Dunbar Residents’ Association Enters the Fray

DRA News & Events � Proposed Closure of Queen Elizabeth Annex and Related Issues

Dear Vancouver School Board Trustees:

The Dunbar Residents’ Association is extremely concerned at the unreasonably short timeline given for public consultation on the proposed closure of Queen Elizabeth Annex and the other Phase 1 EFR proposals. These are proposals that will have a significant impact on all of the neighbourhoods involved and therefore require meaningful community consultation and a reasonable amount of time for citizens to gather information and respond in an informed way.

We understand that the Annex is to be closed and the property sold to provide funds for the provision of neighbourhood schools at UBC. The closure of Queen Elizabeth Annex will have an impact on our community at present and seems short-sighted for the future, given the City’s Ecodensity Charter and its predicted population growth.

The proposals raise a number of issues that citizens need time to assess and address, and the limited time given is difficult to understand in the context of what should be a desire by the VSB to engage in genuine community consultation. We urge that you engage in additional community consultation, extend the deadline for feedback for at least six months and postpone your decision accordingly.

Yours truly,

Susan Chapman
Dunbar Residents’ Association

No Satisfaction with survey

Administrators question merit of school satisfaction survey

BRITISH COLUMBIA – Parents, students and school staff are being asked this month to complete a survey about B.C. schools but in some schools, questions are also being asked about the survey. Is it worthwhile? Does it ask the right questions? Does anyone care about the results?
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation wants members to snub the survey, saying it’s a public relations exercise with no educational benefit. But they aren’t the only ones to put little stock in the results.

Several principals contacted recently by The Vancouver Sun were unfamiliar with last year’s results for their schools and suggested the vague questions – and in some cases, low number of responses – mean the results offer little to supplement their understanding of school communities.

The survey looks at whether students feel safe at school and like their teachers.

“I don’t like surveys, period,” said Shirley Sulentich, principal of Chief Maquinna annex in Vancouver. “I didn’t even look at last year’s [results], to be honest with you. I don’t see them as the most important thing in my world.”

Sulentich said she might be more interested in the results if she were new to the school or if the children were older, but given that the annex is K-3, she wasn’t sure the children appreciated the significance of the questions.

At Kitsilano secondary, principal Alex Grant was similarly lukewarm.

“Typically, I haven’t found the results to be particularly useful – mainly because the questions are really vague,” he said in an interview.

Last year, none of his teachers and only 30 parents completed the survey. Although student returns were higher, Grant suggested a sample survey would take less time, use fewer resources and be just as valid.

The survey is administered from January to March to parents and students from Grades 4, 7, 10, and 12 and all public school staff. In K-3 annexes, the survey is given to Grade 3s.

Participation rates are relatively high for elementary students because surveys are completed in class, but drop to 60 per cent by Grade 12. Less than half of elementary school parents and only nine per cent of high school parents took part.

The questions include: Do you like school? Do you try your best? Do adults in the school treat all students fairly? Do your teachers help you with your schoolwork when you need it? Do you feel safe at school?

BCTF president Irene Lanzinger said the survey doesn’t ask the right questions to get a true picture. For example, it doesn’t ask teachers if they have the resources to do their jobs and it doesn’t allow students and parents to say what’s lacking.

“This survey is very, very biased in terms of trying to provide only the positive side of the story,” she said.

In most cases, the results change little from year to year. But some schools stand out. One school with unusual results was Elsie Roy elementary – a place so popular parents lined up overnight this month to secure a kindergarten spot for their children in September.

Yet the survey suggested only 54 per cent of Elsie Roy parents were satisfied last year with what their children were learning.

Asked if the results were significant, principal Isabel Grant would say only “numbers can mean so many things” before referring questions to the district head office, which didn’t respond to a request for an interview.

The cost of the survey was $160,000.

Sun education reporter

© Vancouver Sun

2007-08 Report on Education from the Deputy Minister

Here is the farewell newsletter from Mr. Dosdall. One wonders if his replacement will do the newsletter as well, or if this exercise will fall to the wayside. One hopes that the newsletter will continue.Download file

Past years’ newsletters can be found here.

Deputy Minister of Education Newsletters

The June 9th newsletter is surprisingly quiet on the teachers’ strike vote. Aside from a single column listing ‘successes to date on the bargaining front, the entire newsletter is dedicated to succession issues.

The June 16th issue consists primarily of a “BC counter point” (the deputy minister’s phrase) to Alfie Kohn’s work. Retired superintendent’s Ron Rubadeau is quoted in support of standardized testing to measure innovation and excellence. Mr. Rubadeau draws upon his experience as a special education person and claims that special ed children receive lots of testing and they “enjoy taking them.” Interesting defence. Not sure if the children that I know would agree with that.

The June 23rd issue finally contains a direct reference to the current BCTF/Government negotiations. The minister mentions it, repeats the line regarding number of contracts signed, and ends with a quote from the Minister of Finance, former CBC boss Carole Taylor.

