Sunday, September 28, 2008

More questions than answers when it comes to Neighbourhoods of Learning project!

A pilot project that is set to explore how School District’s across the province can create community hubs and partner with other community groups is an intriguing proposition, but School District 52 officials would like to see more details on what it’s all about.

The Neighbourhoods of Learning project appears to be designed to help defray the costs of education delivery in the province, while at the same time expanding the use of facilities and providing for a wider spectrum of programs in these community hubs that are to be created.

Adding to the mystery of the program is the recent announcement that not one, but two schools in the Point Grey area of Vancouver have been selected to be the pilot project study cases, a decision that has not gone un-noticed due to the high profile of that areas MLA, who just happens to be Premier Gordon Campbell.

North Coast MLA Gary Coons suggested that a more deserving area might be Haida Gwaii, which would in his estimation seem to be the ideal candidate for a project that is designed to share services.

Another area which might benefit from such a program is Port Edward, which currently is struggling to keep their school open, perhaps by using this project there would be a way to help defray the cost of keeping the school in the use, while making it more accessible to community uses as well.

Or if we look at Prince Rupert as an example even, if such a program had existed in the last few years, perhaps schools such as Kanata and Seal Cove would not have had to close their doors. Instead the School District could have been re-evaluated their use and potential partnerships and use the facilities for the new and still formative guidelines for the project.

The Daily News featured local reaction to the project from School District 52, which clearly would appreciate just a little bit more information from the Ministry on this one.

School district eager to study idea
But details lacking so far for Neighbourhoods of Learning concept
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Pages one and three

The Ministry of Education's new Neighbourhoods of Learning pilot project has left school districts across British Columbia with a number of unanswered questions, said Superintendent of Schools Eric Mercer.

The recently announced Neighborhoods of Learning is a $30 million pilot project that will create community learning hubs that will offer learning space as well as space for other community needs, such as after-school programs. The Ministry of Education has already told school districts to refrain from any further school closures, but Mercer said districts are wondering how else they can address low capacities and a lack of funding to support school infrastructure.

"If we were to keep them open and [create] partnerships, do we receive any additional monies for that?" asked Mercer.

“Districts are off-loading property because it’s a drain on their resources, so we need to know if there will be additional funding. That’s not yet been answered. And are there priority groups? Is early learning the top priority group as to who we might partner with? Is it senior complexes? What is it that the ministry envisions for us to do with these properties?”

Some of the other questions pertain to student migration from Northern communities to the Lower Mainland, seismic upgrades and building modifications, as well as staffing requirements.

Mercer said although the Ministry requested the list of clarification questions and said responses would be sent back shortly, he doesn’t know how long it may be before the Neighbourhoods of Learning model is explained any further.

The government has announced that initially five heritage schools will be exempt from provincial rules for seismic upgrades which favour the construction of smaller schools rather than more expensive upgrades to larger old schools.

Since that announcement, the government has come under fire due to the fact that two of the pilot project schools are in Premier Gordon Campbell’s constituency.

Education Minister Shirley Bond said recently that she was responsible for deciding where to place the five pilot projects, explaining that the ministry “wanted to look at schools where we thought it would be successful, where there were existing issues that would allow us to look at a concept that would incorporate some new thinking.”

Bond said the Neighbourhoods of Learning project is the ministry’s way of responding to concerns from all over the province about how to utilize space in schools in different ways.

However, she has not given a timeline outling how long it may take to implement the project in other B. C. schools.

North Coast MLA Gary Coons said the fact that two of the schools are in Point Grey is arrogant and unfair, arguing the decision to upgrade and turn schools into “community hubs” should be based on transparent criteria.

Tahayghen elementary on Haida Gwaii would be a perfect place to model the Neighbourhoods of Learning program,” said Coons.

“If you look at social indicators and what is generally available in the community, the need for more access to community programs is much greater in Masset than in Point Grey.

“Why does the neighbourhood of Point Grey get two community hubs when whole cities and districts don’t even get one? The level of services and activities available for youth and families in Point Grey versus a community like Masset is not even comparable.”

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