The IPE/BC welcomes the Prime Minister’s April 1 National School Meals Program announcement

The IPE/BC welcomes the Prime Minister’s April 1 National School Meals Program announcement

By Patti Bacchus

April 2, 2024

In our submission to the federal government’s 2024 budget consultation, the Institute for Public Education/ BC (IPE) called on the federal government to place an urgent priority on the implementation of a national, universal school food program, and we are pleased government has responded positively with its April 1 announcement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pledging a federal government investment of $1 billion over five years, with a target of expanding school meal programs to 400,000 more kids than are currently receiving school meals. 

The federal government has promised a school food program since 2019, and this is a good step forward, but it falls short of providing a universal food program, as recommended by the IPE. 

As the IPE quoted UNICEF Canada in our brief to the federal budget consultation, “Universal food programs provide the opportunity for all students to learn about food and nutrition literacy, the importance of healthy food choices, the role of food in community and culture, and the positive impact of taking time to share in meals together. 

“By providing school meals only to those students whose families/caregivers are not able to afford sufficient nutritious food, these benefits are lost to the student population as a whole. Additionally, while there may be well-intentioned efforts to eliminate stigma arising from a school food program based on socio-economic factors, the identification of those who ‘qualify’ for such a program ensures stigma is inevitable.”

What we know

As housing and food costs go up, and wages for many stagnate, parents face hard choices when it comes to keeping a roof over their heads, paying high childcare costs, and making sure kids are eating decent meals. Others may have the money, but not the time, to make sure their kids are eating well.

As a school trustee, I was frustrated by the convoluted and time-consuming process we went through to determine which kids and schools would get subsidized or free meals. With limited government funding and a patchwork of donated money, we tried to make sure food was going to those who needed it most, but that’s easier said than done. As staff tried to chase down grants and ensure kitchen equipment was kept up to code and in working order, I was struck by how inefficient a system it was for something that should be much simpler.

Some schools have a high concentration of students from families who live in poverty, but there are kids in every public school whose families struggle to make ends meet and keep food on the table, on a regular basis, or sometimes temporarily. All it can take is a job loss, marriage break up, illness or an eviction notice to create a financial crisis for families who may appear to be doing fine.

The way we allocate the limited number of school meals that school boards can afford also risks creating a stigma for those who get them. Some parents need the support, but don’t want to ask for it, so their kids may go without.

And research also shows that Canadian kids are eating way too much processed food and not nearly enough fruits and vegetables, and other healthy foods. Poor childhood eating habits put kids at risk of a lifetime of expensive health problems. Rushed families spend less time sitting down to home-cooked, nutritious meals together, while kids eat junk in front of screens. It’s bad news.

The good news is there’s a straightforward public-policy solution that’s proven to be effective at countering these problems: universal, quality school food programs. The Prime Minister’s announcement is a step in the right direction.

The benefits of universal school meal programs

Hungry kids don’t learn well. It’s hard to concentrate with a growling stomach. We’re already spending thousands of dollars a year to educate each student, so it makes sense to fill their tummies with good food so they can concentrate and get the most of out of their publicly funded school days.

We also know all food is not created (or manufactured) equally, and that eating processed, high-fat, salty or sugary junk is bad for all of us, including kids. Having access to nutritious, fresh and tasty food at school teaches kids that healthy food can be delicious too.

When schools provide quality, culturally appropriate healthy meals to all kids, it also increases attendance rates and provides social benefits by having kids sit down to enjoy a meal together.

We also know that over half of high school students don’t eat a healthy breakfast before heading to school, which puts them at risk of everything from learning problems, health issues and poor behaviour.

Research confirms that quality school-food programs lead to improved child and youth mental health and may contribute to reduced risk of things like cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers, due to improved eating habits.

A national, universal school food program would check off a lot of important boxes in terms of good public policy, including reducing poverty’s effects on children and giving kids from low-income families a better chance to succeed, improved physical and mental health for kids, and instilling positive eating habits that could last their lifetimes.

Having good food available at school would reduce busy families’ financial and time pressures, expose kids to a wide range of healthy foods, remove the stigma of current food programs that are targeted only to kids from poor families and support local food production.

That’s a lot of bang for the bucks it would take to fund the program, and could save taxpayers’ money in the long run.

The Prime Minister can only keep this funding promise if he gets re-elected, and the IPE will be working to keep funding for universal school food programs on the agenda and platforms for all political parties as we head into the next federal election.

Patti Bacchus is a public education advocate, commentator, and IPE/BC Board member, who was also the Vancouver School Board’s longest-serving chair, from 2008-2014. She has also served on the Board of the Broadbent Institute. Patti has written extensively about public education issues in the Georgia Straight. She believes that a strong and well-resourced public education system is key to a healthy and just society.


Decolonizing Dialogues; The auto-pedagogical potential of encounters with Indigenous art

Decolonizing Dialogues; The auto-pedagogical potential of encounters with Indigenous art 

By Shannon Leddy

March 28, 2024

Indigenous education has emerged in recent decades as one of the key priorities in both curricular reform and educational policy in Canada. Many teachers, particularly those who have completed their teacher education in the years since Indigenous education courses have become a required part of curriculum, have taken up this challenge in earnest and relationally ethical ways, feeling increasingly confident in their ability to navigate the emotional labour this work often involves. But there are probably just as many who still feel unsure about their knowledge base in Indigenous histories, knowledges and pedagogies. And still there are a few who are resistant to these shifts in curricular priorities and the learning required to undertake them (Leddy& O’Neill, 2021).

The words decolonization, reconciliation and Indigenization get a lot of air time in educational discourses these days, but many of us still struggle to understand what these words mean in the context of our daily work. We all stand at different places on the spectrums of Indigenous learning and relationships, and sometimes it feels hard to find the middle path and the common ground. Through this writing, I hope to shed some light on the value of encounters with Indigenous art as a mechanism to help move us along in the learning journey engaging in Indigenous education requires us to take.

There have been many prominent Indigenous scholars of educational discourses over the past number of years who have made clear the need for changes in the way mainstream educational practices and curriculum include and address Indigenous students, their cultures and histories within schools (Battiste, 2004; Dion, 2008; Donald, 2009; Schick & St. Denis, 2004; St. Denis, 2011). They point to the fact that colonial logics and agendas have excluded, reduced, distorted and erased Indigenous cultures, languages and knowledges in curriculum for decades. This is important when we think about the many Canadians who have become teachers having risen through the very systems of education that were perpetuating ignorance and misunderstanding. Indeed, in my early days of teaching Indigenous education to pre-service teachers, many expressed anger and dismay when it became clear to them what was intentionally not taught to them in schools.

