We asked, they answered: School board candidates talk about SOGI, Langley school capacity

Candidates for Langley School Board Trustee were asked to answer one or both of the following questions:

A) Do you support the implementation of SOGI 123 in B.C. schools? Why or why not?

B) While schools in some older neighbourhoods are closing, new schools being built in Langley are often at or over capacity by the time they open. As a trustee for Langley what steps would you take, in conjunction with the province, to address this problem?

Langley City Candidates:

Candy Ashdown:

A: Yes, I support SOGI 123 in schools. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation being spread throughout the community by a specific group of individuals.

This incorrect information has caused many parents and some in the community to be very concerned and upset. Some of the information I hear that is being spread is quite frankly disturbing

and not at all what the SOGI 123 resource is about.

First of all, SOGI 123 is an optional educational resource for teachers to use if they wish.

It is resource designed to make sure schools are inclusive and safe for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities (SOGI). It is not mandated curriculum or a program and it is not sex education. SOGI 123 is designed to help educators make schools inclusive and safe for all students. ALL students deserve and need to feel safe and accepted regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

I have read through the materials of SOGI 123 and feel am very comfortable supporting this resource for use in the classroom. Our students deserve the safest, most inclusive learning environments we can give them. If supported, our students will thrive and learn.

B: Overcrowded schools are not an acceptable learning environment for our students to learn in or our staff to work in.

I am a firm believer in neighbourhood schools so, in my opinion, busing is not a good long-term solution.

As a trustee for Langley, I will always advocate for more schools as needed. Funding for new schools comes from our provincial government and is never approved until the students are already there and in an overcrowded school.

Our students deserve the best learning environment we can provide them and that is not it.I would like to see the board of education advocate for changes to the process and timing of when new schools are funded by the province. If we know the development is happening, and studies show we will have students, we should be proactive and start the planning process and eventual build.Building a new school takes at least two years, so having students in an overcrowded environment is not acceptable. I believe there are also ways and solutions to plan and build our schools so that additions may be made at a later date when the community grows even more.

I believe the greatest challenge facing the Langley School District is growth and ensuring our students have space in their neighbourhood schools. We are seeing tremendous growth in the Township, specifically in the Willoughby Heights area.

We are going to be experiencing much growth as well in Langley City, with new developments underway or approved. There is a need to appropriately manage space for students in schools in response to this rapid growth.

We need strong advocates at the table representing both City and Township students, who are able to work with both the City of Langley and the Township of Langley as well as the Ministry of Education.

Not including the issues noted above, what do you see as the single greatest challenge facing the Langley school district today and what steps would you take to address it?

I believe the greatest challenge facing the Langley School District is growth and ensuring our students have space in their neighbourhood schools. We are seeing tremendous growth in the Township, specifically in the Willoughby Heights area. We are now going to be experiencing much growth as well in Langley City, with new developments underway or being approved. There is a need to appropriately manage space for students in schools in response to this rapid growth. We need strong advocates at the Board table representing both City and Township students, who are able to work with both the City of Langley and the Township of Langley as well as the Ministry of Education.

Marshall Austin:

A: As a result of all the diverse friends, colleagues and children I interact with on a daily basis, both at work and within the community, I am committed to providing an inclusive and accepting environment that allows all children to flourish and reach their full potential. As a result I believe that equipping our educators with tools and resources to promote healthy environments for learning is essential.

SOGI is a tool and a resource for educators, not specifically curriculum, and as such I support equipping our teachers with tools to be effective in their roles. The Langley School District prides itself on the mantra that Every Child Matters, and I strongly share the same philosophy.

B: The Langley School District is seeing unprecedented growth in some very specific regions, as such the board must ensure that Langley’s best interests and long term planning are at the forefront. We must create and maintain strong relationships with government and, most importantly, be heard and action taken.

We need to ensure that plans are in place to predict and prepare for the evolving demographics of the community while also leveraging current infrastructure and assets for maximum benefit. We need to continually asses our current resources, catchments and funding while understanding the municipal government’s visions for growth and development, so we can be aligned and prepared.

