Premier, it is time to lead – students are counting on you

The Editor, An open letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark: As a school trustee in Surrey, the largest school district in British Columbia, I urge you to meet with Jim Iker, president of the BCTF.

As the premier of this great province, it is time to be the leader that you were elected to be. The students and families in public education need you to get a negotiated or mediated settlement as soon as possible, so that they can be back in the classroom where they belong.

As I have told the many citizens who have emailed me, public education is the backbone of any community, and the students are the future of British Columbia. There is no future if we do not give the students of today the chance they need to be educated to their full potential.

I am passionate about public education and it is a privilege to be a school trustee and an education assistant in public education. I believe that if you and Minister Fassbender spent some time in the classroom over an extended period, you would see the reality of working in public education. It is an exhilarating experience when you see a student achieve the next step in their development, whether that is in their intellectual, social, emotional or physical development.

It is also heart-wrenching when you see students who do not have the opportunity to reach their next goal because the resources or services are not there. I have seen how devastating is can be for students and families. The teachers, staff and administration do the best they can, but there are times when we cannot do what we all know is best. We need to see the funding for public education increased now, for the students and families of today and the future.

I see on social media, hear on the radio and television many citizens weighing in on the current labour dispute, and kudos to them for being engaged and concerned about what lies ahead in public education. But the reality is that many of them are basing their comments on their experience from years gone by. Times have changed; the students who are entering Kindergarten today are very complex, with more and more issues that need to be addressed.

I fully support integration; we need to have the resources, services, teachers and support staff to make it work. All students deserve to become contributing members of our society, whatever that looks like for them personally.

In Surrey, we have 169 languages spoken at home besides English. We have students who have never been to school because they were born in refugee camps. We have students who come from vulnerable families and have not had the stimulation in their early years. We have students with physical disabilities, learning disabilities and mental-health issues, and students who have been subjected to horrific trauma at a very young age, whether that be in a war-torn country or right here in Canada.

Of course, our typical students are here as well, and they have needs, too – the need to get an education in a very complex classroom. We welcome all these students and their families to Surrey, and so we should, because this is Canada, a democratic, multi-cultural, diverse nation.

Staff does the best they can with the funding we receive, but we need more. Can you imagine being a teacher in a classroom in Surrey? I urge you to take some time to think about it.

Teachers are teachers because they want to help shape the future, but when you have a class with such diversity, culturally and intellectually, with dwindling resources, how can you make that happen? It is a daily burden that doesn’t go away when you leave your work site.

It is difficult when you see a student coming to school hungry, when you don’t have the time to work one-to-one with a disruptive student who you know has potential, when you have a gifted student who needs more from you but you can’t give it to them right away and when you have a typical student who just needs to ask one question. The most devastating burden is when a student doesn’t return to your classroom because they have died due to their physical disability or their mental health. I could go on and on because I have spent time in those classrooms.

Surrey teachers, staff and administration are hard-working, caring, resourceful people who only want the best for every student who enrols in our school district.

Premier Clark, it is time for you to do the right thing. Be the leader you were elected to be. Students and families are counting on you.

Charlene Dobie,

Surrey school trustee

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