News

IPE/BC Submission to the Budget 2024 Consultation

The IPE/BC submission to the Budget 2024 Consultation process is titled, Building Capacity for BC’s Future, and is focused on the following three priorities:

  • addressing the serious teacher shortage that is putting the quality of public education at risk,
  • acting on the need to revise the system for capital planning and building in order to ensure a forward-looking approach, and
  • meeting the need for increased funding for post-secondary education.

You can read the full submission including our recommendations and rationale here.

 

Survey Results Very Worrisome

June 8, 2023

We know that a high quality, accessible and inclusive public education system is essential to a strong democracy. We also know that teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. A recent report shines a light on the serious issues that need to be addressed so that our valuable public education system can continue to live up to the important role it plays in our society.

As you’ll see from this report on the BCTF’s recent member survey, the pressures on teachers are becoming untenable. We can only expect that  BC’s critical teacher shortage will get worse if the conditions are not improved. Increasing workload, inability to secure the support their students need, staffing shortages, and oversized classes are among the top factors having a worrying impact on the physical and mental health of teachers. Teachers considering leaving the profession within the next two years pointed to  inadequate working conditions, lack of support for students with diverse needs, stress, and burnout as key reasons. They identified not being able to get the necessary support for students who need it as the key impact of the staffing shortages.

It’s well worth taking the time to read the full report.  As you’ll see, the situation calls for immediate, concerted government attention.

2023 BCTF Member Survey Summary Report

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.

New School Monies Mostly to Cover Current Cost Pressures

New School Monies Mostly to Cover Current Cost Pressures

By John Malcolmson, Institute for Public Education/BC

March 1, 2023

Tuesday’s budget announces a significant increase in funding for K-12 schools. On the operating side of the ledger, there appears to be in excess of $625 million in additional money, according to the Education Ministry’s Service Plan document.

Before the champagne corks start popping, it is worthwhile to keep a few salient (and sobering) thoughts in mind.

➢ Current year funding for public schools is in the order of $6,330 million, so the above scale of increase is clearly sizeable and in the vicinity of 10 per cent.

➢ Our schools are highly labour intensive. In 2022/23, about $4,528 million was spent on wages and salaries for teachers, support staff, and administrative staff. Benefit costs that vary directly with wage spending are likely to add in another $830 million in costs, so the cost of maintaining the staff that run our schools comes to about $5,362 million. These workers are in line to receive a 6.75% increase in April, so that will absorb a full $362 million in new funding.

➢ School enrolments are slated to rise by 1.4%. If one assumes a direct scaling in system costs to meet the needs of these new students, that will take up another $89 million.

➢ Expected inflation on non-wage costs in our schools – close to a $1 billion annually – will absorb another $58 million.

➢ The newly-enhanced school food program is projected to cost an additional $59 million in 2023/24.

If you tally up the underlined amounts above, you get about $568 million already committed. That leaves just $60 odd million to deal with costs associated with new initiatives or the Classroom Enhancement Fund to hire new teachers, or the Learning Improvement Funding dedicated to building up Education Assistant time with students with special needs. Not insubstantial of course but a far cry less than what the headlines alone suggest.

Stretched to the Limit – IPE/BC Forum, March 2

IPE/BC is pleased to be hosting a forum, Stretched to the Limit, in conjunction with its AGM on March 2, 2023 from 5:00-8:00 pm in the CN Strategy Room, Room 2800 in the Segal Building, 500 Granville St. Vancouver.  We’ll be hearing from:

Annabree Fairweather, Executive Director, CUFA/BC

Andrée Gacoin, Director of Information, Research, and International Solidarity, BCTF

Tracy Humphries, Executive Director, BC EdAccess

Discussant- Dan Laitsch, IPE/BC Chairperson

“Public sector services in Canada, like health care, are making headlines across the country for a crisis in service delivery. Millions of Canadians cannot find a family doctor, many can’t access critical surgeries and treatments due to lengthening waitlists, and the professionals entrusted with our care are experiencing burnout and leaving the profession in high numbers. These challenges are unfolding, even as health care takes up a larger percentage of GDP than ever before, reaching a high of 13.8% in 2020.

Education is on the verge of a similar crisis. The teacher shortage is reaching crisis proportions,  universities are crumbling, and provincial governments are treating educators as if they are the problem rather than partners in revitalization. Investment in K-12 education in BC is at historic lows, just 1.6% of GDP in 2019, half what it was in 1982. This panel will bring together senior leaders in the education sector to discuss the looming crisis facing our sector, as well as help us begin to explore what our hopes and dreams for a revitalized education sector could look like.”

We’d love to have you attend to join in the discussion, network with others committed to quality, inclusive, accessible public schools, and share your hopes and dreams for public education in BC.

Click here for more information. 

 

 

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 https://drawingchange.com/), 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.

IPE/BC Submission to Budget Consultation 2023

The IPE/BC submission to the 2023 Budget Consultation process calls for a restoration of the percentage of BC Gross Domestic Product  allocated to public education.  The oft-repeated “highest funding ever” mantra is misleading, at best, as the percentage of BC GDP for K-12 public schools  has declined signifantly over the last two decades.  IPE/BC is recommending a return to the 2.5% that was allocated in 2002.

You can read the complete submission here.

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 (newwestschools.ca)

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.