How will you support students with diverse learning needs?

I was out of town so my answer was really short. Also I was just talking to a couple of teacher-librarians who felt they do not get protected from students inflicting physical violence at them so it was on the top of my mind. Probably not a great answer for students, but oh well

My colleagues will no doubt be focusing on students, since this is a student newspaper… I'll deviate a bit and make a slightly tangential point. Most anything a trustee suggests here will probably get carried out by a teacher, student support worker, principal/VP, or another staff member. Staff need good professional development. Many teachers say that their BEd did not prepare them for real, diverse classrooms. The district does have training available to make sure staff have the skills for supporting students of all needs, but we know from speaking with many students and families there is room to improve. We have access to world-class professors and programs right next door at UBC and SFU, and their knowledge will be very beneficial to the students across the district. Let's build on those relationships and make sure our staff have the resources they need to support the students.

Many of our previous questions have focussed on significant issues that have surfaced in our District over the past year - school closures, support for students with diverse learning needs, etc. What we haven’t specifically talked about yet is how funding impacts those decisions. So, to that end, we’d like to hear from you on your plans to generate funds for the District, and how that intersects with the school board’s co-governance relationship with the Ministry of Education.

Funding is the unglamourous heart of so many issues and woes in education. The province hasn’t funded any new capital projects in three years - not even seismic upgrades nor the new school in Olympic Village it has promised - and per-student funding has barely increased since the Liberal government was in power.

The old ways of income generation tend to be small and stop-gap: increasing how much rent we charge; increasing the number of international students we have (because that “makes” money for the district); finding efficiencies in the district (aka asking everyone to do more with less).

However, we have to be bolder to meet the level of shortfall we see. In June 2022 I had a motion that asked staff to look into the possible mechanisms of two options: a nonprofit foundation and a business company. We can expect a report back in the fall.

Many other districts and post-secondary institutions in BC and across Canada have some forms of non-for-profit arm - usually called a foundation - that handles donations, grants and large giving (another word for big donations, usually from corporations like sports teams and whatever big companies happen to be in town… in Vancouver’s case it could be BC Lions, Canucks Foundation, Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce, etc). Having a separate foundation handling the relationship-building and legwork frees up the VSB to focus on its mandate - providing excellent K-12 and adult education. Also, corporate advertising has no place in schools. So whatever we decide will have to be carefully crafted and negotiated. But I believe it can be done.

The for-profit business idea is a bit less common, but still present elsewhere in BC, and likely in Canada too (we’ll see in the report!). Kamloops (SD 73), for example, is the sole shareholder of Virtual School Society, which provides remote learning to students abroad. All profits from this business company goes to the school district and is used to supplement provincial funding.

I know that if we go down this road, it will be an even bigger challenge to hold the province accountable for their share of the work and the bills. I want in my heart of hearts for public education to be publicly funded, but I can’t sit by and wait for that to happen and let opportunities pass by the students of the district. There’s no easy way to do this, but we could certainly do better for students with a little financial help.