I was very pleased to see Mayor Mandel announce his platform plank calling for a coordinated strategy to keep communities vibrant and viable and, in turn, keep schools open. In my mind schools are the heart of community.
I’ve been trying to do my part on the municipal side of things, working to make infill development and density work for families in these same neighbourhoods:
In knocking on doors throughout Ward 10 these past months I’ve heard real apprehension from the residents of communities just now going through the sector review process. They have last spring’s school closures fresh in mind, and genuine worry with the new suburban schools opening up for students who had been busing in and propping up the enrolment numbers in older neighbourhood schools.
I’ve been monitoring the Edmonton Public School Board sector review process closely and attended their drop-in event last week at McNally school to review the material and provide my own feedback as a parent with a child a few years away from public school.
The framing of the background material and the worksheet and questions makes clear that the Board’s goal is building great schools to serve students, which makes sense on the surface. The exercise has a zero-sum premise, where there are no additional resources available: funding is set by the province ever since school boards lost control over the education property tax. The most common feedback I heard from other parents at the meeting, and on the doorstep, is that more funding is needed so that boards are not as cash strapped – a rejection of the zero-sum premise.
But it struck me after reviewing the material that I’m ok with more good schools rather than fewer great schools. The reason is simple: good schools as the heart of the neighbourhood add so much to the neighbourhood beyond the education of neighbourhood students. The opportunity for community use of school space is very important, and we have work to do to ensure that more of that space is available, not less, whether it’s for sports, day-care or adult education.
Encouragingly, this lines up with a key principle in the recommendations from Minister Hancock’s Inspiring Education project: “Community resources should be fully engaged to support learners, including expertise, facilities, services and learning opportunities. Community resources—whether local, provincial, national or global—should actively participate in the education of learners.” (see page 31 of the Steering Committee Report.
There was a positive meeting between the Board, Council and the Minister of Education this past spring. Unfourtunately I couldn’t attend but it was preliminary. The main thing that came out of the meeting was a commitment to meet again after the election to discuss solutions to keeping more schools viable. One of the possible next steps is a joint task force to delve further. I would be among the first to volunteer.
We need these schools to make living centrally more attractive to families, and we need more families to make these schools viable. So we’re going to need some creativity and collaboration to find a solution. If this whole election for council and the trustees could be about one thing, schools should be it.
Some interesting resources that have stimulated my thinking on this issue:
- Very good questions about the full costs and implications of closure are up on trustee candidate Michael Janz’s blog, including comments from outgoing trustee Sue Huff.
- Interesting comments in an open letter from the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues refusing to participate in the sector review process.
- Interesting analysis of the planning disconnect between the school board and the city from planner Beth Saunders, based on collaboration between the Edmonton Journal and blogger extraordinaire Mack Male using open data from the city.
- The Community Schools Coalition has some articulate thinking and further links to other resources.
If you didn’t get a chance to attend the last consultation, there is another for the South Central Sector:
Tuesday, October 5, 2010, 4:00 – 9:00pm
Vimy Ridge Academy, Gym, 8205 – 90 Avenue