But here is where I have found my long-time passion for both creating and teaching about and through art. to be of significant benefit. I have witnessed the power of art to help me teach in ways that call my students in, rather than calling them out. Art, as noted by Dewey (1934) and Greene (2000), has the power to help us transcend our own consciousness as we encounter the reality of another, presented through their manifestation of ideas into art. This is particularly relevant when it comes to encounters with works by Indigenous and other BPOC artists. Indigenous writers and thinkers have also offered ample evidence of the power of Indigenous visual expression to transmit culture, teachings and values (Cajete, 1994; Reid, 2012), making them rich sources with which to dwell and reflect.

In the work that I do in teacher education, I rely heavily on the power of art to spark insight and transformative understandings in my students, using a set of guiding questions (what am I looking at, what does it remind me of, what do I like about it, what do I dislike, and what do I need to learn), and offer them ample time to dwell with each work to which I introduce them. Importantly, this is also done with the caveat that there are no wrong answers – we each bring who we are to these encounters and our responses are our own and legitimate in their own right (Leddy, 2014; Leddy & O’Neill, 2021). We view works by artists such as Ruth Cuthand, Brian Jungen, Skeena Reece, Kent Monkman, Rebecca Belmore, and Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, each of whom brings their own talents, concerns and thematic tropes to the fore in the art they create.

For my students, these encounters with art can bring a range of emotional responses from dismay, anger, rage, and shame, to elation, connection, relief and clarity. For some, these encounters validate their own identities. For others, their identity, particularly as Canadians, is challenged, upended, and problematized in unexpected ways. But when we do this work together, when we have the courage to share our responses and thoughts in this process, even those who are most uncomfortable often find support in their learning, and inspiration in the insights of their classmates (Leddy, 2023).

To be clear, these encounters with art do not need to occur only the my classroom, or in an art gallery. Plays, novels, films, music, poetry and dance can all open the same windows of discovery. The point is, we need opportunities to encounter them; to learn whose work we are drawn to, and to spend time considering how we feel during our encounters. Art, in nearly all of its forms, has the power to show us what we thought we knew, reveal to us what we don’t know, and point us in the direction of the relearning we need to do. Further, these counters are not only suitable for post-secondary contexts – this work can be done in any classroom, with students of all ages and does not require the teacher to be completely fluent in the process. We are never too old to co-learn with our students, and may we always remain humble enough to do so.

There are so many more elements of this work I would be happy to share, including connections to other curricular areas and to land-based, experiential and holistic pedagogies as well. My passion for Indigenous education never seems to fade because I know how important it is to Indigenous families, including my own. I know how important it is for Indigenous students to see themselves reflected in the curricular resources to which they are exposed. But the best part is that Indigenous approaches to education demonstrably benefit all of our students, making the work of decolonizing and Indigenizing all the more pertinent and pressing (Restoule, 2017). When we teach with attention to Kirkness’s 4Rs of Indigenous education, respect, reciprocity, relevance, and responsibility, then we model what it means to build and maintain good relationships with ourselves, others, and what we must all learn together. When we use holistic frameworks, such as the Medicine Wheel, in our pedagogical and planning considerations, we can plan lessons and learning experiences that address our students as the intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical beings that they are. And when we undertake to do the work of decolonizing ourselves, we become better at preparing our students for the world they will inherit, putting the Eurocentric practices of the past behind us where they belong.


Battiste, M. (2009). Naturalizing Indigenous knowledge in Eurocentric education. Canadian Journal of Native Education32(1).

Cajete, G. (1994). Look to the mountain: An ecology of indigenous education. Kivaki Press.

Dewey, J. (1934). Art as experience. Perigree Press.

Dion, S. (2007). Disrupting moulded images: Identities, responsibilities and relationships – teachers and Indigenous subject material. Teaching Education, 18(4), 329-342. (Available through UBC Library)

Donald, D. (2009).  Forts, curriculum, and Indigenous Métissage: Imagining decolonization of Aboriginal-Canadian relations in educational contexts. First Nations Perspectives, 2 (1), 1-24.

Greene, M. (2000). Releasing the imagination: Essays on education, the arts, and social change. John Wiley & Sons.

Leddy, S. (2014). Using art to open postcolonial dialogues with pre-service teachers. SFU Educational Review7.

Leddy, S. (2023). Indigenous Visual Expression as Pedagogy; Developing Decolonial Literacy through Dialogic Encounters with Indigenous Art. Relate North. 36. InSEA Publications.

Leddy, S., & O’Neill, S. (2021). It’s Not Just a Matter of Time: Exploring Resistance to Indigenous Education. Alberta Journal of Educational Research67(4), 336-350

Reid, M. J. (Ed.). (2012). Carrying on” Irregardless”: Humour in Contemporary Northwest Coast Art. Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art.

Restoule, J. P. Chaw-win-is (2017). Old ways are the new way forward. How Indigenous pedagogy can benefit everyone. The Canadian Commission for UNESCO’s IdeaLab, 1-18.

Schick, C., & St. Denis, V. (2005). Troubling national discourses in anti-racist curricular planning. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l’éducation, 295-317.

St. Denis, V. (2011). Silencing Aboriginal curricular content and perspectives through multiculturalism: “There are other children here”. Review of education, pedagogy, and cultural studies33(4), 306-317.

Shannon Leddy (Métis ) is a Vancouver based teacher, writer, Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, Faculty of Education, UBC and IPE/BC Fellow. She has also worked as an instructor at SFU’s Faculty of Education, teaching courses in pedagogy and Aboriginal Education. Shannon is committed to finding new and meaningful ways to incorporate Indigenous content into the school curriculum and is particularly interested in engaging pre-service teachers with Indigenous art as a way of decolonizing education. 

Reflections on the teacher shortage: how teachers are paid reinforces the problem

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Reflections on the teacher shortage: how teachers are paid reinforces the problem.

By John Malcolmson

March 16, 2024

BC continues to struggle with efforts to improve class size and composition standards in our schools. Years ago, Canada’s Supreme Court opened the door to restoring protections in these areas after Gordon Campbell’s Liberals took an axe to negotiated provisions in teacher contracts.

BC is not unique in this regard as other jurisdictions – both in Canada and abroad – face similar challenges in finding and holding onto staff. However, what makes BC stand out is that it was Campbell’s legislative assault in the 2000s that dug the crater we find ourselves in. Its sheer depth complicates efforts to find a way out. That plus the fact that most efforts aimed at addressing recruitment and retention challenges for teachers – forgivable loans, locational incentives, dispersed learning opportunities, etc. – are not working the way we hoped they might.

