1. What is the most important issue facing the Board of Education, and how would you propose to deal with it?
Beyond the ongoing lack of provincial funding to our education system, I feel the single most important issue in the school district today is the overall facilities management and strategy – including school overcrowding, declining enrollment at other schools, and seismic/structural risks.
In Willoughby, the overcrowding in schools has become a huge problem. Two years ago, the district had to displace Grades 6 and 7 from one elementary school to a new school two catchments away, creating a lot of stress on the kids (many of those children will be attending four different schools in four years because of that decision). Even after that, the school still has five portables, the infrastructure is still strained, children still alternate days on the playground, and there still aren’t enough books for the children.
More than ever, the Willoughby neighbourhood in the Township of Langley is in desperate need of a secondary school. The one and only high school supporting the area – R.E. Mountain Secondary School – is already significantly over capacity with 16 portables, and enrolment is expected to be double its actual capacity within three years. This means children will be attending a school with twice as many students in it than it is supposed to have. This is not acceptable.
Moreover, the Yorkson Creek Middle School opened in September 2014 only *slightly* under capacity because they removed the planned Neighbourhood Learning Centre to make room for more children. And there is much more neighbourhood growth anticipated. In fact, the Langley School District has determined that area growth will necessitate the establishment of a second middle school by 2016.
On the flip side, there are Langley schools with declining enrolment, with families scared they are at risk of losing their neighbourhood schools.
The Township of Langley must be strongly compelled by the district and other community influencers to change their approach to development. as their current strategy has created a crisis in our community.
The Township must be persuaded create sustainable development that can enable livability in all areas of Langley. Why not responsibly develop pockets on non-ALR land and revitalize schools and businesses in other areas (think 300 houses, not 3,000).
Finally, the provincial government must be much faster in their response to provide seismic and structural upgrades to Langley’s at-risk schools. Six months ago, B.C.’s auditor-general issued a blistering report criticizing B.C.’s readiness for a catastrophic earthquake. The government is gambling on the safety of our children spending their days in buildings where there is a high structural risk assessment. That is not a gamble I am OK with. Our children spend a minimum of six hours per day, 10 months of the year in district facilities. It is critical that they are safe places that are conducive to learning.
2. Should the school district sell surplus school sites to help fund capital projects in Willoughby?
Possibly. This strategy must be examined on a case by case basis. Schools currently open should not be closed to solve problems created by others’ bad planning. Neighbourhood schools are critical to the community and children’s development.
If there is surplus land that is being held and there is no indication that it would be a viable school site within the next 20 years, selling the land should be considered. However, if there is an opportunity to generate revenue by leveraging existing buildings to meet the needs of the community, that approach should also be considered.
With every initiative, there must be a risk analysis completed. Do the benefits outweigh the risks? And since children are the foundation of our “business,” their needs and best interests must always be kept in the forefront.
3.Is there enough timely communication between the board and the two local governments regarding development and its impact on school population?
No. While I commend the move made over the past three years to have regular meetings between the municipal councils and the board, it simply hasn’t been enough to drive any tangible results.
Willoughby is in a crisis, while other areas of Langley are concerned their schools may be closed due to a declining population. We must move beyond the status quo and develop and deliver a transformative strategy that creates a balance in the development of Langley.
What has happened with our schools should not be a surprise to anyone – parents have been ringing alarm bells for years. It’s time to demand results. No child should have to attend four schools in four years because of poor planning by the elected officials in this community. It’s traumatic for families, not just “inconvenient” as some have categorized it. If we “wait this out for another 10 years” as it’s been suggested, you’ve sacrificed a generation of children.
We are not talking about roads or bridges here. These are our children – and there are no second chances for them.
4. What is the best way to deal with class size and composition issues, so that all students get the maximum attention from teachers?
We need more funding for Special Education Assistants and Librarians so that our children get the support they need. This is not happening right now.
The Langley School Board needs strong, fearless voices to advocate for our children. We also need strategies that will shift the power back where it belongs. Having to beg for support to our own government for our children appalls me. Education is not a public service – it is a basic human right. The first thing I would do as trustee is establish a partnership with neighbouring school boards and create a collective and powerful voice that the government cannot ignore. We must be relentless in our advocacy to bring support back to our classrooms where it belongs.