Editor’s note: This is the full text of an open letter to School District 64 trustees, along with the full list of signatories. An abridged version was published in the Aug. 12, 2020 Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper. It is also posted on the Galiano PAC Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/groups/332970255410/
OPEN LETTER REGARDING SCHOOL DISTRICT 64’S RECONFIGURATION PROCESS, THE SCOPE OF OPPORTUNITIES AND IN PARTICULAR THE CREATION OF AN ‘OUTER ISLAND HUB’ ON PENDER ISLAND
Dear School District 64 Trustees,
Over the past year and a half, Galiano community members, parents, and students have been working hard to provide you and your staff with clear, helpful and practical feedback on your Reconfiguration process. Although initially introduced as an opportunity to “dream big” about what we would like our district and schools to look like, it was made clear last fall that this reconfiguration is actually a budget-cutting endeavor, and so it is in that framing that we have moved forward with our own conversations and contributions.
Over the last year we have met multiple times, either with your board and staff, at our PAC meetings or at more informal community meetings, and our message remains the same: this process has been misleading, frustrating and fruitless.
It is increasingly difficult to trust in this process and this board as you have shown defensiveness at parent and PAC meetings, conducted integral components of the process out of the public eye, have collected and used data in a manner that does not represent appropriate analytical processes, without the oversight or support of experienced professionals, and have already started acting on ideas you’re claiming are “just ideas for modelling.” We were appalled to hear that some Galiano parents had been asked individually whether they would consider sending their secondary school kids to Pender September 2020, a full YEAR before the proposed changes are intended to take place.
One of the biggest frustrations in engaging in this consultation process is how little data we are being given. We don’t know exactly how many students would attend the proposed Outer Island Hub (OIH) to get a better idea of what the social experience would be like, let alone any information whatsoever about what programming would look like. We don’t know exactly how much of the transportation budget is currently being used on water taxis. We don’t know how exactly all of the “unique geographic funding” dollars provided for Galiano students are spent. We aren’t being presented with options to choose between, or vote on, and we don’t know how the staff took the “theme buckets” from the reconfiguration committee and landed on these very specific, unsupported “opportunities.”
Even calling them “opportunities” is disingenuous. One of the “opportunities” is to cut the French Immersion program. As per the Province’s policy, “French Immersion provides an opportunity for non-francophone students to become bilingual” – this opportunity is especially invaluable for Gulf Islands families. In an urban setting, families might find other ways to create such opportunities for their children, through cultural centres, camps, or exchanges. In a rural island community, there are significant financial and logistical barriers to such alternative opportunities. The fact is that if English-speaking SD64 families value bilingualism, immersion is really the only way to ensure children develop fluency during the language-acquisition critical childhood years. The cancellation of this program would be a real loss for our community, yet SD64 calls it an OPPORTUNITY?
We participated in your thought exchange process, and vocalized our reservations about the reliability of the data you would collect and create, only to see staff cherry pick requests or suggestions that support the route the board seems to have already decided upon. In fact, the idea that the Outer Island Hub was being considered was revealed through a parking lot conversation with one of the trustees well over a year ago!
Out of a total of 541 Thought Exchange comments, 50 email submissions, and hundreds of suggestions made during public meetings, there were no more than 8 recorded suggestions that an outer island hub be established for high-school-aged students.
This proposal requires Galiano students to attend grades 8 and 9 on Pender Island while Salt Spring grade 8 and 9 students get to enjoy the opportunities that GISS has to offer. Off the record feedback suggested attending Pender would be an “option”, but Galiano families know fully well what “option” means – it means “required” as soon as the water taxi is full. The water taxi is almost always full, year after year. We currently have parents in our community taking boating courses so that they can support their children in participating in “optional” programming as, yet again, there is no room on the water taxi. In fact, the water taxi is already SO full that Galiano-based GISS and SIMS students now have to add Pender to their water taxi itinerary starting this fall – a change no parent was consulted on, even though another boat, the Ganges Hawk, has been used in previous years to manage larger populations.