This note focuses on the way we pay educators. Its basic argument is that how we pay teachers is anachronistic and needs to be changed. Why is this? A few reasons stand out.

  • The current system, developed many decades ago, assumes that new teachers require formative periods lasting up to 10 years to reach a point where they are fully qualified to do their work, and that it is appropriate to deny full pay until that point is reached.
  • The current system incentivizes the acquisition of university credentials, something which is no longer an issue as the latter are not currently in short supply.
  • The current system also embeds cultural biases regarding using these credentials to further stratify how teachers doing the same work are paid.

The current model makes sense if you believe that people in teaching positions don’t fully know what they’re doing for the first decade and this warrants the withholding of full pay. The approach is also a good one if you accept the idea that having five years of post-secondary education automatically makes you a better educator than someone with four but not as good as someone with six. The problem is that no one argues like this anymore because the arguments are not credible.  So why pay people differently on the basis of these approaches?

The bigger problem here comes down to the teacher increment ladder. Educators are underpaid for the nine to ten years it takes to reach full salary – the regular rate for the job. This encourages implementation of an extractivist approach to the use of educator labour. Extractivism is a concept developed by David Harvey, Veronica Gago, Nancy Fraser and others to describe power relationships which afford those in control the ability to confiscate or extract rising shares of value from their subordinates.[1]  It can apply to trading blocs, countries, regions or sectors of work.  In the case of K-12 education, it comes down to the people we rely on to run our public schools.

Young and inexperienced educators are placed in particularly challenging classroom environments for the early parts of their careers. Their teaching labour is exploited by virtue of substandard pay for this period. Their affective labour and emotional commitment to the work they perform is likewise exploited. Mental and emotional energy is extracted piecemeal by the demands of the job.

Replenishment of this energy is the responsibility of the individual. The system is tailor-made for frustration, resentment, feelings of isolation and failure, leading ultimately to burnout.

This translates directly to increased educator attrition and there is plenty of data out there that affirms this. Many young people entering the profession aren’t prepared for the twin pressures of dealing with the professional and emotional pressures of a new job while having to subsist on compressed pay levels for lengthy periods of time. Data from other jurisdictions shows that a rising percentage of teacher graduates elect not even to go into the public school system when graduating. Many young teachers also carry with them transferable skills which allow for the migration to other areas of work.  Less stress?  Better pay? Reduced feeling that your commitment to work is being used against you?  Hey, why not make that move?

Our public K-12 system relies implicitly on an extractivist dynamic to function with the limited financial resources it is afforded. For some time the model has not been sustainable.  What has made the problem critical is the pandemic-induced breakdowns of supply chains fueling price inflation. The influx of cash by governments to stall the slide into depression did work as intended but at the cost of building asset bubbles in areas like real estate. The knock-on effect has been deepened financialization of housing assets whether for purchase or for rent.  It used to be relatively straightforward to find a place to live within your means.  Not anymore. Not for young educators nor anyone else.  And not just in the Lower Mainland or South Island.

What to do?

We need to look at paying and supporting educators differently because the current model is dysfunctional.  Specifically,

  • Phase out the current increment system. Most other occupations, professions included, will have increments recognizing the movement to maximum career proficiency that last three or four years at most.  Why is teacher pay stuck at nine or ten years?
  • Raise the entry-level wage/salary so that it no more than 10% lower that the maximum rate. Anything more perpetuates financial and emotional extractivism and frustrates efforts to build system sustainability.
  • Give a serious look at the teacher qualification system that rewards people for academic degrees. If this doesn’t automatically make for better educators then why structure rewards as if it does? Perhaps we might build in pay recognition for other professional development activities not so closely aligned with acquiring formal academic qualifications?
  • Develop an apprenticeship model drawing on international examples that financially rewards experienced educators for mentoring and supporting their junior colleagues through the difficult early years of a career. This isn’t new or hugely innovative – the trades have been doing this for decades and, while they face their own recruitment issues, they are typically not ones related to burning out new people struggling to get a foothold on compressed incomes.

It’s time to think “outside the box” and look for innovative ideas to deal with a problem that is likely only to get worse. We can all support the call for more funding resources for public education but there is also a need to look at practical options for making better use of whatever resources are provided to support public schooling.

[1] David Harvey, Spaces of Global Capitalism (2019), Veronica Gago, Feminist International: How to Change Everything (2020), and Nancy Fraser, Cannibal Capitalism (2022).


Sidebar: Comparing teacher’s and nurse’s pay

How does teacher pay compare with that provided another female-dominated profession in BC’s public sector – nurses?

In 2023 a starting Category 5 Vancouver teacher (the most common designation) can expect to earn $65,176 for 10 months of annual employment. It takes that teacher 10 years to reach salary maximum and, when she gets there, she can expect to make $96,959 at current rates.  At almost 49%, the gap between these levels is high, so much so the new teacher starts off making only about 2/3 the full rate.

A starting Licensed Practice Nurse 1 in BC Health care makes $62,184 out of the gate (12-month employment) and maxes out 10 years later at $78,293 which is significantly lower than the teacher.


The more appropriate comparison would be with a Registered Nurse 3 (the most commonly paid nursing rate). An RN3 starts at $78,408 and reaches maximum after 10 years at $105,846. Both rates are considerably higher than those afforded Vancouver teachers.  And the gap separating min and max rates here is about 35%, considerably lower than teachers.

LPNs and RNs also benefit from long-term “Recognition Pay” if they stick it out in their jobs over the long haul.  In the case of an RN3, this can add up to $6,720 more at the top end of the pay scale.

Both teachers and nurses face serious recruitment and attrition challenges. The pay system for nurses isn’t perfect but it is better suited to addressing these challenges than that used with teachers.

What’s needed is a focus on the long and drawn-out increment path for both groups.

John D. Malcolmson, Ph.D, is an IPE/BC board member and a consulting sociologist providing research advice to unions on matters relating to compensation.




The Community School Model- Just Imagine!

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

The Community School Model- Just Imagine!

By David Chudnovsky

August 29, 2023

Imagine a small elementary school in a low income suburban community. The teachers are a mix of veterans and younger folks. It’s a really tough job as many of the students come to school hungry and have difficult home lives, but the teachers are enthusiastic and committed. Several of them have been teaching there for almost 30 years. They’ve all thought of looking for easier placements, but they can’t bring themselves to leave these kids.

There’s an evening program for adults – with courses in everything from belly dancing to introductory business skills to gymnastics – and there’s a ceramics studio with a kiln and slip and glazes that’s used by the kids during the day and adults at night.

Students work with a community curriculum developed by the teachers that reflects the experience of residents and neighbours.

