Friday, March 09, 2007

Liberal's Education Throne Speech Interpreted by Susan Semonick

Lets look at the Throne speech and interpret it in relation to education in this district. The provincial government introduced new education initiatives in the Throne Speech that it says will provide more choice and safety for students.


The Province will act to give teachers new recognition and financial incentives to reward improvements in student achievement and promote professional development, as laid out in the 2005 election platform.

This could be a detriment. I wonder how a reward system would be fairly implemented and what effect current practices at some schools will have on this. The following is an excerpt from the BCTF’s Public Education Advocates newsletter (Feb. 13, 2007) which highlights one particular concern that could affect how teachers are evaluated for these incentives.

Time for teaching and learning is taken away by school districts who encourage teachers to prepare students for the tests. It is not unheard of for schools to exclude certain students from writing the FSAs so that the school's overall score or ranking is better. This often means that ESL and students with special needs do not participate. Teachers know the validity of FSAs is questionable. More and more parents are withdrawing their students from writing the FSAs by writing a letter to the principal. Student participation is optional upon the written request of parents.

There is a new book out called Collateral Damage “How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools”
By Sharon L. Nichols and David Berliner. It addresses some of my concerns mentioned above.


The Throne speech included the following preamble about social innovation and improvement, as well as news about changes to school boards and additions to the mandates of SPCs.

“Today we live in a world redefined by enormous shifts in our demographic, economic, and environmental makeup.”
“This is a time for partnership not partisanship, for boldness not trepidation, for action not procrastination.”
“The powerful currents sweeping across our lives today call for long-term vision not short-term expedience, for selfless rather than selfish actions, for focused rather than fractured responses and for decision not delay. They demand we look to ourselves for change before asking it of others.”

  • Changes will be made to broaden the mandate of school boards, reflected in a new title: Boards of Education
  • Boards will be able to offer “special academies” with approval of school planning councils and consultation with parents.
  • Boards will be authorized to charge fees approved by school planning councils to defray non-instructional costs or additional costs incurred in offering special academies, trades programs, and band instruments
I see the groundwork being laid to dissolve the existing school boards (boards of education) within the next few years. Having a Provincial Superintendent will enable this transition become a reality as the Ministry likely works toward a plan that will allow the people at the grass roots level, the SPCs, to determine the needs of their respective school communities, with the School District Superintendent ensuring that the educational needs of the students are kept to the forefront. The Provincial Superintendent will be the stop check where accountability to the public is concerned. This will heighten the importance of teachers’ participation. The professionals will have the decision-making ability instead of a school board. We will finally have those educated about curriculum making the decisions to educate our children while parent representatives ensure respect of community values. This is a good thing even though I am sure many will not have the futuristic outlook to see it now.

If I am right that this is the plan; it will save millions of dollars that are used for the present elected politicos. The annual fee of $50,000.00 plus for BCSTA fees for each district alone will realize at least $3,000,000 annually. Add to this, another 8 to 10+ million in costs for school trustees across the province and it all adds up. These monies can be redirected straight to the students. There would no longer be the need for the money sucking venues of School District Business Companies or Foundations. In Langley, there would no longer be exorbitant raises of 34% for board members. More of the needs of students would be met.

As noted in an earlier report, the local school board is not comfortable with this apparent shift and has sent a letter to the Minister of Education voicing its concern about giving SPCs approval power rather than the right to consultation.

  • The ActNow BC program is making progress in fostering greater physical activity, healthier eating habits, and tobacco reduction.
  • The Action Schools! BC program is spreading into our classrooms across the province to promote healthy living among our students.
  • Your government is eliminating junk food in all public schools and in all vending machines in provincially owned buildings.
  • The School Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program is in 50 schools this year and will be available to every public school by 2010.
  • Legislation will be introduced this session to ban smoking on all school property.
The “make a fast buck campaign” has started already. All sorts of “activity programs” that have been pitched to the Ministry by a variety of so called community or specialist groups have been adopted and announced by the Minister over the past few months. I ask, how much is the Ministry spending that isn’t going directly to school districts? Do teachers really need these special programs to teach the PE and health curricula they have always taught – it hasn’t changed a great deal? The Actions Schools is a reasonable low cost program. However, I wonder why we have to pay for someone to promote what China and other countries have been doing for centuries.

As for the food in schools, what happened to the parents ensuring that these needs are met? Educate the source, the parent. Let’s consider breakfast and lunch services offered by community churches and other groups - widen the scope of involvement as some districts have already done. Whether the needs are met by the local coffee-clutch moms or community non-profit groups I still do not think this should be done within the school framework. Removing temptation does not address the issue of teaching students to make wise choices - it deprives them of this opportunity. Junk food is not bad in and of itself – moderation is key, and this is what we should be helping children to understand and exercise.

Our school board already has a policy on smoking. How it is enforced is at question. In other districts, what are the ramifications of not supplying the smoke pits on school property? At some sites, this is a serious consideration between ensuring physical safety and promoting health safety of the student as students often times will cross major highways to smoke off school property.