Adding Pender Island is a longer trip for the students already spending the most time in transit in order to attend school. Research shows that for every minute spend in transit, a student loses 1.3 minutes of sleep and the research also suggests a significant negative correlation to exercise time.
Following the results of this research, Galiano students are currently losing 48 minutes more sleep than Pender students and an average of 2.43 hours more sleep than Salt Spring students each day. Adding an additional stop at Pender Island to the already long Galiano water taxi route will result in an estimated additional 10 to 15 minutes of commute time each day, which converts to an additional loss of 13 to 20 minutes of sleep each day. Every minute of sleep lost results in significant impacts on a child’s health, behavior and educational outcomes.
Another concern for Galiano Islanders is that this lengthy day will contribute to dropouts and absenteeism. This early start also ignores all the sleep research and work the Board did many years ago when they changed school start time from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Add this sleep issue to the fact that Galiano students have to experience AN EXTRA transition and WAIT TWO ADDITIONAL YEARS before the intense social experience of moving from a 50-student school to a school with over 600 students and our kids will slip even further behind Salt Spring kids emotionally.
This Outer Island Hub (OIH) on Pender is being touted as an “option” and an “opportunity” for Galiano students. Let’s break that down further:
The OIH is not an “option” if GISS is considered a cross-boundary school for Galiano, because it would not mandate water taxi space for grades 8 and 9 students and therefore, keep them from attending GISS.
The OIH is not an “opportunity” if it isn’t equivalent to what’s on offer at GISS, for example:
Modern classrooms, metal and wood-working shops, gyms, theatres, labs, gardens, music rooms, kitchens, cafeterias, a well-stocked library, and other facilities;
Gear, equipment, resources and other tools like kitchen/cafeteria equipment, garden tools, musical instruments, science supplies, technology, and audiovisual equipment for theatrical, video and multimedia creation;
Curriculum, teachers, assistants and supports, experts, class variety, electives (from Robotics, Metalwork, and Music Composition, to Yearbook, 3D Design, and Dance) and other in-class opportunities
Extracurricular offerings like sports teams, performing arts, music, clubs, groups etc.
More robust support for students with learning challenges
Social programming, skill-building, community partnerships and collaborations, and diverse peer-based social groups
What the Outer Island Hub DOES mean is that SD64 gets to keep the unique geographic funding for the students that don’t attend school on Salt Spring. Are our children a “funding farm” for this district? Or are they equal participants deserving of the same educational opportunities as Salt Spring students? How about instead of pitting children and families against each other the SD works with us to lobby the province for a more equitable funding model for water transportation?
It should be noted that Galiano parents have significant concerns about their children attending school on Pender, including that:
Pender High School was a small eco-based program until the recent retirement of its teacher and is currently hiring just ONE teacher for ONE classroom for all of grades 8 through 12.
Many families would end up with children on three different islands:
presenting a serious risk in terms of access to their children during an emergency
requiring parents to build contacts and relationships on three islands instead of two in order to support their children engaging in after school activities that require staying over night
requiring parents to get involved in three different island communities to engage with schools and PACs in order to support their children’s learning and school experiences
Mayne Island junior high attendees have spoken with mixed feelings about their experiences attending an outer island hub in these grades. Some liked the smaller cohort and opportunities offered 20 years ago, when the water taxi left Galiano Island at 8:30 a.m., GISS had serious issues with drugs and alcohol and high attrition rates, and Mayne had specific, unique programming. Others found that prolonging the experiences inherent in small-cohort schooling was detrimental to their and their children’s development. Given how long it has been since that school operated and the differences in funding, water taxi schedules, school population demographics and more, as well as the myriad of improvements to GISS, we feel that comparisons between that junior high experience and a Pender OIH are unhelpful at best and disingenuous at worst.
Adding this OIH junior high program also flies in the face of the arguments made for eliminating SIMS, especially that increased transitions are hard on student learners. If SD64 is proposing to go back to a K-7, 8-12 model for this reason, why make only Outer Island students suffer additional transitions? Why should Outer Island students wait TWO YEARS before getting to integrate with a larger student body? Why should Outer Island families, whose taxes helped create a spectacular new GISS miss out on almost half of its opportunities? We already contribute tax money to a band program and French Immersion program that we can’t participate in due to transportation issues.
