Wednesday, June 17, 2009

48 hours to forge a consensus on Education?

Tuesday night’s town hall meeting on Education at Charles Hays Secondary School seems to have left Rupertites with more questions than answers, and not much time to think things over it seems.

With a second meeting planned for Thursday to examine the options and chart a course, more than a few residents are feeling a little rushed, if not rail-roaded into supporting any one of the options without a proper consultative process.

It is a valid concern, as the actual blue print as it were, wasn’t really presented in detail until Tuesday.

It is hard to understand is why these options were not discussed earlier in the year in a full and open way, outlining the costs of each, the impact of each and what the benefits and drawbacks may be. Allowing for a fuller examination and discussion on what would be best for students and quest for educational excellence.

While there were the Matrix studies released and discussions at previous meetings, the actual options to consider and the potential ramifications of them, didn't seem to have been put forward as talking points until Tuesday's town hall meeting.

Instead, now with but 48 hours to digest all that they have learned, parents and as taxpayers, the ones to pay the bills, are expected to comprehend all of the factors involved and give a quick nod aye or nay.

Anyone wishing to make an opinion heard at that Thursday open meeting, is apparently required to apply for delegate status by 4 pm prior to the meeting, which might make for an orderly flow to the meeting, but certainly could limit the ability to debate or ask questions of the Board on the issues.

Some of that frustration has played out on the hackingthemainframe forum, which seems to have become the only public sounding board for the issue.

The most disconcerting issue seems to be the prospect that if the School District goes ahead with a plan to close Prince Rupert Secondary School and create a middle school, then there is a very real possibility that even more elementary schools will have to close due to dwindling numbers, that as the senior grades head off to the new middle school.

This aspect of the domino theory seems to be at odds with what residents seem to want to see in the District, that being a collection of neighbourhood schools that reflect the needs and requirements of the students and in the area that they live.

Already this year, the School District began the school year with two schools closed on the east side of the city, a move from last June that has resulted in a feeling of frustration for those parents at the affected schools and challenges for the schools that received the influx of new students.
As the year progressed more than a few eyebrows were raised as the District replaced a Superintendent in a most mysterious fashion, resulting in a sizable financial hit and a sense that we weren’t getting the whole story on why that decision was necessary.

There was much talk of the lack of information then and with the forty eight hour push to reach a consensus on the current issues, many of those same concerns are arising again.

If the fears prove to be correct that a middle school will siphon off even more students away from the elementary feeder schools, then the Prince Rupert District could be left with perhaps three less elementary schools in a very few years.

It seems as though part of the plan is to almost warehouse the students in schools with larger student bodies, taking them further and further away from their neighbourhoods as the process goes on.

While it's true that Prince Rupert is not that large a community that the neighbourhood school theory is cast in stone, but it wasn’t that long ago, September of 2008 as a matter of fact, that the Ministry of Education, under then Minister Shirley Bond was floating the trial balloon of making the neighbourhood school the focal point of the community across the province.

If indeed that will be a direction that the Ministry intends to move towards in the future, then Prince Rupert’s School District appears to be heading in the exact opposite direction.

More importantly, if indeed part of the arrangement of any middle school includes closing more schools, then parents, teachers, school administrators and most importantly the students will be the ones to bear the brunt of that decision.

If that is the case, they should have a say in the matter and that consultation should include full disclosure on the impact that these decisions will have on the community.

Perhaps the status quo or something relatively close to it isn’t as horrible as it might seem, that very well may be the route that parents wish to see their school district travel after all.

The School District may wish to give its constituency more time to examine these options, the wiser course may be to reintroduce the talking points after school resumes in September, allowing for a full examination, debate and perhaps even a referendum district wide on which course to follow.

That way, all would feel consulted, all would feel informed and most importantly an orderly and less deadline driven decision and evolution could be made.

The forty eight hour dash to decision set to end on Thursday seems too much like a bulldozer to an already selected course, rather than a workable consultation on what the public might wish for.

There seems to be a thirst for more information and a less rushed approach to resolving the issue, keeping in mind what in the end will be the best for the students.

It might be something to consider when they get down to the discussion table on Thursday.

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