The reality is that there is not an infinite amount of resources or money, so tough decisions will have to be made. This could mean the closure of schools, selling assets or adapting current resources to generate the funding needed for these growing communities. It is of utmost importance that all stakeholders, including the school board, our valued partners and the municipal and provincial governments formulate long-term agreed-to plans and commitments and that as a board we are heard with a strong voice advocating for our district.

While we leverage our current resources to optimize them, creating strong business cases with collaborative and open dialogue with the stakeholders must occur to ensure the financial means to deliver our needs are made available.

Shelley Coburn:

B: Adjusting the current forecasting formula to meet the reality we are facing is a good start.

In Langley, schools are opening at, or over capacity, and portables cannot be the solution. The current method does not consider construction times or enrolment projections that account for rapid growth, at least not in any way that appears to be working.

It is well known that this housing market sees many young families moving to the Valley and this is creating rapid growth for Langley. Historically, young families purchased single-family homes, but this is not what we are seeing. Families are moving into townhouses and condominiums more and more and this creates density.

For example, in the Brydon Lagoon neighbourhood new townhouses are being approved and constructed at a fast rate. This is a problem because like many of our schools, the local school is at capacity.

The growth on the Willoughby Slope and the Supreme Court’s decision to restore class size and composition to 2002 levels is exhausting our capacity.

For years we have experienced decline in many of our schools, especially in the City.

The last school to open in the City was in 1982— I went there, it was Douglas Park. Now our numbers are trending upwards and even if we did have the funds, we quite literally have nowhere to build in the City. Solving our problems requires us to be innovative and looking at the provincial government alone is not the solution.

What we must do is look at what is possible. We must learn from what has been done elsewhere and then endeavour to grow our communities with development that creates growth that our infrastructure can sustain.

This will require collaboration with multiple levels of government and I am committed to doing this work.

Not including the issues noted above, what do you see as the single greatest challenge facing the Langley school district today and what steps would you take to address it?

As a district we are facing a multitude of very challenging and complex situations, all of which are very interconnected. Addressing them requires us moving beyond being singularly focused on one specific issue. When we do this, we are ensuring that the needs of all our families, staff, and the public are served.

My experience on the board has taught me that each of us has our areas of passion and that I need to be open minded in recognizing the value that each of us brings. If I cannot be supportive of the initiatives of my fellow trustees I will not be able to get much accomplished in the way of what I see as important issues. The board is not a solo act, it is place where you must work collaboratively to see all sides of a situation and try to arrive at a consensus.

When you get to the table you best leave your personal agenda at the door, if you have one because as trustees we are here for the district and the public, not for ourselves. As trustees we bring to the table with us our interests, points of views, priorities and life experiences, and when we come together we are a comprehensive body representative of the entire community.

My priorities are in areas of substance use, mental wellness, and communications. I have been attending to these issues in my first term primarily through my work on the policy committee.

Soon the Policy Committee will have recommendations coming forward to the board on mental health and wellness, as well as substance use, misuse, and abuse. Regarding communication, as a board we are aware that we have some work to do here. The Langley School District is one of the best in the province, but it does not mean there is no room for improvement.

Over the last couple of years, the District has faced many challenges and has handled them well. There are staffing changes in every corner of our district and I think we are feeling the impact. The feedback from the community, parents, staff, and other partner groups, is they want better communication and as a board we are already addressing this. We have struck a new committee that invites our partner groups to the table to talk communication. The goal is to develop a work plan on how to give people the information that they need, in a way that is meaningful to them. Communication must be transparent, consistent, and timely, and this is my goal.

In addition, because we are a new board we will be viewing all our districts plans. From our Strategic Plan to our Long Term Facilities Plan and everything in between, including our Communications Plan, all will be reviewed. All the concerns I have identified here will be examined over the next coming weeks as a new board sets their priorities for the upcoming term.

Sindy Jeffrey:

A: This was a poorly planned decision in relation to the age of introduction.

