On the New School

I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t blog something about this news. It does seem to be the biggest news in New West, after all.

Right off the bat, I want to say I had nothing to do with this. The High School is a Board of Education responsibility, and the Ministry of Education holds the purse strings to make things happen. Our primary role since I joined Council is to stay out of the way and let the School District do the work they need to get an approved plan. It is slightly more complicated than that, as we worked on an agreement over Massey Theatre and have plan and money in the budget for the for the Skateboard Park, but I consider those things to be included in “getting out of the way” to allow the School Board to do whatever they need to help things to proceed.

Of course, the Trustees of School District 40 and their staff deserve the most kudos. Jonina and her team have done what no Board over the last 20 years has managed to do – get an approved plan in place and money committed by the province. The School District has done some amazing work over the last few years – getting their perennial budget woes under control, some really progressive inclusion policies, getting one new school built, a second almost finished, and now a third, long-awaited project approved. School Boards often operate a little below the radar. We rarely recognize them unless something goes wrong and the pitchfork-and-torch crowd is looking for someone to blame. Perhaps a great mark for this Board is that they have been quietly and non-controversially getting the job done for the students of the district. A new NWSS may be a crowning achievement, but it isn’t the only one.

This is not to say there are no concerns in public education in New West. We still have several seismically-suspect schools, there are hard decisions being made due to ongoing funding pressures, transportation issues abound, and delivering a new NWSS on schedule is going to be a challenge, but we have many reasons to think this Board will be able to get things done.  So much good work has already been done, with so little fanfare. I am happy the Board got to stand up in front of cameras and take a bow for this one project. They deserve it.

For the Minister of Education, I give a slightly more qualified thanks. There is a hint of Stockholm Syndrome in heaping effusive praise on someone who held the purse strings for so long when they finally come through after what is (IMHO) an unacceptably long wait. A replacement for the decrepit NWSS is not a gift to the City – it is a basic social service this City has been without for way too long. Still, I thank the Minister for doing whatever he had to do in Victoria to get this approved, and I appreciate him taking the time answer what I understand were very frequent phone calls from our Board to work through the details.

Finally, I want to give thanks to the people paying for this school: the residents of the City. They have paid their school taxes through that decade-long wait, they have shown remarkable (if sometimes testy) patience, sending their kids to an increasingly festering building because they believe in public education, because they know the programs inside that building are still excellent, or because they had no other choice. Meanwhile, The students have kept making us proud with the academic, athletic, and social achievements. I have had the opportunity over the last couple of years to work with the Youth Advisory Committee and other youth organizations in the City, and am consistently inspired by the talents and confidence of students going through our school system. They are proud of their school community, I’m glad they will soon have a building to be proud of as well.

There is devil in the details here. My (admittedly under-informed) feeling is that $106Million will get us a school that meets our needs, but may fall short of many of our desires. The City has committed funds to help keep the Massey Theatre as a community asset, but the details of how the existing theatre will interface with the new school, and the pathway to get there, is a work in progress. Some of the school design and construction details are sure to cause conversation, and I still think we have some transportation challenges around the existing site. In short, there is a lot of work yet to do to make these plans a reality, but at least we no know the real work can start.

Exciting times ahead.

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