Every student of high school age in the Gulf Islands has the right to attend the provincially funded SD64 high school. Changing what grade secondary school begins should have no bearing on that mandate whatsoever. An Outer Island high school should be a true, cross-boundary choice, not a requirement. The precedent is that the water taxi is available to any Outer Island student to attend GISS. That cannot change.
Finally, and most importantly, we have seen what excluding Galiano children from Salt Spring schools does. It requires many of our families to relocate from their homes on Galiano Island in order to participate in before or after-school activities, a key component of learning. This means that, yet again, the B.C. education system is obliging Indigenous families to disrupt their connection with the home they’ve known for hundreds of years, and their connection with their extended families and elders. We cannot believe we need to remind SD64 of the Indigenous Principles of learning, but apparently that is the case (emphasis ours):
Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.
Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).
SD64 must honour the connection of Indigenous families on Galiano to their land and their community. The proposals in the Scope of Opportunity do not align with these principles or the spirit of SD64s Aboriginal Education Agreement, no matter how it is framed.
The Galiano community is tired of SD64 solving their budget woes on the backs of Galiano children. We do not want to send our children to an Outer Island Hub, especially being unable to tell them what it will look like, how it will be good for them and what the benefits are, given the disadvantages of the extra travel time, reduced cohort size, and familial and community disconnection.
We are asking the board to take the following concrete steps:
Halt plans to add Pender on Scholarship’s itinerary this September and instead put the Hawk into rotation to handle Pender’s overflow issues.
Stop contacting Galiano families asking to send their kids to Pender for high school this September.
Acknowledge the flaws in data collection and processes and press pause on the Scope of Opportunities and Reconfiguration process.
Engage with all island families to re-envision how meaningful consultation can take place.
Commit to be more honest and transparent about the process, goals and financial realities of SD64.
Look at multiple cost-saving measures rather than just the cherry-picked Scope of Opportunities – for example:
Examine how changing transportation spending or elementary boundaries on Salt Spring could level the playing field for all SD64 students;
Rethink the costs of having a top-heavy administration, especially the need for so many district principals, compared to the suggestions in the Scope of Opportunity.
Galiano Islanders are at a crossroads. It’s time for us to use our collective voices to advocate for our children. It’s your choice what that looks like – meaningful consultation, on terms that work for all stakeholders, or serious action by students and parents. Some parents are prepared to pull our children from this district. We are prepared to involve local and regional newspapers and media. We are prepared to work directly with the Ministry of Education to make the changes necessary to this process, to the SD64 budget, and if required, to the board membership. We do not take this lightly, but we are exhausted by our voices falling on deaf ears, and with trying to affect change within the current, broken system.
You can see from the signatories below that all members of community are affected by and care about this issue, and that we all care deeply about Galiano children’s education. What we can’t see is any sign of the Board centering students in the Scope of Opportunities, nor can we see the equity that SD64 Staff and Trustees have committed to.
The Galiano Community School Parent Advisory Committee and Executive, and
Galiano Island Parents (55):
Karrie Ann Friend
Maica Odriozola Galan
Caitlin Pencarrick Hertzman
Galiano Island Students (21):
Elijah Hamer Garton
Sophia Hamer Garton
Lili Paulin Kuroda
Galiano Community Members (121):
David Ages, volunteered at GCS focus on soccer and Environmentalism
Giselle Allen, former SD64 student (2018 Grad)
Don Anderson, grandparent of student, parent of former SD64
Shauna Anderson, parent of future SD64 student
Sheila Anderson, grandparent of student, parent of former SD64
Bailey Baines, former SD64 student
Betsy Baines, grandparent of SD64 students, former SD64 student, concerned community member
Lloyd Baines, grandparent of SD64 students, former SD64 student, concerned community member
Ryan Baines, former SD64 student
Sylvia Baines, grandparent of SD64 students, former SD64 student, concerned community member
Anna Banski, former SD64 student
Jodie Bard, parent of future student
Errol Beckford, concerned community member
June Beckford, concerned community member
Frank Basarab, parent of former SD64 students, grandparent of current SD64 students
Marianne Bos, concerned community member
Bryan Boser, grandparent of SD64 students
Cedar Bowers, former SD64 Student, parent of a former SD64 Student
Brigitte Bowie, former SD64 Student
Jennifer Bowie, parent of a former SD64 Student
Barclay Burich, parent of GISS student
Cathy Buttery, parent of former students in SD64, current employee of SD64.