All parents’ rights were not addressed and this why there is so much discontent.

This agenda appears to be pushed onto students, parents and others. No matter how right this may seem to Victoria, what is the best approach and when to implement some of this program. While protecting students we must give them all information, not just the sugar-coated but also the negative impact. This is needed for students to draw an educated decision for themselves, anything less is an insult to students and their parents. We are the stewards of students’ education, are we fulfilling our responsibilities as trustees as well as other elected ministerial personnel?

To force people to embrace this may also be against their rights or beliefs. To accept this is something we do every day in our lives, to accept things.

When a student is young they are very vulnerable and impressionable.

This is why any discussions must be approved prior to use. A student must be mature enough to grasp the total concept if deciding to go through the change in gender, it is one of the biggest decisions if not the biggest decision a person will ever make.

There must be a full disclosure on any downsides or repercussions of deciding this choice as a child, including the parents of the child. Being informed is the priority; parents must be informed of any discussions of topics to be discussed in the classroom.

Parents are to be welcomed in the classroom for these discussions, age appropriateness is of the utmost concern and importance. To introduce this when a child is too young is being irresponsible and a disservice to the students and parents. If after all this information has been given and discussed and a decision has been made, then the joint efforts of the person’s family and support people must to be there for them. They have a long emotional rollercoaster ride ahead and their supporters must be aware of any mental issues that may arise .

Tony Ward

B: The challenge of adequate school capacity is significant.

This is readily apparent considering the population (City and Township) is estimated to grow from its current 158,414 residents to 226,761 in 2041. That translates to an estimated increase from 20,265 students (as of Sept. 19, 2018) to approximately 30,000 by 2041.

So where are we going to put 9,000 or more students in just over 20 years time when schools are already bursting?

We need an ‘advanced growth’ long-term strategic plan. Our vision has to be 30 to 50 years ahead.

Moving beyond a ‘Five Year Capital Plan’ we can broaden our dialogue with the Ministry of Education to expand capital-planning requirements to capture this longer-range vision. With a solid business case, I would expect to gain province buy-in as well as funding.

First, let’s consider going ‘up’. Higher density area could have new schools built with three or four floors with enough space in anticipation of future demand.

The extra ‘rentable’ space could support much needed day care or City/Township recreation program, or college class space.

Separate access/entrances to these areas would enable them to remain open on pro-D days, summers and other non-instructional times. High Schools make excellent college/university/vocational training classrooms.

Secondly, we can direct efforts toward a single-site multi-phased approach for individual school sites, where we only pay for what we need when we need it, with planned expansion that matches enrollment.

This approach anticipates growth and adjusts to it. Established schools strengthen community.

Individual phases would be fully functional with few adverse effects on pedestrian, bicycle, or vehicular transportation. Construction would take place primarily during summer months to lessen the impact on instruction.

Let’s move beyond moving portables to dialoguing with the province to support funding which anticipates growth rather than reacting to it.

Township of Langley Candidates:

Megan Dykeman:

A: A lot of misinformation about SOGI has been circulating. SOGI is not a “curriculum”, not a “program,” and not a locally approved learning resource. Rather, SOGI is a policy and related resources approved by the province to ensure, as was recently reiterated by the Minister of Education: “All of B.C.’s provincial education partners for K-12 schools are committed to ensuring every school — both public and independent — is a place where students feel safe, accepted, respected and welcome regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion or background.”

There is no room for any type of discrimination in our schools. Students have the complete support of teachers, administrators, support staff, trustees and parents as we create learning environments where all students are free of discrimination so they can thrive and live authentic lives.”

SOGI 123 is just one teaching resource among many similar resources.

I believe that it is a core responsibility of each trustee to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to keep our children physically and emotionally safe while pursuing their dreams by preparing themselves through education to cope with life’s challenges. I value all efforts which foster student achievement and make my displeasure known in relation to efforts that do not.

B: During the last seven years I have served on the board, the board has never closed a neighbourhood school, although some specialized school programs have been consolidated.

