Vancouver board of education is trying to contain parents' anger over school closures

Last night (October 25), the Vancouver board of education did a bunch of things to keep a lid on parental anger over the possible closure of Sir Guy Carleton elementary school in East Vancouver.

If this is how the board plans to run its consultation process over the next nine days of public meetings, it's clear that one of the goals of district staff is to shield trustees from political fallout.

First of all, the district chose a huge room for the first meeting: the gymnasium at Windermere secondary school. This ensured that no matter how many parents attended, it wouldn't seem full to the media who were present to record the proceedings.

A big crowd showed up, but they didn't feel crammed in.

Secondly, the board provided more than enough seating. Anyone who has organized a news conference knows that it's better to deliver bad news while people are sitting because then they're better behaved.

The organizers of the meeting also ensured that parents had to wait a long time before they could go to the microphone.

That was because superintendent Steve Cardwell didn't start speaking until about 45 minutes after the meeting was scheduled to begin. He droned on for an interminable mount of time before the first parent, Ann Wong, was permitted to have her say.

Trustees weren't put on the podium with the superintendent. Instead, they sat at a table off in the corner of the room, barely visible to most parents.

This kept them out of the firing line and largely out of the public eye.

The board also required people to register if they wanted to speak. This created a bit of a bureaucratic obstacle in a neighbourhood with a large number of people for whom English is a second language.

Unfortunately for the board, these attempts to downplay public anger were offset by the efforts of Vancouver-Kingsway NDP MLA Adrian Dix, who has proven himself to be an adept community organizer.

Unlike other East Vancouver NDP MLAs who face school closures in their constituencies, Dix has kept the school in his riding in the media spotlight.

He helped organize a rally of parents earlier this year, which generated coverage on TV newscasts. According to Wong, Dix also rallied former students and spoke to local businesses that would be affected by the closure of Carleton. The parents have also enlisted the support of other parent advisory councils.

In addition, Dix distributed an op-ed piece to the media more than a week before last night's meeting. He held another media event on the weekend to ensure that last night's main event was on the reporters' radar. Sure enough, it was well-attended by people from print, television, and radio outlets.

The community came out in force, with speakers from local organizations, alumni, and the business community. As well, there were many heartfelt presentations from parents.

The second parent spoke almost entirely in Cantonese, which ensured that this story will get lots of play in the Chinese-language media.

Dix's efforts on behalf of his constituents have put the board of education on the defensive. If trustees choose to close Carleton, Vision Vancouver could face a serious backlash in the 2011 election in the Collingwood neighbourhood, where it should reign supreme.

Vision's problems will be magnified if Coalition of Progressive Electors trustees Jane Bouey, Al Blakey, and Allan Wong break away from the rest of the pack and vote to save the school. It will create a wedge between them and the Vision and NPA trustees.

Vision park commissioner Raj Hundal and Vision councillor Kerry Jang have deep roots in the area, and both have supported Dix in the past.

But they'll be unlikely to quell the anger of Collingwood parents if Vision Vancouver trustees vote to shut down the local elementary school.

In a close election, this could make a huge difference to Vision politicians running for council and park board, as well as for the board of education.

Comments (10) Add New Comment
David Emerscam
Your first two complaints are that the Board offered adequate space and seating at a public event? Seriously? At that point you lost what might have been a legitimate argument.
Rating: +5
Mike Klassen
Charlie, I met with Adrian Dix a few weeks ago to discuss the proposed closures in his riding. After that I concluded that it was highly unlikely any of three original Collingwood-area schools would be closed. Only Carleton was left on that list because, it was argued, of the cost for seismic updates. But that's 378 kids that would have to choose another school!

Putting my political thinking cap on for a moment, I suspect that Vision/COPE will not in a million years allow Carleton to close. As you've noted Jang and Hundal are affected. It's also an iconic and important building for Collingwood. What they're giving Adrian is a soapbox, and as you say he's done a great job getting the community focused on this topic. And in the end, guess what? He'll help to keep the school open.

In reality the VSB has no intention of closing Sir Guy Carleton, and the pressure will build on the MoE to fund the seismic. Look for it to become a candidate for the "Neighbourhoods of Learning" model with multiple community uses.

