The closure of C.E. Barry school was a hot topic during last Thursday’s trustee all-candidates meeting at Hope Secondary School.
Incumbent Marv Cope said the board’s decision in June was difficult, but trustees could no longer keep a school open that was seismically unsafe.
“Nobody wants to close a school,” he said. “To make that school safe for people, it would have cost the government $4 million and they weren’t going to put that kind of money out on a school that was 40 plus years old.”
Cope applauded the quick work by district administration to find an interim solution for students this year, while a four-room addition is built at Coquihalla Elementary School to accommodate a K-7 model at the elementary level. Grade 5-6 students are currently enrolled at Coquihalla, while Grade 7 students are split between Silver Creek Elementary School and Hope Secondary School.
Incumbent trustee Pat Furness feels the district should have handled the school closure differently and brought the issue to the public long before it was.
“I think that we handled the closing of C.E. Barry so badly,” said Furness, who would also like to see more hiring for administrative positions from within the district and fewer issues dealt with in-camera. “A school becomes a community, especially when the students and teachers have all been there for a long time. Teachers and students were not allowed time to grieve. As a board, I don’t think we really listened to the public. If I’m elected, I will do everything in my power to not have Grade 7s in the high school.”
Heather Stewin also pointed out that she’s not happy with the current placement of Grade 7s and bringing them together will be one of her priorities if elected.
Another key issue discussed at the meeting was the district’s current budget constraints. Trustee candidates committed to lobbying for more funding to provide an adequate learning environment. However, Cope noted that declining enrolment remains a problem, which results in $7,000 less in government funding for every student that leaves the district.
“Public education matters, whether our provincial government wants to admit it or not,” added Robert Genaille. “In my 10 years in the school district as a teacher, I watched the levels drop, I watched text books get older, I watched the classes get bigger, I’ve watched the stress lines on teachers, administrators and support staff get a little deeper, and I’ve watched students get ignored. It’s the students, it’s staff, it’s the people that make our system, it’s the people we are trying to teach. We are the ones entrusted with being the voices for our kids.”
Genaille and Stewin also stated they will be advocates for special needs students at the board table, while Furness and Koopman suggested that classroom technology and the high school apprenticeship program be budget priorities. Furness believes the district needs to do more to ensure students are prepared to succeed in the digital world.
“Educators should be given the supports needed for technology to empower the learning process,” she said. “Hope Secondary has one of the best outfitted shops in the Fraser Valley and yet the equipment is under-utilized as a result of overcrowded classes made of multi grades 9-12 and lack of technology in the shops.”
Given the high demand for qualified trades people, Koopman feels the district needs to ensure programs are preparing students for success in “this progressive ever expanding job market.”
“Let’s increase the student’s ability to see the relationship between learning and real life,” he added. “Let’s offer them an opportunity to stay actively engaged in their learning and succeed at school. Let’s motivate our students to graduate high school with job qualifying skills.”
Koopman said he can bring insight and a practical perspective to the school board table. He believes his career as a teacher has taught him the importance of personal initiative and college collaboration.
Incumbent candidate Linda McMullan was not in attendance at Thursday’s meeting due to a family commitment.
Hope voters will elect three school trustees on Nov. 15. Even though her name is still on the ballot, Kerry Duplessis has dropped out of the election for health reasons.
Incumbent trustee Tom Hendrickson has been acclaimed in the Canyon electoral area. There are also six candidates vying for three seats in Agassiz-Harrison electoral area.