I agree that recently constructed schools have opened at overcapacity. Boards of education are constrained by the provincial co-governance model from unilaterally initiating the process to build new schools. It takes about two years to build a school using standard construction methods.

During periods of rapid growth such as we are experiencing in Langley, demand, which can be difficult to forecast, can exceed availability. This is why, as a trustee, I believe it is time to go back to the provincial government to question the use of portables and look instead at modular construction, which provides a much shorter timeline to completion, as was the case with a school in Burnaby. Modular schools are also amenable to reconfiguration and expansion to meet changing needs.

As a trustee, I will continue to advocate and work with the provincial government to build more schools in Langley and proactively acquire the needed land. I will also continue to advocate for better forecasting and smarter build sizes.

Not including the issues noted above, what do you see as the single greatest challenge facing the Langley school district today and what steps would you take to address it?

The single greatest issue I see facing the Langley School District is change. This is the issue that faces every school district each year. The greatest challenge for the Langley Board of Education is effective management of change to maintain a focus on student achievement, free from extraneous distractions, whether political, ideological or personal.

School districts, like any other government organizations, are bureaucratic machines that are slow to respond to change. This is where an informed, educated, community minded and fully functional board comes in. The board, with input from parents, students, community organizations, taxpayers and other levels of government is required to plot a course to navigate change so as to arrive successfully at the port of student success.

Brent Larsen:

A: No. This is a divisive issue.

The fundamental question: Who knows best for your child, the government or the parent? I believe the parent. I will listen and be a voice for parents no matter what the issue.

Many are concerned with SOGI123, and others appreciate it. We all desire a safe place for every child, and we don’t want bullying.

The question is, is SOGI123 the solution? One thing is for certain, SOGI123 has brought us farther apart as a community and has taken attention from other key areas of education.

A few key questions that have been voiced to me include:

Was there consultation with parents and diverse groups before this was implemented?

If parents do have issues with content, what is their ability to move their child out for that lesson?

Shouldn’t resources be developed to include all areas of bullying? Overweight bullying, race, speech impediments and the list could go on.

If this resource is really about anti-bullying and inclusivity, take notice of comments towards me for stating my opinion.

While others voice how could a parent not like SOGI123? It deals with bullying head on.

A preferred implementation is from the bottom (parents) and then goes to the top. SOGI123 seems to have started at the top without necessary buy in, and lack of trust is the result. 100 per cent we need a solution and SOGI123 doesn’t appear to be that.

Children should be taught basic fundamentals of what they can do. For example, be taught more about values such as loving, caring, and sharing. Once values like this are in place, bullying shouldn’t be such an issue.

Making decisions for others without consent, but with good intentions, doesn’t usually equal good results.

I will be a voice for all parents and bring practical problem solving.

B: We need to get funds ahead of the curve and build, especially in areas like Willoughby/Yorkson. As a trustee I would build our case with provincial government. Families deserve their children to have a place from the beginning of the school year. Nobody likes to be shuffled or the uncertainty. I have skills I can bring in negotiating experience and build bridges with the right people to get this done.

Practically, a few solutions include:

• building schools higher with underground parking

• potential partnerships with developers to include a floor for public education within the high rise.

In addition parents want safe environment for their children. This includes safe routes to school (walking/bus) and safe schools free of bullying and any intimidation.

As for schools closing we need to make sure friends stay together and the transition includes full parental input. The system needs to be flexible and accommodating.

I will be a voice for parents – I will be listening to your concerns and needs.

Suzanne Perreault

B: School capacity and readiness for our communities has been an ongoing concern for the SD35 that has had this sitting board busy seeking solutions. There have been some successful approaches being worked towards, such as adjusting Boundary lines, a “Middle School” model and “year round calendar,” while waiting on the Ministry of Education to respond with budget options.

However, this does beckon a closer examination as it interfaces with collaborative communication with Township council moving forward as to how developers continue to mold our community.

