In defence of public education

The 2011-2012 school year has been anything but normal.

The 2011-2012 school year has been anything but normal and as we head into its last few months, I have been asked to share the perspectives of members of the BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association. These illustrations, while not representative of all schools, are examples of the real challenges that many schools, students and parents have faced this year.

Schools are typically vibrant communities, with a lot of positive interactions both in classrooms and out of them. School culture has been significantly eroded this year by the continuing dispute between the BC Public School Employers’ Association (the body which negotiates on behalf of school boards with teachers in British Columbia) and the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF). The routine and critically important communications between teachers and principals and vice-principals about student progress have not occurred in the normal fashion. As a consequence many students have not had their important academic issues addressed in a timely fashion or at all.

This year has seen the cancellation of some Christmas and winter holiday performances and routine student recognition assemblies. Some meetings about students who are having difficulties have not taken place. Meetings with teachers to discuss the direction of school initiatives and goals have not taken place. Parents did not receive first term report cards about their child’s progress. While some parents were able to get information about their child, many did not receive this information. Indeed, some parents reported that they made electronic contact with teachers but received no helpful response. Students have informed us that they have missed out on numerous scholarship opportunities as many of these applications require leadership activities to be considered.

Surprisingly all of this disruption has not generated as much public response as those of us in the system would have expected. Still, principals and vice-principals often hear from parents that they are concerned about vocalizing these issues.

We have now moved into a new phase of this dispute. In many districts, the school day consists of student instruction from bell to bell but little else. If we, as adults, reflect on our student experiences, we know that instruction and formal learning opportunities are only part of the value of school.

The interactions with teachers and others, through clubs, sports, fine arts activities, drama performances, field trips and special school activities make our schools special and create unique, memorable and invaluable experiences for students. These enriching and positive opportunities will not be a part of the public education experience for many of our students.

Principals and vice-principals have had many conversations about a new normal that is being established in our schools and they have consistently expressed a belief that this is not a positive direction. If schools lose the energy, character and culture that have been their hallmark, our students will leave their public education years less well-rounded, less prepared for their working lives and less likely to champion public education when they are adults.

Principals and vice-principals do not have the answers to resolve the issues facing our schools, but we believe it is important to share the reality as we see it on a daily basis. Our concern, as this school year moves to a close, is that nothing will be different in September and students will be forced to endure another year of disengagement from the system.

There is no sign that a resolution is at hand. If this dispute continues for another year, the negative effects will be long-term and profound.

Principals and vice-principals have worked hard this year to ensure that as many as possible of the normal school processes occur, and they will continue to do so. However, the system works much more effectively to serve the needs of students and families when all partners are able to work together to provide that support.

This latest phase in our schools will not allow principals and vice-principals to pick up the many pieces of school life that will be lost and in the end it will be the students and families of the public system who will miss out.

A respectful and workable solution must be found soon to protect the long-term viability of public education and to continue to give students the opportunities they need to thrive now and achieve in the future.

Jameel Aziz,

President, BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association

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