Adult Basic Education classes are taught in a couple of empty classrooms during the day and in the kids’ classrooms in the evening – from basic literacy for people who can’t read or write to high school equivalency GED prep sessions. For more than 30 hours a week dozens of adults share the school with the elementary students.

A group of neighbourhood women meet in the school to organize a childcare centre and it’s just about to open in the community centre down the street.

A Community Newspaper is published four times a year through the school.

There’s a seniors group that meets monthly and organizes outings, and also arranges for older neighbours to volunteer in classrooms and interact with the elementary students.

In a portable in the parking lot behind the school is a re-entry program for teenagers who’ve been out of school for at least 6 months. The school recruits those students through local social service agencies, high school counselors and the media.

During the summer, a day camp runs using the school building and its facilities.

There’s a lunch program. Volunteers from the neighbourhood come into the school to make sandwiches or hot dogs – but it’s hard to get the money to make the program permanent.

There’s a community program run out of the school called Shape Up. A couple of the Shape Up staff will help you renovate your house, clean out your garage, landscape your backyard or do any one of hundreds of home improvement projects that keep getting put off. But residents have to contribute. Some help with the actual work of the project at their home. Some store the tools. Some make lunch and dinner for the workers. One guy sharpens and repairs the tools.

There’s an annual fundraising fair at the school, but it has to be scheduled for social assistance cheque week. If it isn’t, there’s no money to raise.  But when it is, the whole neighbourhood participates, they have a great time, and some funds are raised to support the programs.

The School Board employs a teacher to organize and facilitate all of this, plus a night school monitor (paid for out of the fees for the night school courses), and a part time secretary.  However, the real leadership is provided by a Community Board made up of neighbourhood folks who advise and decide on the various programs, advertise, and explain what’s going on at the school to their neighbours, and advocate to the School Board and other governments and agencies for the various programs and activities at the school. Some of them are parents of kids at the school. Some of them aren’t.

Sound good? A bit too good to be true? Pie in the sky? Not at all. That program – with a lot more elements – existed and flourished in a North Surrey neighbourhood for decades. I was lucky enough to be the Community School Coordinator – the teacher hired by the Board to run the Community School Program for close to ten years, and while it was a hard job, it was enormously exciting.

Neighbourhoods with Community Schools knew, and still know, that they are certainly cost effective, but more important, they build cooperation, educational and social success, and resilience.

The Community School model – with different characteristics in communities with different needs – came to an end in Surrey in the late 1980’s as a result of yet another budget crisis.  But it still exists in some jurisdictions.

What a wonderful experience –  using school resources and space to meet community needs. Those elementary school students learned so much from the range of people who themselves benefited from the school’s programs. The kids learned they were part of a community. They learned they could build and strengthen their neighborhood. They learned that seniors, and adults learning to read and write, and the fellow who lived down the street and sharpened tools, were all important parts of their lives. They learned what it means to be a citizen.

While you’re thinking about what was, imagine what could be. What if we added a Community Health Clinic and a Social Services Office to that Community School? What if the School Board meetings were held in each Community School once a year? What if the local First Nations were part of and  the programs at the School?

What if School Boards and the Province really understood the value of schools as part of the wider community, understood schools as the building blocks of stronger and more resilient communities? Imagine a renaissance of Community Schools across BC.

Just imagine.

David Chudnovsky worked in nursery, elementary and secondary schools and at the university level in England, Ontario and BC during his 35-year teaching career.  He is a past-president of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and was an elected Member of the Legislative Assembly in British Columbia Legislature from 2005-2009.  David is co-author of the Charter for Public Education.



Attention to Staffing Shortages Urgently Needed

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Attention to Staffing Shortages Urgently Needed

June 3, 2023

By Larry Kuehn

Teachers are frontline workers in the creation of the future. A teacher shortage is a hazard in developing that future and we are facing a teacher shortage in BC public schools.

The early warning indicators are already here. Community members without teacher qualifications are placed in some classrooms. A lack of teachers on call are available to fill in behind teachers away because of illness. Staff lose their planning time as they are pulled in to cover thousands of classes without their regular faculty member. Students with disabilities are sent home, deprived of their right to education because their specialist teachers are required to cover classes for missing colleagues.

Demand for teachers will only increase with a growing population and expanding expectations of the schools. The problems are already here and will explode into a crisis unless we act now. We need both immediate action and long-term planning and commitments.

How did we create this dilemma? It sometimes helps to look at how a problem starts to see how to get out of it.

A reduced demand for teachers in early years of the 21st Century gave a false sense of the real need. School enrolments did decline for a few years. More significantly, the BC Liberal government in 2002 cut about 3000 teachers, eliminating by legislation staffing provisions in the teachers’ collective agreement. This contract stripping created a sudden teacher “surplus.”

This left a pool of qualified teachers as precarious workers. Part-time, moving from one school to another, being laid off every year, hoping to find a position for the next term. Even those with full-time positions worked for lower pay scales than teachers in most other provinces. Not surprisingly, some gave teaching up as a career while others who might have become educators looked elsewhere than teacher education.

The situation changed just as suddenly in 2016. The Supreme Court of Canada affirmed a lower court decision that the government in 2002 had violated the Charter rights of teachers in arbitrarily cancelling conditions that had been negotiated by the BC Teachers’ Federation. The class size and other staffing provisions were restored, returning education services that students had been deprived of.

With some 3000 teaching positions restored, all those precarious workers now had job offers—and there were not enough to fill the demand, let alone prepare for future needs.

The teacher shortage might have already received significant public attention except that it has had to compete with another crisis—the shortage of people in the health care system, as well as other areas crying about the need for workers.

The BC government has recognized these other demands and has provided funding for increased training positions in health care, technology, and trades. However, education has been an afterthought, if a thought at all.

What can be done to address this teacher shortage?

In the short term, we can look to the same place as is health care—immigrants who have been trained and, in some cases, have experience in the countries they have come from. This does not mean going to recruit elsewhere—that has its own shortages—but people who have already immigrated, often with their education and training being a major factor in why they were accepted as immigrants. When they arrived, they discovered that their qualifications aren’t accepted and there is a long and expensive road to getting recognized. Reducing the red tape would help a bit and some progress is being made in that.

The longer term solution is clear—train more teachers and make the job more attractive to retain those who join the profession.

Some progress in making the profession more attractive has been made with the pay increases recently negotiated by the BCTF. Many of the problems, though, will not be solved until there are enough teachers so that everyone can count on a replacement by a qualified substitute when they are away ill. They will not be solved until we stop grabbing the special needs teacher away from their students or the librarian from the library to cover the classroom teacher who is away. And the teacher shortage will not be over until every student has a qualified teacher—not someone with no training–meeting their educational needs.

