staffroom confidential: Victoria School Board debates Outdoor Kindergarten Program of Choice

I was pleased this week to see some healthy debate at the Victoria School Board meeting about the continuation of the Outdoor Kindergarten Program of Choice. While I strongly support outdoor time and learning, I have said publicly before that I believe this should be provided for all children, not a select few. My commentary appeared when the program was first introduced as an Op-Ed piece in the Times Colonist.

Here is Trustee Diane McNally’s report from her blog about the debate on renewing the program. While the Board did agree to one more year, the discussion is clearly beginning on the nature of programs of choice, and how they are, in essence, anti-equity – diverting resources away from students with learning disabilities or in other equity seeking groups towards those whose families have the resources and wherewithal to enrol and (sometimes pay for) a program of choice.


Recommended motion (Recommended by District Principal, Learning Initiatives): That the Board continue to provide the Coastal Kindergarten Program of Choice at James Bay and South Park as supported by Staff, parents and the community. / Carried as amended : To provide the program as a pilot program for one more year, 2015-2016. / For: Ferris, Nohr, Orcherton, Paynter, Watters  Against: McNally
October 7/13 Ed Policy initial proposal: In public seats were Principal Jeff Mitchell from South Park Family School [a “school of choice” with no catchment area: if you can afford to drive your child here, your child can attend], a member of the South Park Parent Advisory Council,  Principal Elaine McVie of James Bay Community School, Tiffany Carlyle, Co-Chair of the School Parent Advisory Council , and Bonnie Davidson, founder the Victoria Nature School: ” For the past 14 years Bonnie have [sic] been passionately using music to help children create a strong foundation for learning to read and write, first as a music therapist and then as a classroom and learning resource teacher …Creating the Victoria Nature School and a community of collaboration focusing on shifting the current eduction [sic] system alines [sic] with Bonnie’s passions and values perfectly! “
McNally: When the initial proposal came to Ed Policy in October 2013 to vote on the Program of Choice Application: Coastal Kindergarten to begin September 2014, the motion carried 8 for 1 against . The same vote occurred at the November 18 2013 Board meeting.I was the one vote against.I like this idea : children outdoors, connecting with the environment and with the traditions and language of the people whose traditional territory we’re on.   But these activities should be offered District-wide.On many occasions a teacher, administrator and class will present their school-developed activity / program at an Education Policy or a Board meeting. This  program concept could have been developed that way, and as a great idea it is being emulated in other schools as parents and staffs collaborate.However, other schools and school communities don’t require that an education assistant be assigned to the class specifically to support the outdoor activities, when that EA could be supporting children in classrooms that demonstrably  need EA support.   Salt Spring schools do these activities with parent support. As a special education teacher for 22 years in this district I have seen the provincially instigated erosion of support to children with designated special needs. I saw children with very different needs put in groups of two or three or more in one classroom so one Education Assistant could do what he or she could to meet all their needs with resulting untenable schedules for CUPE workers. I can’t support taking  an Education Assistant away from critical support needs of students n another school  in order to support this program when students in some schools are struggling to survive at whatever level you’d care to define “survival”. The BC Ed Plan emphasis on “school choice” creates competition amongst schools for the $6,900 per student funding that comes with the student. Schools that lose “customers” lose that  entire per pupil amount though the school’s infrastructure costs remain the same. In SD61 13 “Programs of choice” and 155 Board authorized courses are scattered around various schools. Middle schools and Secondary Schools schedule exciting and glitzy open houses early in the New Year at which they showcase their “brand”, to entice customers. Are we going to see this in K-5 schools as well? Until the current BC government changed Sections 2 and 74.1 of the School Act students were expected to attend their neighbourhood school, anchors of their communities. Obviously, there is an issue of inequality of access and opportunity: families that  can afford to drive to programs across town can attend these “programs of choice”, while others face barriers to access. Highly respected US education writer Diane Ravitch  has written extensively on the negative effects of the “choice” movement on public education. The  “Dr. Greg Forster” quoted in  the supporting document is a Republican Evangelical who works for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, and is a senior fellow of  the Kern Family Foundation that funds Charter Schools, obviously working toward privatization of the public school system.  Is this the kind of support SD61 wants? 

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