Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Middle school muddle

"We are moving backwards [from Thursday] and we looked bad then and we look bad now," --School District 52 trustee, Russell Wiens expressing his frustration at the School District's reversal of it's plan to abandon the middle school option.

The controversial plan to introduce a middle school to School District 52 will live on, that after the School District board reversed their own vote of Thursday night and now will consider grade configuration again after a consultation period with parents and educators in the fall.

As the Northern View first reported on Friday, and we reviewed on our blog, it was a surprise decision announced by the School District board, which for all intents and purposes seemed to have moved beyond the concept of the middle school option after a rather contentious forty eight hour push for judgement.

Instead, at a special meeting held Friday, the proposal was resuscitated and brought back into the educational debate, though no longer as a rushed plan, but one that will be presented to parents in the fall with an eye towards a vote either before Christmas or in the spring.

The head spinning developments do tend to provide the impression that the board doesn't really have a handle on what it's doing at the moment, a thought made quite clear by trustee Russell Wiens who advised the board that they weren't looking too good in the public eye at the moment with their handling of the issue.

Wiens had been a proponent against the middle school option and more than likely felt that the debate had been settled for good on Thursday night. However, it would seem that the proponents of the middle school plan, whether on the board or in the administration are keen to keep the topic up for debate.

While decisive action is preferable considering the angst this issue seems to cause, it would be better to have that decision made after a full and transparent accounting of what it all means for parents, students, teachers and staff. Perhaps the slowing of the process which seemed rather rushed this past week is one that will benefit both proponents and opponents alike, now both can prepare their side of the story, hopefully with a full accounting of cost and risks and benefits to students and the structure of education in the city.

With a proper assessment in place for September, not to mention a new Superintendent in place to oversee it all, then perhaps we will all received the proper answers we need to provide informed opinion to those that will have to make the decision.

One thing seems certain all the drama of the last week will certainly set the table for a very interesting fall session of school district meetings, interesting enough one hopes to get more parents involved in understanding where the schools in the community may be heading for 2010.

The Daily News on Friday outlined some of the background on the debate that ran through the School District meeting on Friday, highlighting how the tensions of the discussion have impacted on the board and the decisions they will have to make.

Middle school issue not dead yet
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Friday, June 26, 2009
Pages one and five

The middle school option is back on the table.

Less than one week ago, the

School District 52's Trustees decided to reject implementing a middle school plan. One of the reasons given was a lack of understanding as not enough time was given to study the implications of opening a middle school in the district.

Now they say that they will give more time to look at the option and bring it back in September when the district meets for its first session of the fall ..

But one trustee wasn't buying it.

"We are moving backwards [from Thursday] and we looked bad then and we look bad now," said Trustee Russell Wiens who was not in favour of the middle school option last Thursday.

Wiens felt that there was pressure to make a decision to change the grade configuration and voted against the motion to reconsider middle schooling in Prince Rupert.

"If this motion passes tonight we won't be making a five-year capital plan. Once again we look like idiots."

Chair Tina Last did not agree with Wiens' assessment and said that she too felt pressure. Not for passing a middle school, but for passing a five-year capital plan that expands Charles Hays to accommodate 1,000 kids when in a few years after the expansion the school would be way under capacity, again.

"I don't think we look like idiots” said Last “The reason for voting down the middle school was lack of consultation. If you reconsider the motion and bring it back. in September, you have time to bring it to the public."

Last added that by passing a five year capital plan without a middle school "really limits what a school district can ask the ministry of education for," she said.

The real deadline for the five-year capital plan was May 15 but the district had been given an extension by the ministry to figure out the middle school option by the end of the school year.

But with the motion to reconsider. they will not be able to enter a five-year plan until next May. even though locals were told that the rush to move the middle school option decision through was to have a the capital plan ready by last Friday.

Trustee Leanord Alexcee said that he still backed the middle school option citing a need to improve standards for aboriginal students.

"The schools aren't working for our aboriginal students and we all know it," said Alexcee.

Once the decision to reconsider the motion passed three-to-two (Last and trustees Terri-Lynne Huddlestone and Bart Kuntz voted for it, Wiens and trustee Janet Biel opposed it) the debate then centered on how long the consultation would last.

Wiens said that the decision should be made in March to give locals a full six months to digest the information. But Huddlestone disagreed and said that the decision could be made in November because if the district included the first three months of consultation, then the school district would actually have given six months of consultation to the subject.

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