It is past time for the government to recognize that public education, like health care, requires urgent attention to staffing shortages.

To meet current demands, and to be prepared for increased demands for teachers in the future, the BC government must place a priority on increasing the number of places in universities for teacher education candidates. And it must provide financial support so that future teachers don’t have to add on to student debt in order to make their contributions as front-line workers in the creation of the future.


Larry Kuehn is a member of the IPE/BC Board of Directors and chair of the Research and Programs Committee.  He is a research associate for the CCPA and retired BCTF Director of Research and Technology. He has written extensively on education matters including funding,  globalization, technology and privacy.



Stretched to the Limit

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Stretched to the Limit

April 25, 2023

By Moira Mackenzie

Public education is not broken; funding is.

This message was woven through the presentations and discussion at the recent  IPE/BC forum, Stretched to the Limit” with each of the featured speakers putting the pressures on K-12 and post-secondary education into perspective. The forum featured:

  • Annabree Fairweather, Executive Director, CUFA BC,
  • Tracy Humphries, Executive Director, BCEdAccess, and
  • Andree Gacoin, Director of Information, Research, and International Solidarity, BCTF.

While the speakers spoke from very different vantage points, they all underscored the urgent need for a well-supported, accessible, and inclusive education system at all levels

Annabree began by talking about the provincial government’s current post-secondary funding model review which has as its objectives a fair and impartial funding model, alignment with education and skills training needs, and the expansion of supports to students to ensure success. In the government’s own words, the current model has created constraints and inequities, a perspective with which Annabree wholeheartedly agreed. Further, she explained the unnecessarily convoluted and overly complex set of legislation and regulations that govern the post-secondary system in BC which, when coupled with chronic underfunding, leads the institutions to compete for very limited resources.

It certainly was concerning to hear that the share of GDP directed to post-secondary education in BC is less than that in all other provinces in Canada except Ontario. Additionally, much of the funding that does come in has specific strings attached and those strings do not necessarily match the core academic mission. Moreover, there has also been an increasing reliance on private funding, with a corresponding decline of nearly ten percent in government grants between 2006 and 2020. Annabree shone the light on the fact that this decline has led to risky decisions to seek varied sources of private dollars, which in turn has deprioritized the academic mission in favour of sponsored research. Additionally, it has fed the phenomenon of a burgeoning administration rather than a much needed increase in faculty to keep pace with the growth in student enrollment. Further, Annabree pointed out the folly in relying on revenue from international students to bolster budgets, as was made abundantly clear when the COVID pandemic diminished that revenue stream.

As part of the funding review, CUFA-BC has published Funding for Success: Post Secondary Education in BC, an excellent series of briefs outlining the problems and proposing solutions. Despite the significant challenges, Annabree expressed a hope that the funding review and the lessons learned during the pandemic, including the importance of a stable, well funded post-secondary system, will help to bring about much needed change. She also stressed the importance of developing strong alliances between the K-12 and the post-secondary sectors, and wisdom of well funded and well supported education at all levels and for all students.

Andrée began her presentation by referencing the work of Sam Abrams, Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University. The prevailing conditions for privatization that he identified are at play in BC today, including the impossible expectation that public schools continue to do more and more with less and less, the commercial mindset in managing public education, the bureaucratic pathologies, and the cultivated message that there is a crisis in education independent of the impact of chronic underfunding.

While successive governments in BC have frequently claimed funding is at the highest level ever, the fact is that the percentage of GDP spent on public education has been in significant decline. In 2001, BC allocated 2.8% to public schools while by 2021, it had reached an all-time low of 1.7%. Had the percentage even just remained steady throughout this period, there would have been an additional $2 billion more in school board budgets. Excessive cost-cutting, as Andree stated, is baked into the current structure of the funding model. We see this at play  in yet another round of budget preparation this spring as numerous school boards are considering cuts once again, a reality that was simply not addressed in the provincial budget tabled and touted by the province in February.

Andree reported that the BCTF recently surveyed its members-the public school teachers and associated professionals in BC. A staggering 40% of respondents said they’d leave teaching in the next two years, citing exhaustion and burnout attributed to the absence of supports, the overcrowding in classes and lack of meaningful in-service. Teachers also spoke about the health and safety issues they face and the impact of so many impossible challenges on their mental health.

Of particular note, Andrée stressed, is the fact that the government’s commitment to inclusive education has yet to be matched with the requisite funding. Boards of Education have had to spend more on special education than they receive from the province and the austerity pressures have led to rationing of special education services and an inadequate level of specialist support. What’s urgently needed is a funding model that addresses the diverse needs of students, schools and school districts along with a funding paradigm based in a strong collective vision of what public education should be. Returning to the issue of privatization, Andrée was clear- we can’t separate the funding crisis from privatization trends, trends that will only serve to undermine our valued public school system.

Tracy spoke further about the support required to meet students’ complex learning needs. She was very clear that the current lack of adequate support leads to exclusion not inclusion. She has direct experience with the issues and, in her role with BCEdAccess, has spoken to many parents who feel their kids are not welcome in public schools. Due to underfunding and lack of appropriate supports, many students are being excluded from public schools and the full and appropriate range of learning experiences that should be available to them. BCEdAccess has been tracking incidents of exclusions and now has four years of data to illustrate the impact on students and their families, including the finding that students with multiple marginalized identities are much more likely to be excluded. Linking back to the issue of underfunding, Tracy shared that the exclusions are also more likely to happen when unmanageable conditions, lack of support and burnout prevail. None-the-less, she stated emphatically, “Our kids have a right to quality, inclusive public education.”

Additionally, Tracy reminded the forum participants of the changes to the special education category designations made by the provincial government in 2001 and never rectified. These changes resulted in the removal of supplementary funding to support the many students with identified high incidence needs. While the number of designations then dropped markedly and the supports diminished, the students’ special or diverse learning needs did not, of course, leaving many educators unsure of how to best support these students and without the appropriate means to do so.

Tracy was clear about the steps that need to be taken. The government needs to urgently address funding levels and support for all students and our public schools. She stressed that there should be a more holistic approach and coherent links between pre-school, K-12, and post-secondary education. We need to amplify the message that a quality, accessible and inclusive public education system is of great worth to our society as a whole. It should be valued and supported independent of the needs of the marketplace. “There are kids for whom a job may never be a possibility,” said Tracy, “but that does not mean that education is not valuable to them, and that the system does not gain value from having them there.”

Annabree, Andrée and Tracy clearly struck a chord with everyone in attendance as the discussions continued well after adjournment. IPE/BC is very grateful to each of them for their thoughtful and informative presentations and for fueling a renewed commitment to supporting our public schools.

