and 350 in this article).Download file
  • An article that reviews rural school closures in Denmark and questions the assumed devastating impacts that are often cited. According to the authors, rural school closures are a symptom, not a cause of problems of social cohesion.Download file
  • A review of data on school closuresin Australia and the fiscal outcomes.Download file
  • For a how to on closing a school check out:Vancouver Sun blogs

Speaking with one voice

There comes a point in almost any struggle, organization (or family for that matter) when, at the heat of the moment, a conciliatory voice will say we need to find common ground and speak with the same voice. The assumption seems to be that differences of opinion and divergences of perspective are distractions. Distractions that will ultimately lead to intensified conflict (or, in the terms of a political organization, weakness). It is very nice, in the abstract, to say people need to speak with the same voice. It makes a sort of common sense. One might even suggest that it allows us to sweep under the carpet distasteful aspects of conflict for a common good.

But is it really possible to speak with one voice? What does it mean? What is the cost of reducing everything to the lowest common denominator so that every one can speak with the same voice? I hear this sentiment often in my professional research into aboriginal title and rights. But in my professional work it is usually a privileged non-aboriginal community, organization, business, or government that suggest that one should speak with a common voice, find a common perspective. Suggestions from the aboriginal community that their rights have been denied or that the services they are receiving are sub-par are met with calls to try not to be divisive, to not cause conflict, to not pit communities against each other. Of course, that’s a different story and doesn’t directly compare to the question as to whether or not families living west of Blanca face an inequitable allocation of public resources.

The current problem of the EFR is a classic dilemma. Within the current context if voice ‘a’ gets what it wants voice ‘b’ doesn’t. Voices ‘a’ and ‘b’ can both agree that some external force is to blame and that each other both deserve what they want. But, unless something changes there is no way to speak with one voice, unless one party wishes to subsume their immediate interests so that the interests of the other can be supported .

We can certainly agree, as I think many of us did at the representational meeting last Thursday, that there is a real and pressing need in our school district for students living west of Blanca. We can also agree that seismic upgrades are critical and need to be dealt with. That’s the easy part. What is far harder to find common ground on is the mechanism to achieve these agreed to objectives.

It’s what parents and community members living west of Blanca have been struggling, lobbying, arguing, praying for, for close to six years now.

I think it is fair to say that ideally and in the abstract every currently existing school and piece of school property should be held onto. We don’t, however, live in an ideal or an abstract world. We live in the here and now and have to make decisions under conditions not of our own choosing.

[See, comments that lead to this posting: click here.]

Family factors and School Achievement

BCTF Information Services — Research & Reports: Family Factors and School Achievement

“This report outlines family and home conditions affecting children’s cognitive development and school achievement and how gaps beginning early persist throughout life. Critical factors examined include single parent families, poverty and resources, parents talking and reading to children, quality day care, and parental involvement in school.”

Socio-Economic Data on Vancouver

vancouvermap.jpg The socio-economic data for Vancouver, complied by Human Early Learning Partnership at UBC, shows some pretty striking things about the nature of the areas around Dunbar and UBC. The maps are worth reading just to see how starkly particular areas stand out as different then the rest of the city in terms of median and average household income, percentage of households living at or near the poverty line, stability in housing, multi-generational occupation of same house or neighbourhod, language spoken in the home, ethnicity, and a variety of other socio-economic indicators. It really is a situation were the pictures speak for themselves. Have a look at the full report on the early learning web page.

See, also,previous posts on comparative demographic data and UBC/UEl population data.

Another QEA Update

Hello Once Again Everyone! (Guest posting from QEA PAC Action Committee)

First of all, thank you to everyone who attended last night’s meeting. Again, many excellent points were raised and we are making ground. Two trustees who were not at the last meeting attended last night’s, Carol Gibson and Eleanor Gregory. Stephen Owen attended again and repeated his hope to work with the Province and the VSB to find an alternative solution. It was impressive to have so many passionate speakers from all generations and around the community. Some parents from UHill spoke about their frustrations and their desperate need for new schools at UBC. Speakers from our school and community assured them that we all want new schools at UBC, but NOT at the expense of Queen Elizabeth Annex. Some other issues raised last night include:
There is an urgent need for Seismic upgrading and this issue MUST be separated from the issue of school capacity. The Ministry’s refusal to release funds for seismic work is verging on criminal.

The EFR data is misleading regarding the costs of Annexes.

We share the catchment for French Immersion with Jules Quesnel, so why do we not share Queen Elizabeth’s English catchment as we are an Annex to that main school.
The VSB’s new slide, a scattergram showing in and out of catchment QEA students is misleading.

The inevitable densification of our neighbourhoods and the resulting increase in the school age population.

Selling prime property for a lease is a bad idea. Once the land is sold, it is unlikely that the VSB would ever be able to purchase in this neighbourhood again.
And many more, but we don’t want this email to be too long…..

Ongoing actions:

1. Please register to make a presentation to the trustees, please do this by close of business today although the official deadline to register is February 10 at midnight.

2. Complete the VSB feedback form and submit it before February 15. For ideas on how to do this please check out http://www.saveqea.org/letters/VSBFormHelp.htm

Now that we have the VSB’s and UBC’s attention, we need to get the attention of the Provincial Government. Here’s how you can help:

Please write a letter to our MLAs Colin Hansen and Gordon Campbell as well as Shirley Bond, the Minister of Education. Request that our MLAs hold an emergency meeting with the parents of this school and demand that they bring our concerns to the Ministry of Education. See our website for appropriate email addresses http://www.saveqea.org/actions.htm