Erin Carlson, parent of future SD64 student
Diane Cragg, concerned Community Member
Helena Cuddy, former SD64 student (2018 Grad)
Louise Decario, retired SD64 teacher of 15 yrs, volunteered at GCS
Allan Doty, grandparent of SD64 students
Lorna Doty, grandparent of SD64 students
Jeanne Erickson, grandparent of SD64students, community member
Skyllar Erickson, aunt of SD64students, community member
Elizabeth Fairbrother, parent of former SD64 student
Jared Farias, former SD64 student (2019 Grad)
Ilana Fonariov, concerned community member
Akasha Forest, retired SD64 French Immersion LA and program coordinator. Volunteered at GCS
Christina Fowlie, grandparent of SD64 students, former SD64 student, concerned community member
Michelle Fox, current employee SD64
Emily Foster, former SD64 student
Darcy Friesen, concerned community member
Daniel Gaucher, parent of future SD64 student
Rosemary Georgeson, SD64 student, parent of 2 SD64 students, grandparent of 3 SD64 students
Laura Gerlach, parent of former SD64 student, long time community member
Glenn Goring, formed GCS principal
David Grindlay, parent of 4, 2 considering transferring to SD64
Carol Guin, concerned community member, and Grandparent of grade 11 student
Val Kambeitz, parent of former SD64 students, grandmother of 2 SD64 students, volunteered at GCS
Wendy Hamer, grandparent of SD64 students
Kia Hardy, parent of 2 SD64 students
George Harris, parent of 5 former SD64 students, grandparent of 6 potential future SD64 students
Karen Harris, parent of 1 former SD64 student, grandparent of many future SD64 students
Rana Harris, former SD64 students / 2018 GISS valedictorian
Yokon Hartman, former SD64 student, concerned community member
Ann Hennessy, grandparent of future SD64 student, parent of former SD64
Kate Hennessy, former SD64 student
Melinda Hranchuck, parent of 2 former SD64 students
Jaime Hudson, parent of future SD64 student
Maria Hulme, concerned community member
Anna Keefer, grandmother of current students, Volunteered at GCS
Bowie Keefer, grandfather of current student at GCS
Stella Kingscote, former SD64 student (2018 grad)
Tova Krause, parent of 4, 2 considering transferring to SD64
Nadia Krebs, grandparent of SD64 students and concerned community member
Kendall Kyle, former employee at GCS and concerned community member
Elizabeth Latta, grandmother of former student and concerned community member
Kathy Legrove, grandparent of SD64 students
Ron Legrove, grandparent of SD64 students
Diana Lilly, school volunteer and community member
Brad Lockett, parent of former SD64 students and concerned community member
Bonnie MacGillivray, parent of 2 former SD64 students, grandmother of 2 current SD64 students, volunteer at GCS, former school trustee for SD64 representing Galiano with 18 years service
Joanne Mackay, parent of SD64 students
Sidney Massies, SD64 employee
Deborah McKechnie, concerned community member
Brian Miles, grandfather of Indigenous SD64 students, parent of former SD64 students, concerned community member
Ben Miltner, grandparent of former SD64 students, community member
Brian Mitchel, concerned community member
Virginia Monk, volunteered at GCS with a focus on writing skills
Tom Mommsen, concerned community member, scientist and science educator
Richard Nathans, school volunteer and community member
Janice Oakley, parent of a former SD64 student
Shelley Okepnak, concerned community member
Annie Okuda, parent of 4 former SD64 students, and 6 grandchildren in the district
Kiyo Okuda, parent of 4 former SD64 students, and 6 grandchildren in the district
Ria Okuda, former SD64 student (2004 Grad), parent of 2 potential SD64 students
Gord Palmberg, parent of 2 former SD64 students
Roger Pettit, grandparent of two current SD64 students, and one former one
Lisa Pettit, grandparent of two current SD64 students, and one former one
Shawn Pineau, grandparent of SD64 students, former SD64 student, concerned community member
Peter Pimenta, concerned community member
