Small Schools are Better

Small Schools, Next Big Thing :: Views ::

A Tuesday in the winter of 2004 finds me standing behind my desk at Ideal Mini School in Vancouver’s Marpole neighbourhood, where the weekly school meeting is getting underway. Since it is held in my classroom, I could stay put, but I decide to stroll down the hallway to round up stragglers. When I return with a couple of Grade 9s who were busy in the art room, we have to shoulder our way in.

Vision School Board Hopefuls Debate

Hopefuls for the Vision nod for school board lined up last night (Tuesday Sept. 9) to answer questions and meet the public. A quiet crowd of about 50 or so people piled into the aging lecture hall at Vancouver City College. A couple of council hopefuls -Catherine Evans and George Chow- were noted in the audience.The candidates were divided into two groups of four for speaking (First :Luke, Bacchs, Vdovine and Clement. Second: Gregson, Chhina, Lombardi, and MIrras) and were each given an opportunity to make an introductory remark of 2 minutes, followed by questions from the three member panel. The panel consisted of a university student and two teachers (the current Vancouver Secondary Teachers Union president and a retired teacher -as an aside it would have been nice if the third panelist had been a parent, such as former DPAC Chair, Julianne Doctor (also noted in the audience).

The Vision Education group -Luke (click for speaking notes), Bacchus, Vdovine(click for speaking notes) and Lombardi (click for speaking notes)- presented well. Vdovine’s comments seemed the most scripted and, at times, seemed to turn away from answering the questions posed. Luke and Bacchus clearly demonstrated their long term involvement in the public education system at both the grassroots and district level as active and commitment parents. Lombardi’s presentations were polished and clearly reflects his long time experience as the professional and social issues division director of the BCTF (a job which he simply referred to as an Education Leader). From my vantage point in the audience, Helesia Luke and Patti Bacchus clearly stood out with their running mates a close second.

Ken Clement, long time community advocate, highlighted the school board’s failure of aboriginal students: “It’s time that the aboriginal voice is heard on school board.” He’s right. It’s a tough message to bring though as most people -sympathetic or otherwise- typically tune out when the aboriginal people raise these issues. It’s an age old problem. To put it bluntly -how does one confront racism without alienating the racists? Ken could very well be the person to do that. His long term involvement in aboriginal issues and associations in Vancouver give him a solid base of experience and understanding to work form. People that I know refer to Ken as being diplomatic and effective at what he does.

Long time teacher, now retired, Anatasia MIrras attempted to showcase her capacity to work for aboriginal students by describing a program she designed for the RCMP. She also suggested that district-wide parents don’t do enough for poorer schools like Grandview Elementary.

Former COPE Trustee Sharron Gregson emphasized her experience as a trustee a being her leading edge by saying that she didn’t like being a trustee in her first year, didn’t really know what she was doing in her second, and finally figured out that she could do something her third (paraphrased). I’m not sure that’s the kind of experience I’m looking for in a trustee. Many parents and students living in the University Hill Schools area of the district will recall her empty words of support while seemingly fighting against the much needed schools in our part of the city.

Businessman Narinder Chhina railed against west side schools whom he accused of stealing students through cross boundary enrollments and criticized for having better facilities. Both claims are inaccurate. VSB data shows that cross boundary enrollments tend to follow district programs, like I.B., French Immersion, or Mini Schools. The better facilities argument is problematic. Especially as a parent with a son at Univ. Hill, the VSB’s most over crowded and decrepit facility. The reality is that schools across the district face problems and these problems don’t fall along any real east/west line. Despite the old left us/them ideology, it is a rare Vancouver Public school that has parents rich enough to meet all the funding deficits that exist.

I was a little disappointed in the questions that were asked of the candidates -not so much in terms of what was asked, but what wasn’t asked. The teachers asked the expected questions about class size and composition, inequities in facilities, the repurposing of school boards and the issue of private school funding. The student asked about processes for involving students in decision making at the board level and about candidates experiences with students. There were no opportunities for questions from the floor though the candidates did stay around to talk with people afterward. The entire event was over by a few minutes after 8 pm.