As I sit and read through the newly released audit on the Vancouver School Board, I can't help but feel my heart sink a little. If you have seen any of the news releases or headlines you know the biggest, and possibly the most controversial, recommendation is the possibility of closing 19 schools.
19 schools! In an area with steady growth which shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. In one of the biggest cities in our province. 19 schools in some districts would be their entire district. Let that one sink in for a minute.
This recommendation comes almost entirely from a numbers point of view. Each school needs to be at least 95 per cent at capacity to be efficient. Every seat must be filled in order for the school to be worth opening at all. Schools with empty seats are a waste of taxpayer money.
But does this really make sense for our children and students? Are they simply just numbers on a piece of paper, or is it time to put faces to these "seats"?
There is absolutely no benefit to students to have full-to-the-brim classrooms; if there is why do private schools advertise small class sizes for a better learning environment?
I also see no logic in saying a school must be at capacity to be "efficient," if every classroom has over 30 students is not a more hectic environment? Does this not create more work for teachers and administration to contend with? How is overworking school staff creating more efficient schools?
In fact, if it were up to me, the whole meaning of the term "capacity" would be re-evaluated in our school system. Sure, when you increase class sizes more and more, or better yet put no limit on how many students you can fit in a classroom at all, you can use this formula to fuel the "not at capacity" argument.
When you count art, music and similar rooms as "empty seats" you can also further the argument.
But we are talking about our children's education here, not a hockey game at an arena. The capacity of my son's school means very little to me; I'm much more interested in the quality of education he receives. And as I stated earlier, I would much rather see him in a smaller, more manageable classroom than being lost in a crowd, like way too many students in today's classrooms.
Let us not forget that Vancouver continues to grow all the time. Schools that aren't at full capacity now, may be in the future. If you close 19 schools now and sell off the property, what happens when the population grows again?
Are we going to trust that the government will step up and buy more schools to accommodate these new students, or will they simply decide that classrooms need to be bigger again? They've already pushed back much needed upgrades to many Vancouver schools so how can we trust that they would offer a quick solution if enrolment suddenly increased?
I can not emphasize enough that if our schools were funded properly we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place. Public education is a cornerstone of our society, much, much more then just a game of numbers as our government seems to think.
When we talk about 19 schools closing, we are talking about thousands of students being displaced and hundreds of teaching and support positions being lost. We are talking about people's communities being broken up.
These are not just simply numbers on a page that need to be moved around to accommodate our government's unwillingness to fully fund our public education system.
I look forward to the day when we have a government who is willing to work with parents, teachers, and communities in creating the world-class public education system we so often hear about, but not often experience.
Funding of our public schools needs to be increased to AT LEAST national average for our children to really experience the education they deserve. If B.C. were to meet national averages for funding, we would see 6,660 more teachers and $514 million more in our public education system.
How many schools could we prevent from closing with that?
Unfortunately I fear that day will only come when Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender are removed from the equation.
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