There's hope in the air as kids head back to Vancouver public schools

But the school year may be in for a bumpy start.

L'Ecole Bilingue
There's hope in the air that the new government will mean better learning conditions for Vancouver students heading back to schools. The VSB's L'Ecole Bilingue Elementary, pictured here. Photo: Patti Bacchus.

As Vancouver kids and their families gear up to head back to school, some may be wondering what the new B.C. government will mean for classrooms and schools. I think there might be some short-term pain with the school year start up — but a lot of long-term gain for kids. And I’m not alone.

What a difference a summer makes

When kids left for summer break, Christy Clark was still premier and Mike Bernier was the education minister. Questions remained about whether school boards had enough money to hire teachers — hundreds of teachers, in some cases — to comply with restored teachers’ contract agreements.

Fast forward to now. John Horgan is premier and Rob Fleming is the new education minister, there are hundreds of job openings for teachers and Vancouver voters go to the polls October 14 to elect new Vancouver school trustees.

What will that mean for Vancouver’s public schools?

Short-term pain?

While those I spoke to this week agree the new government will be good news for Vancouver’s public schools, some are bracing for a bumpy start to the school year.

Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association (VSTA) President Katherine Shipley says her members are feeling hopeful about a more positive relationship with the new B.C. government but cautions that the Vancouver School Board (VSB) and other districts may have trouble filling all the new teaching positions in time for a smooth school-year start up.

“We're really looking forward to working with a provincial government that believes in public education and wants to work respectfully and collaboratively with stakeholders,” Shipley told me this week.

As a result of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) victory at the Supreme Court of Canada last fall in its long-running legal dispute with the B.C. Liberal government, school districts must adhere to contract agreements from 2001, which means the VSB must hire hundreds of additional teachers. Many other districts are in the same boat and competing for the same candidates to fill their jobs.

Shipley says although that’s great news for students in the long run who may get additional course options, smaller class sizes and more specialist teachers, there may be disruption in September as new teachers are hired and placed in schools and students are divided into classes.

The VSB posted 280 teaching positions this week and school starts September 5. A VSB spokesperson told me "it's not unusual to have teaching positions to fill in August and early September, although this year there are more than usual. Principals will communicate as always with parents and students about the process for the start of the school year at each VSB school."

Chloe McKnight, President of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association (VESTA), echoes Shipley’s position and says that while she’s pleased to see “great announcements” from the new government like restoring adult education funding and calling a VSB by-election to replace the government-appointed trustee, she’s concerned the VSB will have trouble recruiting enough teachers to fill all its job openings.

She expects the situation in schools to be “fluid” in September and advises her members to be patient as schools may have to reorganize classrooms during the first weeks of the school year.

McKnight says Education Minister Rob Fleming’s “announcement of a VSB by-election was fantastic and can’t come soon enough.” She says that since the elected board was fired last October, the district has been plagued by instability and turmoil in the management ranks and that it needs oversight by an elected board.

The president of the union local — CUPE 15 —  that represents VSB student support workers, youth and family workers, office staff and other support workers says he’s also hopeful about the new government but concerned about instability and poor relationships at the VSB.

Warren Williams says CUPE 15 members believe the way B.C. public schools are funded is “woefully inadequate” and hopes the new provincial government will review the funding formula.

He says he’s hoping the October 14 VSB by-election results in a board that is pro public education and makes decisions that are in the best interests of students instead on focusing on the bottom line.

“I’m a government for the people person,” Williams told me this week. “If you need to go into debt to provide what people need, so be it.”

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