Teacher-parent takes umbrage with school district opinions

I am responding to the newspaper article, "Many primary students can't read at their grade level"


I am responding to the newspaper article, “Many primary students can’t read at their grade level”, written by Monique Tamminga and published in the Aldergrove Star and Langley Times newspapers this week.

As a teacher, Aldergrove resident and parent with children enrolled in Parkside Elementary, I am flabbergasted to see that Superintendent Suzanne Hoffman and Assistant Superintendent Gord Stewart of the Langley School District would publicly imply that four Langley schools (Blacklock Fine Arts, Parkside Elementary, RC Garnett and Richard Bulpitt) are not properly servicing their grade 1, 2 and 3 children in reading.

The article states that the children in these four specific schools are “in need of literacy support and summer sessions” and the district plans to “track vulnerable students”. By making such statements about these four schools, their words created panic, worry and doubt among the parents whose children attend these schools, many who are now wondering, “Is my child’s school a bad school?” Whether it was Ms. Hoffman’s or Mr. Stewart’s intention or not, they have also very publicly undermined the tireless work the teachers at these schools do every day to teach, mentor and mold their students into educated and successful human beings.

In an era when both teachers and the education system are publicly ridiculed on a regular basis (for reasons too numerous to list here) I can not help but wonder why the top two individuals trusted to lead the Langley School District have voiced (to a member of the news media) such a skewed and incomplete version of the truth.

I am not arguing the fact that students in the Langley school district may not be meeting expectations where literacy is concerned. But I am asking, what good did naming these specific schools serve?

Instead, Ms. Hoffman’s and Mr. Stewart’s words served to perpetuate what we teachers are calling the “ghetto-ization” of certain schools by publicly advertising them as “tough” schools with “low academic achievement” and “many needs”. This ghetto-ization of schools creates fear and worry in parents with school age children who live in these schools’ catchment areas. As a result, many parents keep their children from attending these excellent neighbourhood schools and drive their children to other schools in Langley that are publicly deemed “more successful” with a “better clientele”.  It’s such hogwash!

However, I really cannot blame parents for relocating their children away from their neighbourhood schools when these schools are so publicly and unfairly outed like they have been in Ms. Tamminga’s article.

Here, I want to adamantly point out that Parkside Centennial Elementary, my children’s school, has an amazing reading program that has taught my son, a very reluctant reader, to indeed, read! He did not start reading until the end of grade two/beginning of grade three.  (He is now in grade 4). Can you imagine working with him for that long without any real results? I cannot and I am his mother and a teacher! But the principals, classroom teachers, support teachers and educational assistants at Parkside Elementary did not give up on him and now he reads and improves every day.

But how are other parents in Aldergrove and Langley to know this about Parkside’s amazing reading support services when all that they read is Ms. Tamminga’s article and her quotes from the Langley School District’s Superintendents?

Parkside Elementary also has a parent driven Reading Club that runs after school during the year in addition to evening information sessions that teach parents ways to support their child’s literacy. Cathie Gracie, the school’s vice principal, is a reading specialist and runs these parent groups. I also understand that at least three of the schools they named, Parkside Elementary, Richard Bulpitt and RC Garnet, hold Summer School Literacy Classes for students free of charge every summer.

Mr. Stewart alluded to this fact, in a negative way, when he stated that these summer classes were canceled due to the teacher job action. Instead, he should have stated what great support these particular schools provide for their students with their free summer reading sessions!

Another point I found very disconcerting in Ms. Tamminga’s article is that, according to Mr. Stewart, the drop in Langley students’ reading level achievement in 2014 was partly due to the teachers’ job action that year. In response, I would ask Mr. Stewart to please reference the empirical evidence that supports such a random statement. Mr. Stewart followed this statement by saying, “But there isn’t one single factor we can attribute to this decline.” I completely agree, but I still cannot understand why Mr. Stewart would then choose to publicly pick the teacher job action as the one “factor” to highlight and discuss in this article? Why would he purposefully put Langley schoolteachers into the public’s bull’s eye when there are so many other factors to consider?

Here are some other possible reasons for students’ lower literacy scores:

– funding cuts

– overcrowded classrooms with only one teacher; lack of space to properly teach small groups within a highly populated classroom; high student-classroom teacher ratio

– lack of resources (leveled books, books of interest, technology)

– lack of proper support services (Resource room teachers, Educational Assistants, Reading Recovery programs, Reading District Teachers)

– lack of or little access to early reading intervention programs for all schools (Reading Recovery, Strong Start)

– socio-economic issues- parenting/family issues

– student health/behavioural issues

– ELL students- even the issue of “boys born in late December” can be a reason for not reading at grade level.

All of these factors contribute to a student’s learning and literacy levels, but the only image the public has been left with after reading this article is the image that blames the teacher job action for the low literacy scores by Langley students in 2014.

This is not an accurate image at all. One of the few statements I did agree with in Ms. Tamminga’s article is Mr. Stewart’s view that, “Ensuring kids are ready to enter the education system and their readiness to read, starts with parents.”

All education starts with parents at home. I have to write that again. All education starts with parents at home.

Teachers and schools are just one of the many phases in a child’s lifetime of learning.  Their first “school” is at home where children are (or are not) learning basic life skills like sitting up, crawling, speaking, and yes, early literacy through the enjoyment of books and words; children learn these life skills from their parents, the most important teachers of their lives. All we school teachers can hope to do is to take in the children that the parents are raising and work with them the best we can with the limited resources we have.

Whatever Ms. Hoffman and Mr. Stewart intentions may have been, I am left unable to understand why the Langley School District chose to make any public comments in this article at all. What were the benefits? How were the children or schools better served by your quotes? I do know that parents and teachers are buzzing from it, questioning the quality of their schools and the skill set of their teachers, while the teachers are left wondering, “Now, what do we do?”

In the future, I ask that Ms. Hoffman and, more directly, Mr. Stewart, take time to make a more concerted and public effort to articulate how much they support their Langley schoolteachers’ work and their Langley schools’ educational programs. It is simply the right thing to do.

Lori Opper, proud Parkside Elementary parent and proud school teacher, Aldergrove