The three candidates for the North Coast riding in the 2017 B.C. election.

The three candidates for the North Coast riding in the 2017 B.C. election.

North Coast candidates answer three hard questions — Part 1: Education

Starting this week the Northern View is asking each of the North Coast candidates three questions on a particular subject.

  • Apr. 11, 2017 5:00 a.m.

The election was officially announced on April 11 for the May 9 vote. Starting this week the Northern View is asking each of the candidates three questions on a particular subject.

Question 1:  The school district has been trying to have the Prince Rupert Middle School replaced for the past 10 years. Is rebuilding the middle school a priority for your party?

Herb Pond, BC Liberal

All four of my children attended PRMS when it was still a high school, so I understand why it is a priority for SD52.  I am committed to advocating for their priorities in government.  Unfortunately, our current MLA hasn’t once requested a meeting with the Minister of Education over the last four years. That will change once I’m elected.

Hondo Arendt, Green Party

I definitely think that the replacement of the middle school should be a regional priority.  The building is definitely well beyond its prime.  It doesn’t just show the usual wear and tear of an older structure — it has portions that have obviously shifted and subsided.  In fact, if you place a marble on the floor in PRMS, it can be entertaining just watching what direction and how fast the marble will roll.  Besides the building’s general decline, it also has a poor rating with regard to earthquake-proofing, and has had the recent problem of lead in the school’s water system.  Putting this all together makes it pretty clear that replacement of the Middle School should be at the top of list with regard to local infrastructure programs (or provincial ones for that matter).

Jennifer Rice, NDP

Yes. There’s a terrible backlog of upgrades, replacements and new school construction in the province after the Liberals’ neglect for the last 16 years. The Prince Rupert Middle School’s seismic, structural and other health and safety concerns make it a high priority for us. Reports commissioned by the school district and the Province indicate that this school is beyond its useful life. SD52 has invested hundreds of thousands in reports for replacement of the school, but has not received funding or been included in the business case development list as of January 2017. There is a great opportunity here for a new, energy-efficient building that’s conducive to healthy learning environments of the 21st century. Middle school children are learning about science and engineering, environment and sustainability at this age and here’s an opportunity for learners to see these concepts put in action right before their eyes in the design of their school. A new, energy efficient building that students and the local community help design has endless learning and growth opportunities, creates jobs and provides energy savings in the long-term to the school district.

Question 2: Currently, the supply list in the school district is filled with retired teachers (save for one). How do you intend to encourage recruitment and retention of teachers in School District 52?

Herb Pond, BC Liberal

Partnering with the BC Public School Employer’s Association is a great way to keep qualified education professionals in rural and northern schools. An extra $2 million has already been invested to coordinate recruitment efforts and offer incentives like housing allowances. As MLA I intend to help attract more education professionals by highlighting the exceptional education opportunities here on the North Coast, but also bringing attention to the amazing quality of life we have here.

Hondo Arendt, Green Party

Professionals such as teachers often have some choice about where they would like to work, and many prefer to live in the southern and/or the busier parts of our province.  The ones that show the highest likelihood of staying in an “isolated” region (like ours) are those that come from that region.  Logically, the best thing to do is to train professionals in local areas.  Sadly, the post-secondary system in the province has steadily become more “efficient” in recent years.  The direction has very clearly been towards reducing programs and offerings in smaller towns, like our own.  This saves money, but only in a simplistic way.  While the government and institutions show savings by offering less, more money is spent by people having to leave town and pay much more for an education, and places like Prince Rupert are constantly scrambling to try to cover the latest shortage whether it be of doctors, teachers, or welders.

Jennifer Rice, NDP

Recruitment will be even more of a problem going forward, as the Liberals are forced to end their 16 year war on kids, teachers and schools and comply with a Supreme Court of Canada decision ordering more teachers in the classroom.  We will expand efforts to recruit locally, including from local First Nations communities, for teacher training. Other initiatives focused on affordable housing helping renters and keeping the cost of things like hydro more affordable will make it easier for teachers to stay in the community. I think that the number of retired teachers who remain on the supply list is an indicator of how committed our teachers are to educating children. When we begin by recognizing the important contributions teachers make in our community and treat them with the respect they deserve, that will go a long way to improving recruitment and retention efforts.

 

Question 3: Does your party intend to increase funding of indigenous education in the school district?

Herb Pond, BC Liberal

Of course! Aboriginal youth are our fastest growing demographic.  They want to stay here on the North Coast to fully participate and benefit from economic opportunities. It’s important to recognize that through hard work and dedication, SD52 is widely recognized as a leader in Aboriginal education. $70 million was invested this year to support Aboriginal education across the province.

Hondo Arendt, Green Party

There have been very impressive advances and changes regarding indigenous education and success rates over the past generation.  Looking back to the 1980s, First Nations students’ graduation rates were mired in the 5-10 per cent range and it was extremely rare for any of the few graduates to move on to university.  Today, graduation rates of First Nations are close to the provincial average and so many other things have changed.  Sm’algyax is taught in the local schools.  Course content has been dramatically changed based on the input of First Nations.  Even the look (and sometimes the name) of local schools is different.

The reason I dodged the initial question for so long is because I wanted to set the stage for my answer.  In one sense I do want to give the quick answer — no, we don’t have any specific plans to increase funding.  But that is not because supporting indigenous education is a poor investment or a bad idea.  Rather, my answer is based on the argument that this  has been a success story in recent years, not a failure that needs a big injection to ‘turn things around.’  Of course the successes we’ve had have been because of efforts of many dedicated individuals, agencies, and school districts — and these need to continue to be supported by the government.

Jennifer Rice, NDP

The Truth and Reconciliation’s calls to action included a call to action for age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada as a mandatory part of the K-12 education system. The current government in collaboration with the First Nations Schools Association and the First Nations Education Steering Committee, has taken the first steps in this work.

An NDP government would work with First Nations leaders to evaluate the Aboriginal curriculum and ensure what’s being taught at B.C. schools reflects the importance of indigenous education. We will also support the preservation of First Nations languages by renewing support for First Nations’ heritage, language and culture through the First People’s Cultural Council.

 

 

The Northern View