It will establish, for the first time in 20 years, a new transit corridor and open the way for transit improvements to the Fraser Valley connecting Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, and Surrey to Coquitlam and Vancouver. Over the next year, new regional transit options will be established for our major urban areas in the Lower Mainland, the Fraser Valley, the Capital Regional District and the Okanagan.

Translink goodbye. Hooray! Now, hopefully a whole picture look will be taken to improve overall transportation needs.

The new BC Spirit Squares program will provide $20 million for communities to create or enhance outdoor public meeting places. Our communities should be places where children are cared for and are safe.

Township is doing this. City is doing nothing noteworthy that I am aware of.

A new process will be put in place to ensure that schools or school lands are used for their highest and best use for maximum public benefit.

With the revised policy the Board just passed, it will be interesting to see if Board proposals re property disposal will go against government’s direction.

“To improve quality, choice, and accountability in our two most important public services – education and health care.”

If there is expansion in the choice area, more than likely it will not be a positive change. Increased choice is paradoxically not freeing and brings with it some constraints as well. The challenge will be to increase achievement in all three areas at the same time.

Read the full Throne Speech here.

The news release is available on the government website.
(Susan Semonick is a previous DPAC President and a community activist working for the betterment of the Langley School District- EDITOR-LFP)

Langley Will Still Lose Under New Translink

Well our previous Translink Director, Mayor Kurt Alberts, got Langley absolutely nothing from Translink in his almost two year tenure. Nada! Under the new Translink governance model crafted by ex Langley City Mayor, Marlene Grinnell, as a consultant to provincial Transpo Minister Falcon we will probably get even less. That's right, nada plus!

  1. On top of that expect an immediate 3 cents a liter tax hike and a 1 to 2 % property tax hike assessment each year over the next 10 years!
  2. Also bus fare hikes of 1/2 to 1 % a year each year over 14 years.
  3. There is even the real possibility that trying to save 10 to 15 cents a liter by gasing up in Abbotsford will end if the Translink fuel tax is extended further east into the fraser valley as the new Translink governed area may extend from Pemberton down south through the GVRD and east to Chilliwack!
  4. Translink will be given power to override Langley's municipal zoning jurisdiction on projects!
  5. The hated parking stall tax and residential hydro levy will be eliminated.
The appointed new board, similar to health regions, will be totally controlled by the provincial government and there will be an unmanageable advisory council of about 30 mayors who will only meet 4 times a year. LFP sees this as pure tokenism to try to get some buy in from these mayors. This big a group will never agree to anything. But maybe that's the plan! Making matters worse, even this group will be weighted by population giving more clout to Burnaby and Vancouver! In other words Langley is screwed by ever increasing taxes across the board and will probably get no more substantial transit increases for decades to come. So much for elected representation on Translink! See today's Sun for full details....

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Langley School District Board Report - Special Report by Susan Semonick

Trustees Hogeterp and McVeigh attended the school district transportation staff’s Transportation Breakfast on behalf of the Board.

Kwantlen Quad District Partnership Signing
This is an agreement between Kwantlen University College and the Langley, Surrey, Delta and Richmond School Districts to cooperate in a few key areas. The intent is that they would work together to improve the transition to post-secondary, promote communication between public and post-secondary systems, and to look at issues in ways to increase academic opportunities for students. The Horticultural program was mentioned as an example as well as developing dual credit opportunities for secondary students. These are programs that help students, I am not too sure how much promotion actually happens in the secondary schools to promote participation. I am sure it will increase as the list grows.

Rec n’ Reading
Suzanne Hoffman reported that the district provided funds to support the program and the Langley School District Foundation which, received a donation of $125,000 from the school district, also donated funds to support Rec n Reading. Again, I question why we need the Foundation if all it is doing is getting monies from donors that were already giving directly to the District; AND the School District is giving money to the Foundation to be given back to the District in this manner. Is the Foundation really doing what it intended to do? Why is the School Board not seeing that this is just creating extra meetings and expenses - not revenue, for the most part. The district itself can issue tax-deductible receipts. The Foundation uses the district’s Secretary Treasurer to do the books. They show two employees as the members of its executive in their brochures. I ask, at what cost to the district? The amount of cost is rising so that the actual revenue generated is at question. According to their website they only list 3 outside directors. It now stands that 50% of the directorship is not at arm’s length.

Aldergrove Elementary PAC
Cathy Suek again reiterated the wish that Aldergrove wishes to move to Shortreed a whole. It looks as if at least their principal will be able to maintain her position at Shortreed since the current principal at Shortreed had retired and was asked to return to fill position until they found a replacement.

Aldergrove Elementary Teachers – Maureen Wilson basically requested that all staff remain together so I guess Shortreed staff should be on notice. I do not see the LTA agreeing to ignore the seniority process and will probably ensure that it is maintained. That is one of the benefits of being in a union is it not?

School Achievement – Coghlan Fundamental Elementary School shared with the Board its work with students regarding social responsibility. It is working to implement the Restorative Justice Program into the school to improve overall attitudes on how each of us should treat each other.