Moira Mackenzie is a member of the Board of IPE/BC and long time advocate for quality, accessible, inclusive public education.  She taught in BC public schools for many years at the primary and intermediate levels, and as a Resource & Learning Assistance teacher. Moira, who is now retired, also served in a number of elected and appointed roles within the teachers’ federation.

Do school board elections matter?

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Do school board elections matter?

September 19, 2022

By Patti Bacchus 

Do school board elections really matter? That depends. Too often B.C.’s school boards are ineffective and they’ve lost the power to levy taxes or bargain directly with the employee groups on key issues. Many simply rubber stamp management recommendations and happily cash their modest pay cheques and do little to represent their constituents at the board table. One could fairly argue that school boards are the worst form of governance, and they are, with the exception of all the others.
But yes, democratically elected school boards matter. They matter because effective trustees who take the role seriously and courageously can make a real difference in improving, or even protecting, educational opportunities and supports for students. We need far more of those kind of trustees, and it’s up to all of us to find them and support them, whether we have kids in the system or not.
It’s often said that public education is the cornerstone of democracy. It is, and it’s also essential to a healthy, prosperous and just society.
Vibrant and effective school boards, where respectful debate is informed and encouraged, and where all voices are permitted to be heard and access to trustees is open, are a key component of a high-functioning and successful school system. By most measures, Canada’s public schools are remarkably successful and produce good results in return for what the public invests in them. Do school boards have anything to do with this? I believe they do, at least in some cases.

Unfortunately, many B.C. school boards are moving away from that model with increasingly restrictive codes of conduct that limit trustees from speaking out and engaging with those they’re elected to serve. Many have erected rigid barriers that discourage and restrict public participation. Too many take direction from their management teams, instead of the reverse. Far too much of the public’s business —and school board business is the public’s business — happens behind closed doors or in private emails instead of in public meetings, where it belongs.

If they want to matter to the public, school boards need to give themselves a hard shake and decide whether they want to do the important work of transparently representing the public in decision-making, or keep fussing about each other’s decorum or conduct as they head down the road to extinction.

We get our chance to vote for school trustees this October 15, when we elect mayors, city councillors and school trustees. It’s worth taking the time to learn about who is running and what they stand for, and make sure those who truly care about public education get elected to office.
What do school boards do?

School boards have a co-governance relationship with the provincial government over the public education system. Curriculum is set provincially, and decisions about class sizes are negotiated at the provincial level. The B.C. School Act broadly states school boards are “responsible for improvement of student achievement in the school district.”

In practice, one of the most important functions of school boards is hiring and overseeing their superintendent of schools, who is also the district’s chief executive officer (CEO). The superintendent is the only employee who reports directly to the board, and is responsible for carrying out the board’s directions and ensuring the district and schools are run in compliance with the School Act and collective agreements with employee groups, all while staying within tight budgets.  A superintendent who understands the values and priorities of the board, and is committed to carrying them out, is critical to a successful school district.
It’s also the job of elected school trustees to represent the public in decision making and advocating for the needs of their district. Some do this very well. Others do not.
In addition to trying to “improve student achievement”, elected school boards are responsible for developing a wide range of policies and making decisions about opening or closing schools (in reality, government mostly decides if school are opened, via whether or not they decide to fund new schools) and which choice or special needs programs go where. They also set “catchment” boundaries, which dictate which school students have priority access to in their neighbourhood, although there’s no guarantee being in catchment means you get a space in your local school.
Trustees who succumb to government and management pressure to close schools and sell off school lands, which we’ve seen in many B.C. school districts, can cause lasting harm to their districts if they don’t carefully consider the long-term implications of such decisions.
School trustees also approve their annual budgets, and ideally, give direction to management regarding budget priorities.
Who can be a school trustee?
Any Canadian citizen who is over 17 and has lived in B.C. for at least six months is eligible to run, with a few exceptions, including school district employees, who can not run in the district the work in. From there, voters decide, unless there are no other candidates and the candidate is acclaimed.


What’s the job really like?
Some trustees show up for monthly meetings and cast a few votes and go home. They may attend a few school events throughout the year. Fortunately that’s a minority. I served eight years on the Vancouver School Board (VSB), and was chair for six of those. Many days started before dawn with live radio interviews and reading and replying to hundreds of emails. I would visit schools and attend meetings during the day, and spend afternoons preparing for evening meetings. My district had two formal board meetings a month in my day, along with five standing committees that met monthly, various briefing workshops and other internal and external committees where I represented the board as a liaison trustee, and frequent community events and speaking engagements.
Many trustees hold day jobs and simply can’t commit the kind of time others can, and smaller districts usually have fewer meetings and time demands.
I also spent a lot of time advocating for the needs of my district through the news and social media, and in in-person meetings, which I believe all trustees should do.
It was a tough role to be in, but I felt honoured voters gave me the opportunity to do it. A vibrant, well-resourced public-education system is key to addressing many of the challenges we face. Trustees can play a significant role in supporting and protecting it.
What to look for in trustee candidates
Those of us who keep an eye on B.C. School Boards often shake our heads at the ineffectiveness and dysfunction of some of them. Too many simply rubber stamp management recommendations and sign off on inadequate budgets, leaving students without the support they need to succeed.
Advocacy is hard work and can feel futile, but it does make a difference. Each year I chaired the VSB I made sure we presented a compelling case for increased funding to the provincial finance committee when it did its annual public consultation. My board collaborated with parents and employee groups to raise awareness about the need to invest in schools and to support the people who work in them.
We took time to communicate clearly to the public about how various provincial government policies were affecting classrooms and the supports and programs available for students. We worked alongside parents and other advocates to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in provincial funding to replace or upgrade seismically unsafe schools (yet, there are still many waiting for funding). We brought in ground-breaking policy updates to make schools safe and welcoming for students, staff and families of all gender identities. We made a difference.
As trustee elections approach, it’s important to find and support candidates who are passionate about the importance of public education and are willing to stand up for it. We need trustees who understand the role and are willing to use it effectively, not just warm a seat at the board table.
That’s not always easy, but if they’re not willing to do the hard work they shouldn’t be running.
Look for school trustees candidates who are committed to making themselves accessible to their constituents and opening as many channels of communication as possible. If you’re going to represent the public, you need to hear from them. Trustees need to remember that once they’re elected, especially if they’re told they shouldn’t meet with groups of individuals, speak to reporters or engage with the public and social media (this, apparently, has been happening in several school districts).
School boards are an endangered species
School boards are a creation of provincial legislation and can be abolished. It’s happened in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec. Prince Edward Island tried getting rid of them, and now they’re bringing them back. Manitoba came very close to eliminating them, but backed off. For now.
I confess they are times I feel we should scrap ours, like when the Victoria School Board took it upon themselves to essentially oust two elected trustees — who were known for speaking out on behalf of students, parents and Indigenous communities — from the board table for the remainder of their term. That’s a huge overreach: voters should be the ones to decide who sits at the table, not other trustees.
Trustee elections are fast approaching. Don’t take elected school boards for granted. Find and support candidates who are passionate about public education and are willing to roll up their sleeves and fight for it. It matters.
Patti Bacchus is an IPE/BC Fellow and dedicated public education advocate and commentator. She was the Vancouver School Board’s longest serving chairperson (2008-2014).  Patti believes that a strong and well-resourced public education system is key to a healthy and just society. 

