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Opinion: School district trustees “have been failing our children”

How can we hope for our children to have a better future when it is being dimmed or extinguished because of the action, or lack of action, of our elected trustees?
The School District 57 headquarters in Prince George.

Universal outrage pours forth when a child in our community has been harmed.  Immediate action is expected to ensure that it can’t or shouldn’t occur again.  The expectation to keep our children safe, at least while at school, has led to the Prince George school district adopting anti-bulling and inclusion policies.  School District 57 has added mental health and wellness supports for high school students.  However, for almost five years now, the very people we have elected to oversee our school district are the ones that have been failing our children.

Students are being harmed in our school district because they are not learning the basic skills: reading, writing and math.  How can we hope for our children to have a better future when it is being dimmed or extinguished because of the action, or lack of action, of our elected trustees?

The province gives the elected boards of school districts a single, very specific and challenging, mandate: the improvement of student achievement in the school district.  However, the School District 57 Board of Trustees have been delivering the opposite result.

Those negative results led to the provincial government appointing special advisors to the school board in February of 2021.

The harm being done to our children came into full view in June of 2022 when the superintendent brought forth a report showing that 30% of children in Grade 7 were not meeting expectations for literacy.   It’s worse for math where 41% of students in Grade 1 were not meeting expectations, rising to 50% in Grade 10! 

That report foreshadowed the Fraser Institutes rankings this year, which showed that out of 870 elementary schools assessed in British Columbia, four of our region’s 32 public elementary schools are at the very bottom – 821st, 845th, 862nd, and 870th.   The highest ranked public elementary school (Southridge, 228th) was behind three of our independent elementary schools (Cedars Christian – 133rd, St. Mary’s – 141st, and Immaculate Conception – 153rd).

Trustees have only one employee – the superintendent – whom they hire and give direction to.  Improving students’ literacy and math skills requires a comprehensive plan, the necessary funding, and most importantly - time to implement that plan.  None of which has been possible as School District 57 trustees have cycled through five superintendents/acting superintendents over the past five years.

The uncertainty caused by the revolving superintendent role also impacts students negatively as moral drops while teachers and support staff lurch uncertainly from mandate to mandate.  Additionally, executive search agencies are expensive and so are the costs of lawsuits and severance, money that should have been used to provide better supports for the elementary schools most in need.

The crisis of leadership extends beyond the role of the superintendent to the trustees themselves.  There have been four board chairs in the last four years.  Two trustees resigned in September of 2021 followed by two more in March of this year, just five months after being elected.

Running for elected office should be because you want to bring forward good ideas and make a positive difference.  Being elected comes with the responsibility to do your homework, prepare for meetings, and if you’re in the minority on an item being discussed or voted on that you remain vocal.  It’s looking at the other 59 school districts to see what they are doing right.  What it doesn’t mean is throwing in the towel because the work is more challenging than you thought.

If our children were being harmed in any other way, there would be pure outrage.  The harm from the last five years won’t be known until those students try to enter the workforce and move out on their own.  We should be outraged, and that outrage should be focused on the upcoming school board trustee by-election. Take action.  Read about who is running and ensure that you vote on June 17th

Our children’s future is too valuable to be harmed further.

Cameron Stolz is a Prince George writer.