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.

8 thoughts on “Vision School Board Hopefuls Debate

  1. Thanks for sharing the link Charles. It was good to see you at the debate last night. You’ve had a good summer I trust?

    Your paraphrasing does seems to take quite a liberty in this sentence, “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”. I feel you have somewhat misrepresented this portion of my closing statement.

    Also, while I appreciate that my words to UBC parents may have seemed “empty” to you – as you were not privy to discussions in private and restricted sessions of the Board you perhaps do not realize that I continually made it clear I expected staff to push harder in their negotiations and their advocacy, with the province and with UBC, for new school space. I also wonder how many other Trustees wrote their own letters directly to the Premier and to Minsister Bond, as I did, demanding adequate funding for new schools at UBC.

    While I understand that you would have prefered me to champion the sale of QEA, or raise immediate funds from any source to pay for the long overdue UBC schools, I could not in good conscience advocate the selling of that land or
    the closing of that annex while other funding sources hadn’t been fully explored. At least I did respond to the emails UBC parents sent me and did not try to duck the issue with them.


  2. I saw the first group of candidates – Luke, Bacchus, Vdovine and Clement, and agree they all spoke well, Charles. I don’t think we can afford to ignore how our schools are failing Aboriginal kids and other vulnerable students either. As several candidates suggested – we need to be more up-front about both the success stories and the failures.

    A prior engagement meant I couldn’t stay to hear the other four, unfortunately, so I appreciate your synopsis, along with Gregson’s additional remarks. While I can understand the concerns voiced about the student/resource drain – which is particularly acute in some parts of the city – I really don’t think it’s fair or helpful to blame west side schools for that – any more than we can blame private schools for the marked public/private shift underway. It all comes back to policies set in Victoria and implemented at the district level, so we need to keep the focus there and on how to do better, not on divisive politics.

  3. To be fair, Charles, they did ask me if I wanted to be on the panel. I knew that I would be late getting there, so had to decline

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Charles. I look forward to fuller debates in October and November — and on some less predictable questions.

  5. Hi Charles–thanks for this opportunity to further the dialogue that eight very strong candidates began at the all candidates meeting last evening. I appreciate your added perspective (as well as those the other posters). Regarding the predictable questions from teachers, perhaps it may be helpful to share the purpose of the questions posed by Anne Guthrie Warman and composed (through a consultative process) by me. Our organization, the Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association, must decide what–if any–support and resources to lend these potential candidates, and we will be deciding that very soon. Our questions were designed to focus on some very key issues for teachers, and candidates’ responses, in a very large part, will be a significant determinant in who we decide to potentially endorse, or support, or … not. For the VSTA, it is significant that the four candidates on the panel seemed satisfied with legislating class size, because for secondary schools, this legislation has been disastrous. It is well known that Vancouver had over 1200 class size violations last year. This is evidence that the legislation has not solved the issue of overcrowded classes. None of the candidates expressed an awareness (suggested by the wording of the question[“legislation or local agreements between teachers and Boards of Education”]) that prior to the stripping of our collective agreement by the Liberal government, we had very effective contract language that allowed for flexibility and prevented the kinds of overloads we are seeing so much of these days. Class size and composition only became an issue when contract language bargained collectively with the Vancouver School Board, language that successfully protected the learning conditions of our students,was in our local collective agreement. … The answer we were looking for was not “class size is important”, but rather, an awareness that Bill 33 solved nothing at the secondary level. Class size worked when it was included in locally bargained collective agreements. I was impressed that Stepan Vdovine commented that the term “consult” (Section 76 of the School Act) is problematic, and “consent” language must be extended to include secondary schools. So you see, Charles, these “predictable” questions have revealed to us some very pertinent information. … Many thanks to all the candidates for caring enough to put yourselves out there for the betterment of public education. Regards.

  6. Thanks for this report. As someone who wasn’t able to attend the debate but will be voting, this is very helpful information.

  7. Hello all,
    And Shelley, thanks for bringing this up again. I have to admit I wanted to ‘retake’ my answer on class size, composition and Bill 33 to be more articulate and specific. I am glad to have an opportunity to do that now.
    I am not in favour of legislating class size and composition because there are too many variables and unique situations throughout Vancouver and BC that should addressed locally. This legislation was another attempt to undermine teachers and pretend to be addressing a problem that was created by underfunding. In my answer to the question the other night I may have moved too quickly to a more philosophical observation that Bill 33 is another example of a faulty ideology imposed on schools. Bill 33 centralized something that should be negotiated locally to meet the needs of students and educators.
    FYI – I am a co-author (along with Patti Bacchus) of The 2005 Secondary Schools Tracking Survey that you can read at: BCSPE. We looked at classes with the highest enrollment over the previous 3 years and the trend to larger classroom size was obvious – and unacceptable. (As an aside, in grade 12 my son sat on the window ledge in one of his classes as there were not enough seats to accommodate the students. His grade 12 English teacher had to drop some in-depth assignments as she simply could not read and give insightful feedback for that many students.) The data from the same question asked for the same schools in 2006/2007 is as follows.
    Q. How many students are in your largest academic class? A. Of the (only) 10 Vancouver Secondary Schools that answered that question 4 reported 31, 2 reported 32, 1 reported 34, 1 reported 35, one reported 36 and only one school said 30 students in the largest class. This survey measured the first year after Bill 33 came into effect. So – long-winded way to say IF Bill 33 was really about reducing class size, based on this survey sample, it’s not working.
    I am new to ‘being the candidate’ so thanks for another shot at that important question!

  8. Depressing to hear the VSTA take on it now after many of us fought so hard against Bill 33. I recall sitting with a roomfull of special needs advocates begging and pleading in vain with Jinny Sims to re-think BCTF’s support for the legislation, without which the Minister would have faced universal opposition and may well have had to reconsider.

    The problem is and always has always been about underfunding. So it doesn’t matter whether you try to legislate solutions, incorporate them in union contracts or to use some other policy intrument. None of these guarantee funding and as long as the money is not there, the decisions just come down to different targets and approaches for absorbing the pain.

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