Managing growth through better communication is necessary for seeking solutions for an ongoing problem that is costly to everyone on multiple levels, including impacting the classroom.

Moving deeper towards solutions that can be a springboard for future action is the call of the day, the challenge will be revenue sources. Schools need to be the hub of our communities.

Families should be able to have their children walk to and from school in the area they reside, unless they are choosing to attend a “choice” school. We develop experiences of safety and community when we can be active in our respective neighborhoods having opportunity to be “known.”

The experience of community and safety enhances the social/emotional wellbeing of a child and further supporting a student to be ready to learn.

That being said, no one trustee can operate on their own. We need to witness a collective board that can collaborate with creative solutions as we continue to navigate the speed of growth we are experiencing.

There are few options we can evaluate as it interfaces with a creating pressure release for SD35, the obvious is to continue to advocate for funding from the province to build schools that are seismically ready, planned with future growth in mind; while others may look at year-round multi-track schools.

Rod Ross:

A: Firstly, this is a provincial directive we have no choice but to work alongside everyone to make it work to the best for everyone. Trustees that run afoul with the ministry can be replaced at the whim of the minister.

Secondly, I put myself in the shoes of the parents of LGBTQ+ children and parents of all children. What would I want for my child?

Truly I have struggled more on this than any other challenge. I have decided to love, first and foremost.

It is an emotional topic and we must be patient and listen with care as we walk together on any issue. I am at peace with this approach. In Langley we have 20,000 students — 20,000 treasures — that have great potential and our goal is to care for each one.

Thirdly, as far as implementation is concerned I am concerned that all topics be age appropriate. I will be monitoring how the resource is being implemented.

This has been very contentious, but we will get through it. Issues such as abortion, bible reading in schools and evolution are all topics that have brought protests for and against. At the end of the day, we must find a way to get along with one another. It is a public school system.

As a Christian I have prayed about the issue, sought wisdom from above and talked to others.

Fourthly, SOGI 123 is only a recommended resource and teachers have professional autonomy to choose whether to use this resource. I think the public needs to know this.

Many teachers could potentially not use this resource. I choose to hope for the best for all.

Langley is my town and I love the people in it regardless of whom they vote for or what their background may be.

Cheryl Snowdon- Eddy

B: As a trustee for Langley, the steps I would take to address the problem of schools not having the room for the continued growth of student enrolment is very similar to the way our school trustees and district administrators dealt with it in 2016. Partnering with the Ministry of Education has proven to be successful in the current building and restructuring of schools. For example, due to this partnership Langley has received funding for R.C. Garnett to add 200 more seats. The funding has also included the seismic upgrading to Langley Secondary.

Continuing a partnership is ideal to facilitate our growing student enrolment. For example, the new secondary school (R.E. Mountain Secondary) in Willoughby is providing 1500 new student seats and the new Middle School (Peter Ewart Middle School) in the existing R.E. Mountain building, is adding Grades 6 to 8.

The property that schools are on should not include portables, but additions to existing schools.

As for closing older neighbourhood schools, we must consider the seismic upgrades and that there could be hazardous materials. We must do due diligence in exploring all possibilities on the cost of a new school with updated facilities being built on the existing school site or selling that property and using those funds so that new schools can be built in neighbourhoods where the student population is greater.

Not including the issues noted above, what do you see as the single greatest challenge facing the Langley school district today and what steps would you take to address it?

The single greatest challenge facing the Langley School District today, in my opinion, is working with government to find new properties to build new schools and to receive more monies for staff salaries for these new schools. In this way we can make a positive difference to what matters most — the success of every child.

We must not rely on the use of portables on existing school properties.

David Tod:

B: During this last term, we merged a school and sold several school properties but we did not have to close a school. We chose to right-size LSS and build the new R.E. Mountain high school. The present board has and will continue to pursue needed schools in the Willoughby area. Our five-year capital plan has requested additional funds for several new schools. We made the strategic decision to add classrooms to the new high school to open with a capacity of 1,850.