The June 26th issue, coming out on the eve of the settlement, provides a salary comparision for teachers from the DM’s point of view. Since then it seems things have been silent on the newsletter front.

Download June 9, 2006
Download June 19, 2006
Download June 23, 2006

Download June 26, 2006

For previous messages click here.

Messages from BC’s Deputy Minister of Education

Current deputy minister messages are focused on issues of salary and bargaining. In the June 2nd issue is a rather interesting analysis of teachers’ salaries as compared to education administrator salaries. However, the two tables are not quite directly comparable. In the principal salaries we have the minimum and dived by elementary and secondary. In the superintendent group we have min/max as per size of school district. However, the teacher salary table (which gives us the ‘third highest’ is, according to the deputy minister “adjust[ed] for what actually happens.” Unfortunately there is no explanation for how the salaries have been adjusted, nor is there an explanation of “what actually happens.” What we are left with is an interesting document that could be used effectively in a applied skills math course or a critical thinking class in which the subject is numeracy and the ways in which ‘evidence’ can be massaged to assist our ‘understanding’ of current issues.
Here are the most recent messages:
Download June 2, 2006
Download May 26, 2006
Download May 19, 2006

Previous messages from the Deputy Minister

Reflections on Parent Activism and Public Education

After spending some time this weekend at the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils I am find myself puzzling with the question of why so many of the active BCCPAC delegates appear to fear or even dislike teachers. As I say this I understand that of course each of my fellow delegates can name at least one teacher whom they think is wonderful person or even an excellent teacher. Yet, when pressed a good number of the delegates that I spoke with seemed to feel that the real problem is in fact incompetent teachers and especially union teachers (which at times seemed to be understood as synonymous).

One delegate asked the minister of education if there was some way to take away mandatory membership in the BCTF. The underlying assumption apparently being that by disabling the teachers’ union teachers could get back to the business of teaching and our world would be a better place. To give credit where credit is due, the Minster tiptoed around the issue and advised the parent to use her power as an important professional in her own right -professional parent- to stand up to any sort of intimidation. Unionism is not, however the problem, it’s the result of decades of actions by governments who have acted without due care and consideration of the people who we expect to look after and teach our children. Working people have fought long and hard for the right to represent themselves and to protect themselves from such things as arbitrary firing, harassment, and for the semblance of respect and dignity in their work. To ask to remove that right under the guise of a ‘democratic’ reform is to turn our backs upon the basis of real democracy. Another delegate’s comment brought a round of applause when they asked a question about getting rid of ‘incompetent’ teachers. Later, in an otherwise wonderful presentation, Mr. Dean Fink, commented that some teachers have one year of experience 20 times. Applause and laughter followed -yet earlier when he suggested that accountability, testing, and choice were the foundations of a diminished educational system it felt as though a chill had descended upon the room. All this by way of highlighting that many of the delegates appeared to be concerned with the idea that ‘incompetence combined with unions is tearing about our public schools.’ Even in the face of evidence to the contrary this belief appears pervasive among a vocal subset of parents.

But what is happening on the ground? I think that it is fair to say that by and large and for the ‘typical’ student our education system works. Assessments of learning in areas like math and science typically compare well internationally. We are at the leading edge in areas like First Nations curriculum development and delivery (though more could of course be done).

There are areas that we are not doing as well as we could. Special Education, especially those areas related to learning disabilities, still has a long way to go. Gaps in special education services can be seen in the growth of a large private tutoring and educational services sector. Parents who can afford to exit the public system do so. Others who might not be able to afford exiting the public system instead purchase educational services for their children. At one Vancouver High School, for example, an administrator commented that over 50% of the students received some form of tutoring support outside of the public system. This form of privatization very likely has significant impacts upon the structure and capacity of our public education system.

UBC-based research Clyde Hertzman’s research group has noted that for

“Vancouver schools, it appeared that students attending schools located in disadvantaged neighbourhoods did poorly compared to those from resource-rich, high socio-economic status neighbourhoods. Using data from the Census and Early Development Instrument (EDI), we further analyzed the FSA results in relation to school readiness and the socio-economic characteristics of school catchment areas. Findings from this analysis suggest that many schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods are successful in improving outcomes for their students, relative to their readiness to learn at school entry.”

So schools can try to address this if they have the resources and supports necessary. If they do not the combination of under funding schools and the privatization of educational services will maintain, if not increase, the disparities.

Many front line teachers feel ground down. Despite popular misconceptions about the nature of teacher’s work, most teachers put in long hours in and outside of school. Teachers often arrive in their schools by 7:30 or 8:00 and rarely leave before 4:00 or even 5:00. They will spend their evenings making and preparing for the next day. Perhaps on the way home they will stop at a store to purchase items for use the next day or drop by a library to check out materials that are needed but not available in their own school’s library or resource system. One urban inner-city teacher recently wrote me with the following comment:

I still love teaching, but I’m 42 years old. My 28-year-old teaching partner wonders if the time has come for him to get out. And my fifty-something colleagues are all counting the days till retirement or checking lottery tickets. We are doing less teaching and more parenting and bean-counting. We are seeing now the effects of a generation of cuts as grade eight kids arrive with fewer skills and abilities and more needs that our school cannot meet except through volunteerism.

