New school year brings new goals

Langley School District Superintendent Suzanne Hoffman stands outside Lynn Fripps Elementary School in Willoughby. - Natasha JONES/Langley Times
Langley School District Superintendent Suzanne Hoffman stands outside Lynn Fripps Elementary School in Willoughby.
— image credit: Natasha JONES/Langley Times

It’s the start of a new school year and for new Langley Superintendent Suzanne Hoffman, it’s the first full school year in charge of one of the few growing school districts in B.C.

A shiny new elementary school, Lynn Fripps, will welcome students on the first day of school, Tuesday, Sept. 4 (today). Construction of a nearby middle school and elementary school in southeast Yorkson are underway, and there is still discussion about where to build more schools in Willoughby to handle the influx of young families to the area.

Whether there should be more middle schools and more reconfiguration to address overcrowding and under capacity now falls on the lap of Hoffman, who was hired by the Board of Education in spring.

The Times sat down with Hoffman to find out what she wants to bring to Langley’s education system during her tenure.

She fills the seat left by

Cheryle Beaumont, whose departure was surrounded by controversy.

It was a stressful time for staff at the district office, where Hoffman was Beaumont’s assistant superintendent. Beaumont was fired by the Board of Education after a shift in power following the last election.

There was controversy over accounting errors which resulted in an unexpected $13 million deficit, and lasting resentment about H.D. Stafford’s transformation to a middle school. Hoffman was appointed by the board as acting superintendent shortly afterwards.

Hoffman’s goal, she says, is to truly be as open and inclusive about the decisions made that impact all Langley students.

“Change is the only constant,” said Hoffman inside her new office in the school district building at the top of Hospital Hill.

“We need to build trust with the community so there are no surprises for them.”

She is willing to look at everything from changing the traditional calendar of the school year, to reconfiguration of schools and creating more middle schools — but all with plenty of dialogue and input with the community first, she stressed.

She said her number one priority is at the foundations of a good education, making sure Langley’s school environment allows for each and every student to succeed. She is passionate about innovations in education that enhance reading, writing and math.

She is still very much rooted in her teaching history.

“My focus, above and beyond, is student achievement. We have excellent graduation results but we need to do even better. We know there is a correlation between the success of a student and his or her life chances,” said Hoffman, who is a “glass half full” kind of person.

She said capacity issues will need to be addressed.

“Schools that are not at capacity, I want to look at how we build on school programs to attract new students,” she asks.

“We are talking with the Township about its plans and intentions on future development, looking at trends over time,” she said.

She will be guided by the long term facilities plan which is expected to be revealed in September by the consulting firm the district hired.

Hoffman concedes it’s been a tough road for R.C. Garnett Elementary school parents, who have had their overcrowded school reconfigured to a K to 5 with Grade 6 and 7s being bused this year to Lynn Fripps.

“I don’t think we’ve been as stellar as we could have been in that situation,” she said.

She plans to attend a September PAC meeting to see how the changes are going and to get feedback from parents.

But Hoffman stresses that there is an entire school district to look at, including what should be done in Aldergrove, at D.W. Poppy, and in Brookswood, which is the next area expected to be built up in the coming years.

“For schools that aren’t at capacity, how do we build the school programs to attract more students?” questions Hoffman.

She also wants to engage in a dialogue with the community about whether there should be more middle schools in Langley.

“That came up a lot in our consultation with parents at the long-term facilities meetings,” she said.

With her children going to Walnut Grove Secondary, her roots in Langley are planted firmly.

While there have been several different secretary-treasurers in Langley over recent years, she promises David Green is committed to the Langley School District and has helped to right the financial ship. The district is set to pay off its debt earlier than expected.

Hoffman also has some interest in looking at changing the traditional calendar year.

Douglas Park Community School has changed to year-round schooling and it appears to have real success, she notes.

“But we have to look at what a new calendar year does for kids and their learning,” she said.

The topic is a hot one, with parents feeling strongly for both sides, she said.

It has to be carefully thought out, because if it only happens in the elementary level, then siblings holidays can become complicated and year-long schooling at the secondary level can impact students’ ability to get a summer job.

In her first months as acting superintendent, Hoffman had to deal with the teachers’ job action, which did shut down schools for a few days and had teachers’ withdraw extra curricular activity.

“I’m thankful it’s over,” said Hoffman about the teachers signing a new contract.

“We expect business as usual,” she said. “We have amazing teachers.”

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