Not including the issues noted above, what do you see as the single greatest challenge facing the Langley school district today and what steps would you take to address it?

Our single greatest challenge is getting schools built to meet our needs in a growing school district.

Marnie Wilson:

A: I fully support the SOGI 123 resource because it promotes inclusion and acceptance of all people. I encourage people to look at the SOGI 123 resources at https://www.sogieducation.org/Most of the opposition for SOGI is due to incorrect information being distributed that is causing unwarranted fear.

B: New schools being overcapacity is a major problem in Langley, the way to address this is through better planning, and a closer working relationship with municipal government. If elected, I will pay close attention to the Township’s development plans and growth projections so that we can foresee where there will be housing developments and plan for schools to accommodate the families that will move into those developments.

Then we can work with the province to secure the funding. If schools were being built at the same time as housing there won’t always be a need to play catch up.

Currently, it is not until development is completed, causing existing schools to go over capacity before the building of a new school is considered. Taking into consideration land acquisition, plans, and permits it can be five years or longer by the time that new school is open. By then, it is already not big enough to take the capacity of the other surrounding schools so is immediately overcapacity and the district is left in the situation of having to order portables.

There are several examples of this in the Willoughby area; Yorkson Creek Middle opened in 2014 just over its 750 student capacity and now just four years later is sitting at just over 1,100 students. Richard Bulpitt and Lynn Fripps schools have similar stories.

Langley is not going to stop growing any time soon.

The Lower Mainland is sprawling into the Valley and we must plan accordingly. Based on current Township forecasts just the Willoughby area alone will need an additional 17 schools in the next 20 years, we are already behind on planning to keep up with that growth and this doesn’t even begin to touch on the potential growth and need for schools in the Brookswood area.

Not including the issues noted above, what do you see as the single greatest challenge facing the Langley school district today and what steps would you take to address it?

The single greatest challenge facing the Langley School District is a lack of resources in three key areas: staff, programs, and spaces.

Staff; teachers, support staff, counsellors, psychologists, are all in short order in the Langley school district. Over a month into the new school year and there are classrooms that are still without a teacher.

Support staff including Education Assistants are being stretched to unmanageable proportions by being assigned far more students than anyone is capable of supporting, resulting in unsafe conditions. Elementary school councillors often have 3 or more schools that they must split their time between and high school councillors have such large caseloads and timetabling that takes an enormous amount of their time.

School Psychologists are stretched so thin that resource teams have to make heartbreaking decisions about which students are going to get the testing they so desperately need so that their learning deficiency’s can be identified and IEP goals can be created.

Every school is allotted a number of students that can receive psychologist time for testing and there are always far more students needing it than will receive it. I would address staffing shortages by working on ways to attract the staff we need. I believe in offering incentives but only if offered to all teachers which in turn attracts new teachers. Incentives should be discussed in consultation with the teachers union but could include things such as paying for upgrades to education which in turn increases teachers salary’s and is a benefit to the employer. In regards to support staff it could be simply matching the wages offered by our neighbouring Surrey school district.

Programs; Low Incidence programs geared towards students with special needs, with programming that is student specific; often working on life or social skills and incorporating inclusion into each students’ peer grade for activities that those students can meaningfully participate in and which have a goal of full inclusion. Eliminating these types of programs has left students who so desperately need them to be forced into the typical classroom setting, which has resulted in an increase in violent incident reports and overall increased anxiety for all students in those classes. Severely lacking in our district are programs to address mental health issues.

At the last public school board meeting it was reported out that one of the top three greatest risk assessment concerns was “the risk that, due to limited funding, the district and supporting agencies may not have sufficient or appropriate tools and resources to address the needs of students and families with mental health issues.” I would advocate to create these much-needed programs.

Spaces; Thoughtful consideration must be put into school planning that allows for appropriate resource spaces, health and wellness spaces, offices and work spaces for counselling, youth care work, aboriginal programs, education assistants, etc. So often these spaces are an after thought and some staff are forced to work out of a small storage room/closet. Resources are key to a well functioning school district.

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