LETTER: Current system is short-changing students

Move to comprehensive high school curriculum has not been rushed

Re: Reconsider decision to merge high schools, June 27 edition.

I read with interest Scott Young’s June 17 view of the high school configuration forum and the board’s unanimous decision to move to a single high school by September 2015.

Contrary to the opinion expressed, the board’s move to provide a comprehensive senior high school curriculum has not been rushed and is, in no manner, a “band-aid solution.”  Despite extremely challenging circumstances, including a massive debt inherited from previous years, chronic underfunding by the provincial government and provincially controlled labour strife, the current board of education has brought the district’s financial house in order and has begun the process of addressing parental demands for better program offerings.

Last year, instead of closing schools, the board took action and opened both a long-requested traditional school and an arts-based curriculum school. Parental response to this move has been overwhelmingly supportive, and both schools now have waiting lists.

Addressing the challenges of delivering a comprehensive high school curriculum in a small community will not be easy. At the November forum, we heard clearly from parents and staff that our current system was short-changing our senior students.  Due to declining enrolment and the previous decision to combine Grades 7 to 12 in three separate schools, Mission students are encountering difficulties accessing even basic courses. We are left with a system that cannot offer the advanced science and mathematics courses required for our students to be competitive in university. Trades and technical course offerings have declined to such an extent that basic skills like welding and carpentry are not readily available to students. As such, Mission students are at a distinct disadvantage when applying for entry into advanced trades training programs.

Even the sports programs we offer are restricted by dividing our senior students into three separate schools. Being divided into three very small high schools is limiting our secondary students’ current education as well as future academic and professional prospects.

After the November forum, board members and senior staff continued to receive very diverse opinions from students, parents and staff about our current high schools. A variety of solutions were also offered as possible alternatives. This spring, staff reached the conclusion that Mission’s high schools had reached a breaking point in their ability to maintain the full spectrum of course offerings. The superintendent recommended to the board that the only viable option was to consolidate senior students into a single school. September 2015 was viewed as a challenging but obtainable target date. To postpone beyond this date would be condemning another year of graduates to inadequate course offerings.

It is important to note that many decisions still need to be made and that consultation with students, parents, staff and the community will still take place.

The board has hired a consultant to help guide us through this process. The summer promises to be a very busy time for staff, and I suspect plenty of public debate will fill the editorial and opinion pages of the Mission Record this fall.

I look forward to that debate and to my part in building a high school system that offers our students a broad spectrum of opportunities.

Jim Taylor

School Trustee