Moving beyond resistance to privatization

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Moving beyond resistance to privatization

June 28, 2022

by Andrée Gacoin

What is the commercial mindset in public education? How do you see the commercial mindset in your school or district? What does privatization look like in your classroom? What does it mean to work together to resist the privatization of public education?

These are questions that 15 teachers, as well as invited guests from the Institute for Public Education, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC Ed Access, and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, engaged with as part of a day long think tank organised by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) . The “Think Tank” is a methodology used by the BCTF as a form of activist research. Following Jones (2018), activist research is a “framework for conducting collaborative research that makes explicit challenges to power through transformative action” (p. 27).  As such, the event aimed to create an interactive research space enabling dialogue and connection between teachers, academic or community stakeholders, and the union.

Resist…reclaim and rebuild

The Think Tank was structured to first identify key facets of privatization in British Columbia and then facilitate the development of strategies for action and resistance. The day’s conversations were interpreted in a visual mural, created by Sam Bradd of Drawing Change (see, a network of graphic recorders who listen, synthesize, and visually represent dialogue in real time.

The theoretical framing of the day was provided by Dr. Sam E. Abrams (2018), Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.

Dr. Abrams offers a way to analyse how the “commercial mindset” underpins the privatization of education and allows private interests to drive the direction of public education. For Abrams, this mindset has four key dimensions. Firstly, the libertarian critique is premised on the need for small government and doing the “minimum” within public services. Secondly, the drive towards commercial profit allows business models to be introduced into the provision of public education services. Thirdly, a sense of crisis creates the need for solutions to “fix” public education. Finally, public services are mired in a bureaucratic pathology which opens the way for external “solutions” by private “experts.”

Through discussion, the participants in the Think Tank took the mindset offered by Dr. Abrams into the lived realities of lived realities of privatization within public education. Their insights are organized around the key facets of the commercial mindset, while recognizing that they are continually overlapping and building on one another.

As highlighted in this IPE Occasional Paper, participants in the Think Tank theorized and developed, from the perspectives of BC teachers, strategies not only to resist privatization, but also reclaim and rebuild public education.


Changing the narrative

As schools look toward post-pandemic recovery, teacher unions and researchers are at a crucial junction in the defense of public education. Schools are key public spaces of collective learning and community care for children and youth. Privatization, in contrast, privileges individual and financial interests and undermines education as a public good.

Privatisation discourses position teachers as passive providers educational services. The BCTF Think Tank on Privatization provided a space for teachers to speak back to that assumption, weaving together a theoretical understanding of privatisation with their lived realities in classrooms and schools. This allowed space for concrete, teacher-led recommendations and actions for political organising and advocacy.

More broadly, the interactive research space created through the Think Tank offers a unique model for how academic and union researchers can work collaboratively. Unions, and the teachers they represent, are often framed as “sources” of data. For instance, the BCTF is frequently approached to circulate surveys created by external researchers, or to help recruit teachers as participants for interviews or focus groups. The Think Tank as a form of activist research foregrounds the voices and experiences of teachers and facilitates a shift from research on teachers to research with teachers, working together to fight for education as an equitably delivered public good.

Dr. Andrée Gacoin is the Director of the Information, Research and International Solidarity Division at the BC Teachers’ Federation and an IPE/BC Fellow. Her research focuses on developing a unique, in-depth and contextualized exploration of education in BC from the perspective of teachers. Andrée is particularly interested in using research as advocacy to uphold and strengthen an inclusive public education system.

Renaming Your School as an Act of Reconciliation

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Renaming Your School as an Act of Reconciliation

May 21, 2022

by Moira Mackenzie

Imagine your children researching their school’s namesake and discovering that the person being celebrated actively promoted racism and campaigned on white supremacy. Richard McBride, for whom the school was named, was BC’s Premier from 1903 to 1915. He  introduced policies to disenfranchise immigrants and persons of colour and worked to remove lands from Indigenous people. Additionally, he was a leading anti-suffrage politician who steadfastly opposed women’s voting rights throughout his career. Jen Arbo and Cheryl Sluis, parents of past and current Richard McBride Elementary School students, can speak to this experience and what they set about to do about it.

Jen, Chris, and Sam Killawep, a secondary school student, were members the panel featured in the online seminar, “Renaming your school as an act of reconciliation,” recently sponsored by the BC Teachers’ Federation. The panel, moderated by BCTF President Teri Mooring, also included Peggy Janicki, who holds a seat designated for an Aboriginal teacher on the BCTF Executive Committee, and Brian Coleman, the chairperson of the BCTF Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee. Teri opened the session by describing official name changes as small but important steps in reconciliation and decolonization. She reflected on the impact of names on our understanding of people, place, and history, asking, “Whose lives and history do we honour and whose do we erase?”

With the former Richard McBride Elementary School in New Westminster, the timing for a name was particularly fortuitous as the old school was deemed seismically unsafe and was being rebuilt. Initially the parents were told that there was no opportunity to rename the school, however they didn’t stop there. When the research on Richard McBride was shared, the Parent Advisory Council passed a motion to request a change in name. The New Westminster Board of Education had introduced a comprehensive new procedure on renaming of schools and, just two days after receiving the PAC request, set up a renaming committee for the school.

The  Board’s Re-naming School and District Facilities procedure provides an excellent framework to assess the need for a  change and engage in an inclusive process to determine a new name.  It affirms the district’s commitment to reconciliation and decolonization, and states that a name change will be considered “where the existing name is deemed to no longer be serving the needs of the school population of the community and no longer aligns with the district’s core values and strategic priorities.” When a proposal to change a school’s name is approved, a committee is established and charged with conducting the process and recommending a new name to the Board. The committee will consist of a trustee, a District Aboriginal Coordinator, a Director of Instruction or Associate Superintendent, a representative from each of the PAC, New West Principal and Vice Principal’s Association, CUPE,  and the New Westminster Teachers’ Union,  up to two Indigenous members, up to two members  of the local community, and up to three student advisory members.