I may be way off on this, but my math says that there are just too many kids to be displaced from that important building to let it happen.
Rating: +1
Colin M
I'm sorry, but I just don't see the conspiracy in providing lots of seating and a big room. If they had done the opposite, you'd be accusing them of trying to prevent voices from being heard.
Rating: +2
lets see, one of the other dailies reported that over a hundred parents, students, former students and supporters protested the Carelton closing. Hmmm there are approx 380 students and only a bit over a hundred people protested. Seems the majority of parents and others don't care or can't be bothered; but what else is new. Been there before,
Rating: 0
Stepan Vdovine
Charlie, what other facility would have been a better place to accomodate 300+ people on Monday night if not a gymnasium?
Rating: -2
I was at the meeting - I'd guess close to 500 people were in attendance. I can't see Carleton being closed - it doesn't make any sense. I can't see putting 380 kids into other elementary schools - when the 2 nearest schools are at or over capacity already!

Hopefully we will see a bigger turn out at the meeting next week, this is the only place the community will be heard - so it is important.
Rating: +1
Scott Clark
I was present at the forum as well. I can assure the energy in the meeting was very powerful and the parents and students will fight for their school.

The only reason schools must be considered for closure is that the Provincial Liberals have created artificial regulations on the number of students per school. The Liberals have cut funding to education for 8 straight years, using these arbitrary numbers. At the same time the class rooms are becoming more challenging for our teachers.

The class room of today has a rich diverse ethnic mix, many children who have English as a second language, special needs or gifted children, increasing Aboriginal children and of course more impoverished kids (so much for our war on poverty).

All our schools have had to cut back on the needs of our diverse students needs. We know as we have all have had to volunteer more and fundraise. The stress on the teachers I am sure is challenging as they have to deal with all the issues of the diverse students and parents. in addition they have to deal with the administration who is under strain to implement these cuts, year after year.

Today it is 5 schools that are under consideration for closure, next year, how many more will be shutting down because of the regulations created by the Ministry to support their economic agenda, with no regard to the immediate and long term social impact to our communities.

Good social policy supports it's subset, economic policy, this BC Liberal government has reversed this and used their rules and regulations to rationalize it.

The issue is that no schools need to be cut, innovation, and a serious commitment to our kids is needed.

Do not be distracted by articles that create smoke and mirrors, the issue is in Victoria, and the sooner the BC Liberals value all kids, yes even Aboriginal, Special needs and English as Second language kids, we will all be better for it.
Rating: +2
Petar Ticinovic
If they REALLY want to see some anger they should try closing a school west of Main Street!
Rating: 0
Why are people trying to blame the school board? Any closures are 100% the fault of the current Liberal gov't for cutting millions in funding. Several months ago, when the battle between the VSB and the provincial gov't was in the news, the gov't sent an advisor to conduct an assessment of the VSB's spending. That gov't employee ended her investigation by recommending the closure of several schools. The VSB does not want to close schools, and has been forced to this point by our pathetically misguided provincial gov't. Blame Campbell, not the VSB.
Rating: -3
james green
It is absurd that this board and any board needs to consider closing schools. Close the expensive school board office and put the operations in trailors. Cut admin wages. Rent out buildings. Sell advertising on school board vehicles, Cut the school day by one hour a day. Sit down with the teachers and cupe and negotiate their one time financial contribution to the budget. Sit down with the principals and vice principals and negotiate their one time financial contributions to the budget. Hold, bake sale and car washes.
Lay off 50% of the principals in this district and start a one principal for 5-10 plus schools program. The joke I found the most fun was why don't principals look out their windows in the morning? Because if they did they would have nothing to do in the afternoon.
Sell the naming of schools to contributors to the school board budget.
If the VGH can do a Jim Pattison Pavilion why can't we gain money by selling the naming of schools for individuals and families?
The point is we need to come up with creative ways to keep schools open and stop waiting for politicians to save all schools.
Most pols are more interested in idealogy and the interest of their parties and thei contributors.
They just do not know how to make the interests of students first and foremost. It has to be the people and the community who do the job not the pols.It is time for the people to make the decisions not a few politicians.
Rating: +2
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