Sandy Pottle, parent of former SD64 students, former islands trustee
John Pritchard, concerned community member
Lillian Reimer, great aunt of students
Lucy Reksoatmodjo, concerned community member
Shawna Renwick, parent of former SD64 students
Tahirih Rockefella, aunt of future SD64 student, concerned community member
Lori Seay, parent of former student in SD64
Annette Shaw, grandmother of former students at GCS and volunteered at GCS
Mandela Shemilt, former SD64 student (2007 grad)
Bill Shield, parent of former SD64 students
Gabriel Shoichet, concerned community member
Derrick Silvey, past SD64 student, parent of upcoming SD64 student, community member
Jeanne Silvey, former SD64 student, parent and now grandparent of SD64 students
Lorne Silvey, former SD64 student, and parent of former SD64 student
Micheala Silvey, former SD64 student, parent and now grandparent of SD64 students
Risa Smith, concerned community member, scientist and science educator
Sue Smith, grandparent of former SD64 students, concerned community member
Kate Saunders, concerned community member and family counsellor
Ken Stauffer, concerned community member
Laurene Stefanyk, parent of former SD64 student, grandparent of a future SD64 student
Ingrid Thornhill, former SD64 student, concerned community member
Pippa Tucker, concerned community member
Paula Uyenaka, parent of a former SD64 student
Jean Way, former GCS principal
Alison Whitlock, concerned community member
Carol Wilson, concerned community member and aunt of 2 potential SD64 students
Eva Wilson, aunt of SD64 students, parent of former SD64 students, Indigenous mentor/leader
Joy Wilson, grandparent of SD64 students
Jane Wolverton, current Islands Trust trustee for Galiano
Jesse Wolfe, former SD64 student (2005 grad)
Muraco Wolfe, former SD64 student (2003 grad)
Beata Zaleska, grandparent of SD64 students
Zbigniew Zaleski, grandparent of SD64 students
As a parent it is your choice to live where there are schools for your children. If you don’t you shouldn’t expect the district to fork out millions of dollars to water taxi them to another place. This already happens and is a huge cost. Years ago the children had to board on SS in order to attend the high school. I think that since you chose to live in a place without a high school you shouldn’t expect the district to cater to your special situation.
Our “special situation” is that we expect our Galiano students to have full access to Gulf Islands Secondary School (GISS), which is the provincially funded high school for SD#64. This has been the case ever since a high school was built on SSI. Reconfiguring the district schools to k-7/8-12 and eliminating Salt Spring Island Middle School (SIMS) should not affect Outer Islands high school students’ access to GISS which has been in place for many, many years. We do live in a district with a high school and we have every right to expect that our students will be educated there.
We pay taxes for education like everyone else. And who is going to work on the outer islands if you can’t live here with a family? Who is going to serve in the restaurants or clean the STVRs or give folks their massages etc.? And even if you’re not a tourist, residents benefits from the amenities provided FOR tourists. None of that can happen if there aren’t the basic, fundamental building blocks for families. Why should our children not have the same education that Saltspring or Vancouver Island kids have?
And NONE of that speaks to the longstanding connection that many outer island Indigenous families have to their home and land. Are we seriously going to ask them to uproot their families to participate in the education system? That smacks of colonialism and is way too reminiscent of Canada’s history with residential schools.
The water taxi has been servicing the schools here for decades, even our parents utilized the program. And wether our children go to pender or to salt spring island, there is still a water taxi involved… but thanks for your input.