School District Meeting Report
~ by Heather Graham -
School District No. 85 (Vancouver Island North) is currently holding community consultations around the district to address two issues: (1) update (or renewal) of the current strategic plan; (2) trustee representation. Wednesday, February 6 was Sointulaâ€™s opportunity to have its say on these matters, and based on the number of people who turned outâ€”approximately fortyâ€”local residents want to make sure their views are heard. In fact, according to meeting organizers, it was the best attendance theyâ€™ve had so far in their travels through the district.
The first issue, that of the strategic plan, was addressed only to let people know how the process will work. The plan itself was not up for discussion. Superintendent Scott Benwell explained that each school develops its own plan, which is fed into a centralized process. Attendees were asked to consider five questions:
What do you value and appreciate about our schools?
What are some key skills that you feel all students need to attain?
What are examples of goals that you feel students should be able to accomplish?
What are some examples of new ways we can further support and serve families?
What do you believe schools are for?
The district is using something called â€śThoughtstream,â€ť described as â€śa simple community learning system used by school leaders across North America to help effectively engage and move their communities forward.â€ť People were asked to leave their contact information if they want to be part of this process. March 30, 2013 is the date for completion of local plans, and June 2013 as the date for adoption of the final plan.
The meeting then turned to the second issue on the agenda: trustee representation. In John Martinâ€™s words, the two items that need to be addressed are (1) the optimal number of trustees on a board and (2) equity of representation. According to 2011 census data, there have been significant demographic shifts in the North Island school populations. Currently, there are seven trustees for District 85, distributed among six zones. Most zones, although not all, have seen decreases, but overall the trend is definitely downward. Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s behind this examination of trustee representation. Under consideration: reducing the number of trustees, and reorganizing the electoral areas.
Itâ€™s very clear, based on Wednesdayâ€™s meeting, that Sointula doesnâ€™t support any reduction in the number of trustees. In fact, the response was unanimously against the idea. People are concerned that fewer trustees would mean increased workloads, increased travel time, and less equitable representation. One attendee made the point that the money saved by reducing the number from seven to five â€śisnâ€™t worth the loss of representation.â€ť
As for equity of representation, right now trustees are elected to represent a specific zone. There are six zones, one of which (Port Hardy) has two trustees. Sointula is in the Eastern Zone (Area A of the Regional District of Mount Waddington but excluding Cormorant Island) and is represented by one trustee. Apart from maintaining the status quoâ€”everything stays the sameâ€”options for trustee representation include: electing trustees at large, meaning trustees would not represent any particular zone; elections over two or three zones; and redrawing the electoral areas. Various options for possible new areas were presented, including the option of coming up with something altogether different than has been proposed so far.
The idea of electing trustees at large was met with little enthusiasm, and none of the options put forward for redrawing electoral boundaries was acceptable to those present. The point was made that the trustee for Sointula doesnâ€™t represent just A.J. Elliott but also North Island Secondary. Changing the current arrangement would mean having to make choices such as this: Is it better for the Sointula representative to be shared with Alert Bay, or shared with Port McNeill?
This consultation process is first of all about a strategic plan for the future, and secondly, about trustee representation. But these decisions have to be made in the context of a changing world. The problem is how to confront what may be required because of it. People talked about a situation on the North Island where very small children are spending hours a day being bused to another town because their community has lost its school. And losing a school, as someone pointed out, isnâ€™t just about the effect on the children themselves and their families. There are serious social and economic impacts.
No oneâ€™s talking about closing schools, but shifts in enrolment numbers could mean changes in the future. Sointula wants its views heard, and attendance at last Wednesdayâ€™s meeting sends that message very clearly to the decision makers.