Once in place, the committee for the Richard McBride Elementary name change established a very thorough and thoughtful process, developing criteria, consulting extensively with the First Nations community leaders and local language keepers, and inviting proposals. A rubric was  developed to assess the many suggestions, asking such important questions as, “Does it honor the local history and the land? Does it align with district values? Do students to engage with it?”

After nearly a year of work, the committee came to a unanimous decision to propose that the school be named Skwo:wech, which is the Halq’eméylem word for “sturgeon.”  The name is particularly significant given the connection with the Fraser River and the importance of sturgeon to Indigenous communities who traveled up and down the river.

When asked what learning was most important to the entire process, Jen Arbo shared that the process can generate discomfort, it can be messy, and involves learning through a real world example of reconciliation. “It’s good. Accept it, verbalize it and work through it,” she advised.

Cheryl echoed the importance of sitting with the discomfort. “It’s healthy, “she concluded, “As a white person, I was hesitant but, once I saw what kids were seeing, it was not possible not to do something.”  Now she sees the impact of the new name as well. “There is so much learning taking place, learning about the geography, history, language and the land.”

Noting that the plaque at the former Richard McBride Elementary was silent on the racist history, Sam noted that students learn so much from what’s around them. He remarked on his own learning in the process of serving on the committee and spoke to the importance of incorporating Indigenous languages. He reminded participants that students are living through the education system; they are capable and want to be fully involved.

In speaking to the paradigm shift necessary in decolonization, Peggy Janicki underscored the fact that Indigenous languages were deliberately, not accidentally, endangered. It was not only the only the words, but also the sounds of the languages that were erased. She spoke about the power of reflecting their lives and language back to Indigenous children in their schools and the world around them.

Brian Coleman described the name change, Richard McBride to Skwo:wech, as learning from the past, consulting in the present and looking to the future. He spoke about the essential importance of relationships and the need to give time to the process. “You don’t just choose a name; the name will choose you. You’ll know. Like the process, it will be long-lasting and meaningful, “ he said.

What made the process so successful in New Westminster? The panelists agreed that there was not one factor alone. The rebuilding of the school presented a good opportunity for a new name. The PAC was strong, the community was involved, the Board put clear procedures in place and the committee had the capacity to do the work. Their advice was clear: advocate with school trustees and ensure that the Board adopts a commitment to reconciliation and puts a formal name change procedure is put in place.

Skwo:wech Elementary, home to more than four hundred students, opened in its brand-new, beautiful building this spring. As the school board stated, It’s a name that we’re proud to move forward with, that came from a process that involved a great deal of collaboration and learning already, with more opportunities to build on for years to come.”

While renaming a school is just one step in the necessary process of reconciliation and decolonization, it’s one that can have a significant impact for generations to come. Taking the time to research the names that currently mark the public schools and other sites around us is an important first step.


More information on Richard McBride Elementary becoming Skwo:wech Elementary is available through the following links:

A new name with meaningNew Westminster Schools – District 40 (

New West district gets set to rename Richard McBride School

Have your say on renaming Richard McBride Elementary School

Goodbye Richard McBride. Hello Skwo:wech Elementary

Moira Mackenzie is a member of the Board of IPE/BC and long time advocate for quality, accessible, inclusive public education.  She taught in BC public schools for many years at the primary and intermediate levels, and as a Resource & Learning Assistance teacher. Moira, who is now retired, also served in a number of elected and appointed roles within the teachers’ federation, including BCTF Executive Director.

The Urgent Need to Tackle Racism

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

The Urgent Need to Tackle Racism

by Noel Herron

Last August, the BC Office of the Human Rights Commissioner launched the first ever public inquiry into hate crimes in BC. In announcing this important step, a year-long thorough investigation, Commissioner Kasari Govender noted that, since early 2020, there has been a significant increase in reported hate-related incidents. “It is critical for all of us to be better prepared to prevent and respond to hate during global health, economic and social crises to protect our human rights during turbulent times,” stated Govender.

The 19 months of the pandemic in B.C. have witnessed almost weekly incidents and events that point to the surge of racism both at a local and a provincial level, some minor, others with wider implications for sectors such as health, policing, education, sports, and politics. This very serious issue affects not just BC but the entire country. Yet, it was deeply disturbing that it was largely ignored during the recent federal election campaign. This, while we bore witness to the traumatic discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of First Nations children at residential school sites.

Provincially, BC has appointed Rachna Singh as Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives with the promise to introduce anti-racism legislation in the next session of the legislature. A public consultation is currently underway. Thinking of public education, that legislation will have to have considerable strength and impact to ensure that racism is tackled in a comprehensive and meaningful way across the province.

What steps have been taking place in education over the past year? On the opening day of the 2021/22 school year, the Vancouver School Board had an online anti-racism training session for all teachers and principals. It followed racist incidents that were brought to light by students and parents who had the courage to speak out and use the BC human rights process. That’s one positive step; however, it took the five separate parties that are currently represented on the board a full year to agree to implement this long overdue initiative. There is so much more to be done.

Last February, the BC School Trustees’ Association followed up on motions carried by the BCSTA Provincial Council the previous year and appealed to the provincial government to provide the additional support needed to implement systemic change in school districts across the province. Acknowledging that some steps had been taken, the BCSTA pressed for comprehensive plans to address the issue.

In August, we learned about a report, mandated by the BC Minister of Education, that found “clearly discriminatory and systemically racist” behaviours and practices in a B.C. school district and called for a province-wide review. This report on School District 57 provided a profile involving one school district. However, retired judge, currently academic director of the Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of B.C, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond agreed that a deeper probe is needed, stating, “This report was very helpful, but it certainly struck me as a kind of tip-of-the-iceberg report.”

BC’s reckoning with racism is long overdue and we all have a role to play. The creation of a truly inclusive, just, respectful, and caring society needs urgent attention from all levels of government-local provincial and federal. Additionally, it is incumbent on each of us to speak out against racism and, in the context of our all-important public education system, insist that all schools and school districts are modeling the society we seek.

Noel Herron is a retired principal, former Vancouver school trustee and past member of the Vancouver School District Race Relations Committee. He has a long and highly respected career in public education and is well known for his deep commitment to the well-being of students in general and to the needs of marginalized and racialized children and youth, in particular. While principal, Noel served on the Vancouver School District Committee on Racial Justice; he expresses his gratitude to the many race relations consultants and anti-racism advocates he worked with and learned from throughout his career.