Langley Advance Times is offering this weekly feature, called “At Your Service.”
It’s another forum in which to put questions to our local politicians about key issues facing our community and its residents.
Using a basic question-and-answer format, elected officials will be asked one question at a time and given the opportunity to respond (to a maximum of 250 words) on that said issue.
Alternating between elected groups, Langley City and Langley Township councils, Langley school board, Langley MLAs, and Langley MPs each have a chance to participate.
The answers provided will be published in their entirety online Sundays.
Each school trustee was asked the same question: How can Langley attract enough teachers, SEAs (special education assistants), and other key staff to keep up with the growth in student numbers?
Board chair Rod Ross
1. Be world class.
If you are “world class,” you will never have trouble retaining and attracting staff.
I don’t thing Apple Corp. has any issues with attracting and retaining staff.
Langley is on this road and am confident that we will be and is a school district of “choice.”
2. Build teacher housing.
3. Make it easy to apply.
Our HR team is looking how it can streamline its hiring processes to make it easier to apply and teach in Langley.
4. Hire within.
People are motivated by challenging and exciting career opportunities. If they see the district is hiring “outside of Langley”…they may get discouraged and leave. Opening leadership opportunities within the district displays to the school community that Langley wants you for the long term.
5. Recognize excellence.
We need to be vigilant in recognizing excellence. Excellent staff inspire excellence in others.
6. Open up Board Office Special Projects Internships.
Perhaps a rotating position could open up at the board office, so we can allow for innovative projects to flourish.
Trustee Shelley Coburn
A. In my eight years on the board, I can say with certainty that attraction and retention of quality staff has always been an area of focus.
Strategies including relationship-based recruitment, institutional partnerships, intentional placement, leadership development, growth opportunities, and professional learning are all aimed at attraction and retention of quality people.
Attraction for Langley is not our issue.
Langley’s one of the best districts in the province.
We hear this repeatedly everywhere – Langley is the lighthouse district. Our retention numbers are high – higher than the provincial average.
Pre-pandemic, we were struggling to fill positions at all levels. This is not an experience unique to Langley. It is not only growing districts facing this challenge. All school districts have been facing shortages for years.
The toll of the pandemic on public education has been tremendous.
Our schools were open, taking care of the most vulnerable people in our communities with little public acknowledgement and appreciation from the provincial government. Instead, after surviving two of the most gruelling years in public education, the reward is cuts, cuts, and more cuts.
The problem with attraction and retention isn’t about our district – it is about a system that is taxed and strained beyond imagination and continues to be stretched beyond its capacities with folks who are burnt out, relatively underpaid – especially SEAs – facing extreme inflation doing some of the most challenging work you can do.
The challenge in public education is convincing people it’s worth it.
From what I can see the provincial government is doing little on their end to recruit and retain quality people into education. Until this changes, we are in big trouble.
Trustee Charlie Fox
A. The retention of staff and hiring of new staff to meet the needs of a growing district is an ongoing challenge for our school district.
First and foremost, is the retention of our existing staff in all areas of employment.
Recently, a full staff survey was completed by all employee groups and the results are being reviewed by the district leadership team.
This review and analysis will assist in knowing the issues and challenges that are evident with employee groups and form the basis of knowing some, if any, changes that need to be made to ensure employee satisfaction.
Secondly, I know our human resources team is being extremely diligent with hiring for all employee groups to ensure our district-wide needs are met.
Whether it be hiring of student teachers just completing their practicum in the district or recruiting from graduating teacher education students at all the local and provincial university teacher programs, they are working to fill vacancies and hire for growth.
To compliment the hiring of teaching staff, the human resources team is looking at any and all possible hiring opportunities for SEAs and other classroom-based staff to ensure all areas of staffing are full for the fall. This includes CUPE (both locals) staff, such as bus drivers, secretarial staff, custodians, maintenance, and the like.
With an employee group of well over 2,000, it is imperative that we as a district are proactive in a continuous manner to ensure a full complement of staff are in place, and I feel that this is happening.
Trustee Suzanne Perreault
A. We are working with our universities and colleges to attract the best people possible, while attending recruitment opportunities and working with BCPSEA, ongoing.
However, the nuances of who we are as a district become important key components, one of which is a stronger undertaking towards inclusion, diversity, and trauma-informed practices for staff and students.
This moves us towards the conversation of being a most favourable place to work.
Attracting staff who are aligned with our growing best practices, as we continue to expand the conditions to learn in safe, equitable ways, reflects a strong path for others to enjoy their employment within the Langley School District.
Strong, active working relationships with our partner groups is an experience staff can hope to enjoy. Keeping in mind, having high a performing board should become an important part of this conversation to support leading the way while keeping children at the forefront.
Trustee David Tod
A. Great question! In our strategic plan, we have re-emphasized the central importance of our HR department.
In today’s competitive job market for educational systems, you require thoroughness and nimbleness.
We make a point of interviewing practicum students in their final placements.
A staff survey has been established and employees input is instrumental in positive change.
We hope to set an example of a progressive and caring employer.
As trustees, we achieved the goal of moving from the Fraser Valley branch to Metro in order to better advocate for higher remuneration for our principals and excluded staff.
We as a board need to model respect, appreciation, and admiration for our remarkable staff.
Trustee Tony Ward
A. Due to decades of tireless work and passion of district staff, as well as an uncompromising commitment to delivering exceptional education, the Langley School District has a built up a very positive reputation.
Langley typically has little difficulty attracting high quality applicants to fill teaching and special education assistant (SEA) positions to account for typical annual enrolment growth.
However, with the rapid development on the Willoughby ‘slope,’ SD35 is experiencing very significant enrolment increases specific to that area; with approximately 950 new students, we will be adding numerous new teachers, as well as SEAs.
To further complicate matters, there is currently a province-wide teacher shortage.
Building off ideas mentioned in response to a previous Langley Advance Times question from several weeks ago regarding retaining skilled and experienced staff, some key things SD35 can do to attract quality educators is to:
• Continue pursuing and delivering excellence in all aspects of education
• Continue to build a vibrant and positive SD35 culture – appreciate what everyone offers, identify unique strengths, create an environment where staff can be nurtured to flourish where they feel that their personal contributions to our district family are indispensable.
• Help employees find a work/life balance. Flexibility can be a key to attracting, as well as retaining employees.
• Ensure developmental opportunities are available. Promote from within, if possible.
Langley must continue to be ‘competitive’ in its attractiveness to would-be district educators.
SD35 needs to continue to be a leader.
Trustee Marnie Wilson
A. The easy answer is… pay them more!
The current system of provincial bargaining is not working for the education system.
Educators are constantly being asked to do more with less and have been pushed to the brink.
Most support staff don’t make a livable wage and need to work a second or third job.
The recent government bargaining mandate is insulting, in our current inflationary climate. The reason we have a shortage of teachers and SEAs is because the workload and compensation are not attracting people to go into those professions.
As a trustee, I will continue to advocate to the ministry to allocate more money and resources towards education. But in the meantime, Langley can try to be the best district to work for by creating the best working environment for employees.
Treating employees with respect and making them feel valued goes a long way.
The public school system is a unionized environment, so it is important to have a good working relationship with those partner groups.
Next week, Langley MLAS are being asked: Should people who don’t own vehicles receive government funds akin to the ICBC rebate?
Watch for their answers online Sunday.