Friday, January 16, 2009

C is for Closures, a controversial thing

The current state of the education debate has dominated the news in the last few days in the region, as teachers respond to the impact of the closure of two schools in the Prince Rupert area last year and Port Edward council wonders if anyone other than their residents even wants a school in Port Edward.

Those twin concerns were the focus of the Thursday edition of the Daily news with two separate stories on the developments on the educational front in the region.

A recently completed survey of elementary school teachers in the city has provided feedback that there have been a great number of challenges provided by the closures of Kanata and Seal Cove schools, a situation that according to the Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union has provided for an environment that isn’t particularly helpful in the education of the city’s children.

Enlarged classrooms described by some as dysfunctional, loss of library time, support services and other growing concerns highlighted the survey results, feedback that parents will find worrisome as they watch the fall out from last years budget cuts hit home.

While the Prince Rupert teachers were outlining their various worries about the current situation, out in Port Edward they were wondering if there wasn’t some kind of conspiracy at work to close the Port Edward School in order to boost the Prince Rupert numbers.
Growing increasingly frustrated with their relationship (or lack of) with the School District, Port Edward councillors weighed in with a list of concerns of their own about the ongoing debate over the community school.

Port Edward council is busy exploring other options to keep their school and the heart of their community open, including a scheduled tour of a school in Pouce Coupe, BC which like Port Edward faced similar problems, but still found a way to keep the doors open and the school vital to their community.

The two articles highlight the growing chasm between the School District and teachers, parents, politicians. All of them seeming to find the School District to be not particularly receptive to their concerns and adding to the stress level of all, in the quest of educating their children.

The solutions required to solve many of these concerns will no doubt take much more than the efforts of the School District managers, the provincial government's budgetary requirements and policies are at the root of a lot of the troubles, as is the state of declining enrollment in the region and the crumbling nature of some of our local infrastructure.

It is perhaps to the province and Ministry of Education, where a lot of the anger and concern could be directed, one wonders however if they'll be receptive and willing to act on those concerns, or if they'll just deflect it all back to the local authorities making for an endless cycle, where there are far more questions than answers.

Survey of teachers points to deteriorating conditions following recent school closures
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Pages one and two

According to surveys completed by teachers in elementary schools across Prince Rupert, all is not well inside the classrooms of School District 52.

At Tuesday night's monthly school board meeting, the board heard a presentation from members of the Prince Rupert District Teachers' Union (PRDTU) which delivered the news that teachers are not happy with the environment of their schools this year.

In November, the union decided to draft a survey that would gauge the impact of closing Kanata and Seal Cove schools and of other cutbacks to services upon staff and students.

The feedback was not good.

More than 20 surveys were completed, including a collective submission from the staff of Conrad.

The main issues identified in the survey were a lack of space inside the schools, class sizes and composition, the loss of programs and time, and a lack of library, technology and childcare support.

The PRDTU presentation included direct quotes from individuals, the first set of which came from teachers still teaching split-grade classes.

"I have a [Grade] 6/7 class with students who range from Grade 1 to 7 in ability," wrote one teacher.

Refuting the notion that classrooms would become more "robust" following last year's school closures, one submission reported the words "dysfunctional, chaotic and stressful" would be more accurate to describe the current learning environment in a class impacted negatively by the closures.

Another respondent said that there are now more disruptions to instructional time in the classroom.

"If [robust] means we are to do more for our students with less help, then I concur."

Teachers were also critical of the lack of Learning Resource Teacher time now available, stating that there is now so much paperwork for LRTs to complete that they are of very little help to teachers.

Asked whether the needs of students with learning disabilities were being met, teachers indicated that the number of 'identified' students combined with those still awaiting assessment is currently overwhelming, and said that district funding needs to be better allocated to meet the needs of those students and not be diverted to the needs of management.

"They are not being met to the level that is necessary," said one survey respondent.

"There are too many students with difficulties that are not yet designated or that are struggling but do not qualify for support.

"We have more designations and more IEPs (due to the fact there are more students in the building), and yet after two months we are only now getting close to the amount of CCW support we had last year (with less IEPs)!"

Student behaviour and discipline were also identified as increasing problems, and more than one cited difficult class compositions as the root cause.

Future of Port Ed's school dominates meeting
BY Patrick Witwicki
The Daily News
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Pages one and five

It took exactly 13 days in 2009 for Port Edward council to once again get fired up about the future of the community's elementary school.

The topic arose inside council chambers Tuesday evening after councillors discussed a correspondence from provincial Education Minister Shirley Bond.

The letter was a follow-up to the meeting Port Edward had at the Union of B. C. Municipalities conference back in September regarding Port Edward Elementary School.

"I understand your district is interested in the development of a business case to revitalize the local elementary school in Port Edward," she wrote, adding that she was encouraging Port Edward to work alongside the Prince Rupert Board of Education to come up with a viable plan for the school's future.

Mayor Dave MacDonald then told council that Port Edward need to meet with the school board as soon as possible.

"We need to address the school board again to see what's going on," he said.

"On our own, we've looked at other options ... just different ways to make' sure we have a school."

Coun. Knut Blondel asked if Port Edward had a concrete plan in attempting to "save the school."

But Coun. Murray Kristoff, who alongside Coun. James Brown are the incumbents from the previous council, said that he is not confident that holding meetings with the school board will help save the school.

"Every time we've had a meeting with the school board, we haven't gotten any answers," he said.

"My opinion is that they want to close the school no matter what, to up enrollment in Prince Rupert."

Coun. James Brown suggested that there might be another way around the issue, and he brought up a subject that discussed at the UBCM.

"The Pouce Coupe (B.C., near Dawson Creek) success story that was talked about," he said. 'They were in, the same boat as us, but turned it' around.

"Since we'll be in Dawson Creek (for the North Central Municipalities' Association meeting), we should have a look through there (in Pouce Coupe). She talked about what turbulence they had to go through."

MacDonald agreed, and said that' council definitely plans to tour the Pouce Coupe school that was "rescued" from being closed.
"Pouce Coupe ... money-wise, it may be the way to go," said MacDonald.
"But we don't have a plan on paper. "What's going on is it's going back and forth, and we need to line up a meeting. It's time."
Bjorndal wondered aloud how much time Port Edward has to come up with an action plan to resolve this issue.
"It might two to three years to formulate a plan to close the school," he said.
"It doesn't sound like the (school board) plans to move on it in the next 18 months."
Council then agreed to find a date and time to properly sit down and meet with the school board specifically about the Port Edward school.

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