Reprieve

Tonight the VSB Trustees, along with Committees II/III, met to listen to delegates’ presentations against the possible closure to close Garibaldi. There were eight or nine delegates [actually 11 delegates represented Garibaldi], covering many aspects of why Garibaldi should stay open. The Trustees decided to amend the motion to allow for the school to stay open if a viable plan to make the school work financially is produced by the end of the 2008 March break. via Save the Garibaldi Annex

That is as good an outcome as we could have hoped for. Approximately 50 folks showed up to protest the closing of a school whose population has dwindled to 39 students this year. Kind of points to an interesting story doesn’t it?

Brian spoke on our behalf. Throughout the evening there were many references to parents who’d left the catchment to go elsewhere for special programming, and many more references to how having an axe poised over the school for years has scared off parents. Brian spoke to both those points from our personal experience.

It became abundantly clear from the delegates presentations that this axe has hung over Garibaldi for a long time. One delegate said that she was at a similar meeting 25 years ago when her daughter was at Garibaldi! 6 years ago there were 126 students at the school. There is lots of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the number of young families has increased in this neighbourhood (bounded by Nanaimo, Renfrew, First and Hastings.). There is no other elementary school within these boundaries. The threat of closing the school became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Diane Wilmann of Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House kicked off the delegates presentation with a powerful analysis of the needs of our community. Apparently we have the lowest educated adult population in the city? Did I hear that right? We also have a very high E.S.L. population and many folks live here without cars and are totally reliant on public transportation.

The absurdity of the situation grew on me as Diane from Frog Hollow spoke: we’re here to talk about closing this school, the only school in the neighbourhood bounded by Hastings, First Ave. Nanaimo and Renfrew Streets- when the needs are so great? Why aren’t we here discussing how Garibaldi could better serve and reflect our community? Why aren’t we saying to the board how did you let it get to this?

But nevermind. The political process did its job. Delegates presented, trustees and members of the committee asked questions. Sharon Gregson asked good questions throughout. Eleanor Gregory chaired the meeting effectively. Alan Blakey was quiet through the process, head down. I wondered if he was paying attention but he quickly dispelled that notion when he suggested they make a friendly agreement to amend the motion to close Garibaldi to the wording above. The board will vote on the new motion at next weeks’ meeting. It was good drama all round.

Many interesting ideas were mentioned. Frog Hollow Neighbourhood house is at capacity and would love to extend programming into Garibaldi. Many local preschool and daycare operators would like to locate there. Does a school only educate school-aged children? Only in classrooms? Can a small, local school also be a community gathering place where we all come together to teach and learn what we want to know?

Hastings, Nelson, Lord are all scheduled for seismic upgrades. Garibaldi is fine until 2015. It could be used as a swing space for students affected by the upgrades. It certainly sounded like that would be much cheaper than building and maintaining portables. Closing Garibaldi before completing the facility review underway is just plain short-sighted.

The capacity issue came up repeatedly. My take away is that “capacity” numbers are tricky beasts that can be used in many ways. But one thing that was never mentioned in the Supt’s report was quality of education or educational outcomes. Declining enrollments are a fact. Does that mean we send all of our children to bigger and bigger schools?

My mom, (aka Pat McPhee) who started teaching elementary school when she was 19 and taught until she was 65 is one of the most creative, engaging, child-centred teachers I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing in action. She commented on my previous post:

“Schools can get too big, that’s a mistake. It’s best if the teachers know every kid by name. That makes it personal and then every kid is accountable. But small means some programs have to be cut. Oh dear, the dilemma. “

What is the ideal size for an elementary school? How do we ensure that when we talk about school capacity it is in relation to quality of educational experience? And while we’re fighting to keep neighbourhood schools open and creatively responding to our community needs in this age of declining enrollments, can we spare a bit of energy to demand that the provincial government apply some of their record budget surpluses to funding education and childcare?

One thought on “Reprieve

  1. Why not turn to this building into a international language for senior and adults class to learn english and other language.That will be usefull for this building as Garibaldi Language Centre for the people in this community whose live by these areas.Can have days and night courses and the other part drop in child minded,so the adults parents can attend learn the languages and cultures.So we can learn each other peoples cultures and languages.We can get the funded from the federal ,provincial and municipal level of government to finance and maintain the Garibaldi building.I hope people listening out there.

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