There is a tendency for many in Golden to switch off, move on or otherwise abstain the moment you hear or see the words “French Immersion”, and if that is you, I don’t blame you, but this letter is NOT about French Immersion, but it will be necessary to use those words. This post is about the closing of Field and/or Nicholson Elementary Schools, or about teaching Creationism as a valid theory alongside Evolution, or about anything else you might care about.
Last year a decision was made to cut the most successful part of the French Immersion program in Golden. This letter is not about whether the change is a good idea; it is about the history leading up to that decision. It is about how a controversial decision was made. The next controversial decision may be something you care about; by then it will be too late. Someone else may find themselves writing words similar to these, after it is already too late to stop the decision being made badly.
Before I start, I should point out that this was NOT about money. It was stressed time and time again that this issue was not about money, probably because the decision may have actually cost the district a lot of money (due to the loss of Federal French Immersion program grants).
OK, let’s move on to that history:
In February 2010, the school superintendent at the time (without any board-level discussion or mandate) held a public meeting. The meeting took the form of a workshop to gather community input on the Early French Immersion program in Golden and to evaluate other possible configurations. The comments are all online at sd6.bc.ca/documents.php – the last six documents under “Golden French Program Conversation”.
The comments were overwhelmingly of the sort “the current program is great, we want to keep it”, although some acknowledge some tweaking might be in order (which is probably true of any program). This was clearly not the response the superintendent wanted to hear, because she then announced a formal “independent” review.
I have put “independent” in quotation marks because the final report was written by colleagues of the outgoing superintendent (i.e. they were all ex-superintendents). That doesn’t mean it was not an entirely independent review, but it is not unreasonable to question it.
In preparing the review a small number of people were interviewed, from a few different interest groups. They were interviewed with leading questions. A few parents got to take part, but not the parents of this years’ kindergarten students (i.e. those most affected). The results of the French Conversation meeting were not considered.
The final report was not particularly well written; a person of academic background said that it was not of undergraduate standard, and that he expected better of people with doctorates. It presented findings, and presented conclusions, but did not explain how it got from one to the other. The report was then presented to a small number of carefully selected people. No attempt was made to find out what the community as a whole thought of the report.
Some local parents wrote a (better written) rebuttal. A petition was organized which over five hundred people signed in a very short amount of time. Over two hundred of those people took the time to go to the next meeting of the school board (normally, almost nobody goes to these meetings). The school trustees then ignored the rebuttal, ignored the petition, smirked at the public packed into the room and then unanimously voted to follow the recommendations in the report.
There was no significant discussion between the trustees before voting (they had met secretly beforehand – against their own code of ethics).
Since this was the first meeting after the report was published there was no opportunity for public questions before the decision was made (questions were only allowed after the meeting). The trustees were unable to answer most of the questions put to them after the meeting.
Some of the more difficult questions were not recorded in the minutes.
So basically, the decision was pushed through, rightly or wrongly, without involving those most affected, and it was not a small irrelevant decision. People have left town over this. (People have also moved to town after making sure there was kindergarten FI here, only to find there isn’t – because the change was rushed). If it
affects anyone outside the zone, it is because the change has cost money and now there is less to go around elsewhere.
I know difficult decisions have to be made but, the more difficult they are, the more important it is to make sure they are the right decision.
Ask yourself, if they can do this to FI, why can’t they do it to whatever issue you DO care about?
I do not think it is a coincidence that half of the trustees stood down at the first opportunity. I am just surprised the remaining ones have the audacity to seek election for another term.
Yours very very sincerely,