By Carrie Bercic
If there is one thing I have learned over my 19 years as a public education advocate in Vancouver it is that neighbourhood schools are the heart of our communities and that it is the people in those schools—students, parents, teachers and staff—that make that heart beat.
In June 2016, when the VSB released a list of 12 schools slated for possible closure I was dismayed. Eleven of those schools were in East Vancouver, an area I have lived in for 25 years and a place I love. In my advocacy work I was able to connect with students, parents, teachers and staff at those schools and I saw firsthand the depth of their passion for their neighbourhood schools.
Public education advocates, along with the school communities, called for VSB trustees to put the brakes on the closures until we had more information. We asked trustees to remember that they shouldn’t permanently close schools based on current enrollment, because those numbers change. We asked trustees to hold off on considering closures until census data was released, because this data could give us a better sense of future enrollment needs. We said it was unwise to proceed with closures until the Supreme Court of Canada decision on class size and composition came down, as we would need space in schools if class sizes were smaller.
Before our democratically elected board was fired, they agreed. In a 5-4 decision, trustees voted to halt the closure process. All four NPA trustees voted to continue with the closures of our neighbourhood schools—schools that are at the heart of our communities. They did this in spite of their 2014 campaign promises to keep neighbourhood schools open.
We now find ourselves ready to elect a new school board. It is not only the communities in the schools that found themselves on the closure list who need to be concerned with who gets elected. If those 12 schools had moved forward with closure then all of those students—over 1,000 from fantastic Gladstone secondary alone—would have been diverted to various other schools in Vancouver, putting significant strain on the resources and space in the receiving schools. Every student in this city would have been impacted then and every school in the district will feel the impact now if closures are put back on the table when trustees are elected back.
I encourage all trustee candidates to stand with my OneCity running mate Erica Jaaf and me, and make a pledge. I encourage them to promise that they will not undertake school closures based on enrollment because enrollment changes and once those buildings are gone, they are gone for good. I encourage them to truly commit to keeping public school lands and buildings in public hands by promising to never sell our properties to developers. I encourage them to stand with OneCity to find ways to utilize underused school space for community good—by leasing space for childcare facilities, neighbourhood houses, seniors' centres, youth centres, and community programs—keeping our schools open and ready should enrolment needs change.
I realize that trustees will need to make difficult decisions at the board table. I realize they will need to work within a fiscal framework set out by our provincial government. If elected, I am ready to do just that. I am ready to combine my proven record of advocacy with good governance and sound decision making for this district. I am also ready to work with community partners, city council, and the provincial government to find ways to work together to make it better.
What I will not do is stand silently by while our city replaces these schools—the hearts of our neighbourhoods—with more empty luxury condos. If you are a Vancouverite who loves this beautiful, vibrant, diverse city as I do, whether you have school-aged children or not, I encourage you to stand with OneCity Trustee candidates, Erica Jaaf and me, and give us your vote because we will truly be your voice on the Vancouver school board.