Our PAC is supportive, and tacitly accepts its role as a private fundraising arm for the school. At a recent Pro-D discussion on school growth, no one wanted to discuss the Fraser Institute ranking of our school, even though the majority of families believe what they read in the newspapers and are trying to move their kids elsewhere as a result.

In spite of such depressing events, our school strives to provide a safe haven for students to acquire skills for their present and future. Our average results give us the strength, or perhaps the illusion of strength, to continue, but we see that public education is still not a priority of society.

Teachers work hard to do a job that is increasingly becoming an impossible job to do. As parents we seem to expect smiling faces and cheery greetings. We want our children to learn -no, not learn, we want them to excel. And if our children aren’t excelling it would seem that we immediately cast out nets of blame over the teachers. Minister Bond, who managed to remind her BCCPAC audience several times that she is a parent first and foremost -“not someone with lots of letters behind her name”- described the ideal teacher: a young women with a large kindergarten class who greeted the minister in a recent visit with a bright smile and a happy outlook. The outstanding teacher was said to have informed the Minister that she loved her job and she loved her kids. Despite all the negative things that some people said this young kindergarten teacher was not simply making do, but creatively engaging her students with what she had. I am sure that many teachers still love teaching. So here we have it, youth, energy, optimism, and innovation. Sound familiar?

The ideal teacher, as presented by the Minister and as reflected in many of the BCCPAC delegates’ comments reminds me of an old halibut skipper’s ideal crewman: he doesn’t eat, sleep, or shit.

The reality is that we are all human and that the time has come to reevaluate just what it is we expect of teachers and our public schools. The old fashion labour management approach -pay them less and make them do more- doesn’t work for education; at least not effective education. As parent activists we need to think very carefully about our expectations for our children and how they are to be met. It is reasonable and understandable to want the best and the most for our children. How do we want that put in place?

If we expect all of our children to be in any class they want, if we expect education to be able to fully develop the educational potential for every child irrespective of their cognitive capacities, if we wish to address the inequities of social class, then we must move beyond thinking about education from the perspective of a parent. As parents we have a deep and important emotional connection to the well being of our children. This is an important, if a transitory, relationship. As citizens, however, we share a collective obligation and responsibility to ensure that education acts in the interests of a democratic society. I fear that the stakeholder/partners approach -the one that claims that “parents are professionals too-” is one that diminishes the democratic capacity of education and reduces the relationship to a technical management process intent only on producing measurable results – not citizens.


Fewer than 30% of the full BCCPAC membership participated in this year’s AGM. Passing motions that call for regular criminal checks of teachers and defeating other motions that would have respected the rights of working people, the BCCPAC continued to affirm its particular vision of public education.

Amidst the motions were a few bright lights -most notably a resolution to encourage the use of safe products in schools and the recognition of FAS as a special education category and the restructuring school boards resolution.

*Voting results of the resolutions*

#1 Poll Vote for Amended Motions from Annual General Meeting *Defeated*

#2 Proxy Voting *Defeated*

#3 Full Membership for District Parent Advisory Councils *Carried*

#4 Safe Products *Carried*

#5 Special Education Category for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder *Carried*

#6 Funding for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Education/Behaviour Consultants*Carried*

#7 Separate Funding for Info Technology *Defeated*

#8 Access to Gaming Funds for School Playgrounds *Carried*

#9 Mandatory Graduation Requirements of 30 hours of Volunteer Work *Defeated*

#10 Alternate Sanctions for Financial Mismanagement by School Districts *Defeated*

#11 Rescind Resolution #2000.4 – Education as an Essential Service *Defeated*

#12 Mandatory Criminal Records Check Repeated Every Five Years for All School District Employees *Carried*

#13 Expansion of the Definition of a School Board Employee *Carried*

#14 School District Restructuring *Carried*

#15 Rescind Resolution # 2003.8 – Freedom to Educate *Defeated*

#16 School Planning Council CUPE Representative *Other__withdrawn by submitting PAC*

#17 Percentage of PACs that are Members *Defeated*

#18 Diversity Representation *Defeate*d

Special Resolution

#19 Changes to Bylaw 5.11 Nominations *Carried*

Late Resolution

#20 Ensuring the Rights of All Student *Carried * Please note corrected vote count: 248 for, 78 against and 16 abstentions

Message from the Deputy Minister of Education

Since the Valentines Day Throne Speech of February 14, 2006 Emmery Dosdall, Deputy Minister of Education, has been distributing a Friday missive to the masses (i.e. superindenents, trusstees, and principals). They make for intriguing reading and I have inlcuded the first set of them here for your reading pleasure. I look forward to an engaged discussion of these carefully crafted message bites.

Have a great Spring Break

February 10, Download file
February 17, Download file
February 24, Download file
March 3, Download file
March 10, Download file