The numbers tell the story. It looks like anywhere from 3 to 4 elementary schools could be considered for closure with one Secondary in the Langley/Central Area. When all is said and done this district should be looking at 5 - 6 elementary schools being closed and one secondary, most likely HD Stafford due to the cost and current upgrading to be green and lack of capacity to accommodate any of the other displaced students. HD Stafford students can easily be accommodated at LSS and D.W. Poppy.

Here are some thoughts on improving the consultation process….
The Board is not looking that far into the future yet, for they still are insisting at looking only at one little corner at a time. They haven’t even had the vision to look in the business end of things first and do the sadly needed house cleaning and consolidation required there.

As stated earlier, the school district should have a final public forum, once all consultations are completed and recommendations have been received, that would include all the communities in Langley Township/ City. The public would have an opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions at this forum. The other important component in this is to have the people with some knowledge present to be able to answer the questions.

Within the consultation framework, there should be an additional focus area that should be reviewed, which would encompass the School Board Office and all business activities and entities within the district, with a goal to improving the effective utilization of facilities and manpower. Immediately, a reduction of Senior Administrative positions, inclusive of the Trustee board. With the expanded mandate the qualifications needed to do a proper job are required. My guess is only 2 currently on board hold the minimal requirements.

Here are some additional thoughts on school closures…
Notice to parents with preschoolers and use DAY CARE; the facilities will disappear with the filling of schools. The option of putting the DAY CARES in portables was suggested.

One recommendation is to allow the schools to rename themselves to promote unity in the converging communities.
Mr. Burton kept referring to the policy when asked about this possibility, however, the policy only applies to the naming of a new school. There is no policy for renaming schools. But, he did say they would entertain any suggestions from the community. There is no process in place so it is a free for all in regards to the consolidation of schools. So what needs to be done is to determine the cost in doing this so you can budget for it. The board did decide to approve naming of a playing field at an estimated cost of 5,000.00 plus upkeep. So I’m sure that the signage for each of the approximately 6 schools would not exceed that amount.

A preliminary report was received by the Board for information. Based on this report the Board moved that the district develop a policy around the use of personal technology devices (phones, PDAs, etc.) in schools. District staff will be consulting students, parents, teachers and other groups. This seems more a personal concern for one trustee rather than the reality of it being a societal problem of the youth. What are we teaching our children? We all wish accountability. The problem is that all of us have a different definition. I myself believe there are laws and processes that are already in existence. When the Board itself cannot follow its own policies nor do they ensure that current policies are being followed, why, I ask waste the money and time on this? It would be far more beneficial for the students to be taught the proper use of this technology than saying “within these walls you are not allowed to ………. “ Teaching children respect of others would be money better spent. Teachers will need to be sure to have their input as this will affect how they use their phones, PDAs, etc. in school as well. In the report, comments from administrators recognized that technology is useful and it is all about teaching proper use. Hopefully, the policy will recognize that students are just that, students who are still in the process of learning. The district couldn’t get together on a district dress code policy because no one could agree.
I wonder how this will go? Especially when in my opinion you are treading on personal rights.

The Progress Board’s report titled “Working Together to Improve Performance: Preparing BC’s Public Education System for the Future” was received for information. This discussion paper examines six areas for change to improve education in BC in order to enhance the province’s economy. As stated before the Board is worried they will become a non-entity so finding anything to validate its existence is in order. The document can be found at

Ministry will provide the 2007/08 operating grant information to school districts on March 15th. The district is projecting a decrease in enrollment of 178 for the coming school year. They anticipate that wage increases negotiated recently will be fully funded. Details of the Annual Facilities Grant (for building maintenance and upgrades etc.) are not yet known.

The Budget Open House to be held on April 17th at the School Board Offices between 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm is where you can actually see the books. Have your pen and paper ready to list the sheets of information you would like to receive as the ones posted on the presentation boards are not easily read.

There was no financial update to the current 2006/07 operating budget provided.

Monday, March 05, 2007

I'm Back! & Translink Board is On Death Watch

Back From Holidays! See ya all tomorrow for my new views on news! What's new & exciting in Langley? Township still taxing ,borrowing and spending? City still fighting #1 crime, graffiti? Local MLAs deadly quiet as usual except for their tax payer funded daily newspaper ads saying that they really do care? Is Wawa still working as our super passport administrator? Is the School board planning to close all the schools except for eventually maybe just one Langley Super School gulag perhaps?

Seriously though upon my return I now hear that the Translink governance as we have known it is now inches from death courtesy of Lib K. Falcon. So in the past two years what has our Translink Director (Mayor Kurt Alberts) gotten us in Langley Township. Answer...0. Obviously he's no City Mayor Grinnell who got loads for the city including the ridiculously ugly and wrongly located overpass! (However it does provide a direct route to their cash cow casino from Langley Township!)But to her credit she delivered for the City & she did get it! Meanwhile not one single Translink funded trophy for Langley Township! What a waste of time and an opportunity lost. But he did get paid for the Translink meetings. Handsomely, I might add!