Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Susan Semonick On Schools - Education Tidbits Part 3a

Closing Stafford Off the Table?

The Ministry of Education’s recent ministerial order announced on September 14, 2007, has likely taken closure of HD Stafford Secondary off the table as one of the viable options for the South/Central area.

The order puts into place new rules for the disposition of surplus properties. Before dealing with other prospective purchasers or tenants, Boards of Education will now be required to check with government ministries and crown corporations to identify whether they may have a use for property held by Boards that is not needed for educational purposes. If these negotiations do not lead to a sale, then Boards must consult with the local government to see whether it has a use for the property. The criteria and the process(es) have not been outlined by the Ministry of Labour & Citizens’ services yet. Boards may decide whether properties are available for sale or lease, and the terms of such. However, if one of these government organizations put forth a legitimate offer, I would think that it would be difficult for the Board to come up with a rationale as to why it would refuse a sale or lease.

In this case, if the Langley Board of Education decides to close HD Stafford, then it would be required to go through this process and there has been talk within the HD Stafford community that the City of Langley would work toward establishing a secondary school. It would be very likely that they would offer to lease or buy the school. This is something that the Langley Board of Education likely does not want and therefore the option to close HD Stafford is not one that they can now choose.

The HD Stafford community has at least five past school trustees working on their behalf. These are experienced and connected politicians who know the ropes and can work through the Ministry of Education’s system to get what they want. Are they powerful and skilful enough to request a secession of the schools (1 secondary, 6 elementary schools and 1 alternate program) that exist within the city boundaries from the Langley School District to create a new school district? Perhaps. Are they dedicated enough to rally the troops? Most likely. It would be easy enough for them to demonstrate their ability to effectively set up a three member Board of Education for the City of Langley. School District #94 would probably sound good to them. In any case, I very much doubt if the current group of seven trustees would like to test the waters to see.

If the current Langley Board listens to its constituents and decides against the implementation of a middle school, an idea which has almost no support in either the South/Central area, then perhaps it might look to a K-12 school as has been suggested by some. We already have a successful model at Langley Fine Arts and the research that I cited in my last report indicates that students do better in K-12 schools.

Clearly, the HD Stafford community would choose their local secondary school, despite its difficulty in providing a wide range of senior level courses and other limitations, if given the choice. If that is what they want, and they are content not to have or ask for any of the these things that the district believes they should be providing, then why not let them see their success in that way. It is in the eyes of the beholder is it not?

The school district then only needs to address the issue of secondary cohort size, declining enrolment, etc. in the rest of the South/Central area and the three other secondary schools in the area. The Ministry of Education has said that adult education will be tuition-free. Online education is now free for them. Beginning next year, school districts will be providing adults some of this service directly. Has this been planned for? Why is this not part of the reconfiguration plan for this area? Instead of a middle school at Aldergrove, why not an expanded adult education centre to fill the seats?

This could be an excellent opportunity to make another K-12 choice program at LSS. Move the Fundamental program to this facility and clear your wait lists. Do as Deputy Minister Dosdall has stated - “new programs and initiatives require sustained effort, resources and your individual attention.” Make this choice what the parents originally wanted - a K-12 Fundamental program in one place. The parents already drive their children to school and have no emotional ties to the current facilities they are housed in. If the LSS facilities are so valuable, that closing it is not an option as has been stated, then it should be welcomed by those who choose this program. This solves your problems and affects the least amount of students.
Education Tid Bits by Susan Semonick.

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