Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Edmonton's little BIG problem of "schooling"

The state of the overcrowded SW schools has come to an intolerable head and the worst part is that it was all completely predictable. We got into this mess together for a variety of reasons so it’s going to take us working together in a variety of ways to get us out.

The problem is compounded by a misinformed public. The average citizen just doesn’t see the big picture and no one is standing up to educate them. Now, I’m not sure if our Public School boards merely feel it’s not their job to educate Adult Citizens or if they are attempting to remain apolitically neutral. In my mind neither is OK. A School Board is by nature both an agent of Public Education and of Social Change. All this confusion, frustration, funding myth, and misleading data swirl around and result in nothing more than one school’s parents pitted against another school’s parents, pointing fingers at each other and at the board. Instead we really should be working together to demand equal educational opportunities for all our children and getting to the true roots of the issue.

It must be stated clearly that the City knowingly allowed massive tracts of new development without considering or informing the public of the tremendous lag in public infrastructure which would follow. The lack of schools, developed park spaces, play grounds, community buildings and rinks are felt deeply by the residents of those communities. By allowing the developers and builders to claw ever outward we have created 2 massive problems: the “ghettoization” of huge areas of our city’s core, and that the school “spaces” are not where the children are.

The developers, builders, and realtors who sold homes in these huge new communities were complicit in a great lie. I, personally, don’t know a single person who bought in a recently developed area who was not told that a nearby vacant field was a surplus school site. This led them to believe that a school would be built there.
No explanation is ever provided as to the lengthy and unlikely list of factors which would need to be met before a school would be built. There is certainly no mention that the Province builds the schools, not the boards, and that the Province counts every available student “space” in a city before it determines a new school is warranted. Edmonton’s schools are simply not full. Just ask the residents of Haddow area what is becoming of their surplus school site. Soon it will be developed into housing and no school will ever be built there.

The citizens of Edmonton must take a hard look at themselves as well. We chose to believe the lie. We have fought mixed density communities, even though they are proven best for the social structure of cities. We have fallen for the shiny and the new instead of rationally and responsibly restoring the once vibrant communities which many of us grew up in. We have continuously voted in governments (civic, provincial, and federal) who refuse to govern the people with vision, and instead ride the wave of public opinion and fail at every turn to advance or preserve the public good. Shame on us.

We are in this mess for all these reasons and many others, and moving forward it is important that we know them, but it is most important that we act now to fix what’s wrong. The solutions will require decisive action on the part of the boards and even then will only be a stop gap. From this point forward the Boards must work with city and provincial planners to ensure this does not keep happening.

Here’s what I am asking of the Edmonton Public School Board.

·         Please take another look at the numbers you are asking many overcrowded schools to operate at. Children are NOT best served by punitively large class sizes nor by placing classes in non-traditional spaces like stages or libraries. Every child deserves a classroom. The province must not be allowed to calculate a school’s capacity using square footage as part of the formula; a gym is NOT a classroom.

·         Please acknowledge that asking small children to take an over 30 minute bus ride each way is too much. Many children are spending much more than an hour each day on the bus. Small children deserve to attend a community school. I was relieved to see the board decided to move the grade 8 and 9 students from Ester Starkman and Johnny Bright but also very sad. It is a lesser-of-evils reaction to a problem that is not going to go away and it merely reflects the unfortunate reality we are in. It causes almost as many problems as it solves; for instance where will EPSB put Avalon’s French immersion students as that program grows over the next few years?

·         Please develop relationships with U of A, and Grant McEwan Childcare graduates to start a few top notch out of school care programs in undersubscribed inner city schools and them promote these schools to commuters. Parents who work downtown and in other areas of the city could choose these schools as a way to access quality childcare and spend more time with their kids by sharing the morning and evening commute with them. There is a strong argument for children attending school closer to where their parents work as it makes it easier for their working parents to attend field trips or special events. Plan to bring life back to dying inner city schools.

·         Please, PLEASE, develop a clear position on handling future development. Schools cannot be continuously asked to accommodate never ending growth. If the developers were required to inform buyers that there are no area schools able to receive their children and therefore buying in that area would also be agreeing to seek out and attend schools far outside of the community, well, they wouldn’t sell too many houses would they? They will not be allowed to suggest any new school will be built and will have to communicate clearly to perspective buyers that since Edmonton schools are at 78% attendance (or whatever it is at that time) that a new school is, in fact, unlikely in the near future.

·         Please (and I know this seems counter intuitive) protect much relied upon and valuable out of school care and preschool programs housed within your schools. There is no reason each school should not have one ‘break even priced’ space rented out to a much needed not for profit community service. EPSB must lobby strongly to have these spaces removed from the Province’s vacant student “space” formula. No principal should have to face a kick-out-your-much-needed-afterschool-daycare or have its “spaces” counted against you dilemma. (And for the record my children don’t attend an in school care centre, nor is the Playschool I work at housed in a school. I simply can’t deny how important these places are for children and families. They are vital to a strong school community.)

·         Please. Please, PLEASE act. The board must act now and with the best outcomes for children in mind.

I am not suggesting any solutions will be easy, in fact I know they will be hard ... but I believe very, very worth the trouble.


  1. Hey! I was sent your post by a friend, and I share some of your concerns about the current school situation. I was wondering if you might get in touch with me so I could chat with you about it over email.

  2. Had upsetting dreams last night ...... just kept falling back into the same one. There was an angry meeting of parents at my children's school and we were all in the little music room (except in dream fashion it wasn't the music room, it was a small university style lecture room ..... but still orange). The parents were all faces I know, good and decent people, and all yelling and bitching about the Principal, the teachers, each other ... angry grumblings and finger pointing. I could feel the hot tears in my eyes and was having troubled holding them back .... I stood up and screamed "I'm here to make this place better, if all you're going to do is bitch and blame them, you should all just GO!!!" .... and everybody left. :( And each time I fell asleep, I was right back there.
    So here's the thing: all week ... for a few weeks, we have been struggling with a numbers nightmare which is coming our way. The school board has forgotten about 2 other nearby schools which have room, but redrawn boundaries so that we may have 80 or more extra kids next year ..... and we are already over 100% full according to THEIR own numbers. I have waded in, trying to get this changed in a timely manner because it's what is fair and right for the kids. But everyone has told me, over and over, "This is a NUMBERS game .... they don't care about the feelings, the sense of community, your passionate words." .............. and I believed it. But I don't want to anymore.
    REALLY!?! REEEEEEALY?!? I'm supposed to accept that the people who run my children's board, who are in charge of the biggest chunk of their week 9 months a year, the people who become the 'in loco parentis' for 32 hours a week don't care about their experience of schooling, don't care about providing equality across the district, don't care about giving schools the population stability to allow good and caring learning environment to flourish? They don't CARE!?!
    NO! I don't accept that. Don't pat me on the head anymore and tell me all they care about is numbers. My kid is NOT a number, YOUR kid is NOT a number. If we allow the human beings at the EPSB to become so disconnected from the kids in their keep that all they see is numbers ...... the WE have failed, not them.