OPINION: Negotiated contract for B.C. teachers is a worthy goal for 2020

New year and decade brings hope and challenges for education system

Will 2020 bring a teachers’ strike or a negotiated contract? How about a new school for Olympic Village? Will the ’20s end with Vancouver schools all shiny and new and safe in an earthquake? Will the students of today solve climate change?

Only time will tell, but every new year, and especially every new decade, brings a new beginning — a space for resolutions, hopes and dreams.

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Nobody wants a repeat of 2014’s five-week school strike, but even after six months of bargaining, teachers and their employer remain far apart, particularly on class size and composition. Teachers rejected a mediator’s recommendations in November, but both sides are expected to return to mediation soon. A negotiated contract, even if it freezes class size and composition for the time being, is a worthy goal for 2020.

A new school for Olympic Village is another resolution to aim for. Frustrated parents have been waiting a decade for a neighbourhood school in the thriving, growing area. It’s ridiculous and they should have a school.

In order to pay for it, we may have to look in the category of dreams, which is where I would put school closures. Although school closures may seem more the stuff of nightmares, when done right, they don’t necessarily have to be painful. In Richmond, when the land beneath an aging Steveston secondary school was sold for $41 million more than a decade ago, the district decided to merge the 50-year-old school with nearby (and seismically safe) London secondary.

Trustees gave three years’ notice, so most students graduated out and those who didn’t had time to adjust to the idea. They kept both names in place, using a hyphen, and honoured the traditions and mascots of both schools in creating the new school community.

I suspect there could be opportunities for similar mergers in Vancouver schools, in which everyone could benefit from safe, new schools much faster and less expensive than upgrading all of Vancouver’s dilapidated old schools.

I don’t advocate selling school lands — they will likely be needed in the future — but long-term leases for alternate uses like childcare or affordable housing might bring in much needed funds.

Abruptly closing a school because another school district wants it, as would have been the case if Queen Elizabeth Annex had closed, is not wise.

But implementing a practical, compassionate plan over time could realize the dream of safe schools before the 2020s are over. It isn’t going to be easy, but realizing dreams rarely is.

Reconciliation within education is a resolution worth pursuing, including immersing classrooms with Indigenous culture and history, improving Indigenous graduation rates and recognizing the history and ongoing effects of residential schools. A good beginning is underway, but much more can and should be done.

British Columbia should be very proud of its leadership in making post-secondary education free for former foster children. In 2019, more than 800 young people were furthering their education, thanks to these tuition waivers.

It’s tough for foster children to graduate from high school, let alone make it to college. They often move house so many times during their childhood they are forced to change schools repeatedly, damaging their education. Just one in three has a high school diploma by the time they turn 19. It’s no surprise, but it is a tragedy, that a high percentage of homeless people report a history in foster care.

Over the next decade, I expect those 800 young people, and others who come after them, will achieve great things. Society will benefit from their success. It should be our hope, dream and resolution to build on the tuition waiver idea, making sure every foster child is supported into a successful adult life, rather than cut off at 19.

And finally, let’s all hope for and dream of a world in which climate change is a fear of the past — a world where we’ve solved it through a scientific breakthrough or lowered our emissions to a sustainable level.

Young people around the world, led by Greta Thunberg, but also by Vancouver teens like Rebecca Hamilton, who is part of Climate Strike Canada and Sustainabiliteens, are rightly demanding change from the adults. As they themselves grow into adulthood, I expect they will match their words with action and true change will be achieved.

The last word goes to Thunberg, who tweeted this on New Year’s Eve:
“This coming decade humanity will decide its future. Let’s make it the best one we can. We have to do the impossible. So let’s get started. Happy New Year!”


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