Surrey School District building. (File photo)

Surrey school board axes choice program committees, creates ‘learning liaison’ committee

Canadian Parents for French group says decision eliminates oversight, accountability

The Surrey Board of Education has created a new committee, while getting rid of four choice program advisory committees.

The Learning Liaison Committee, officially endorsed at the Feb. 12 meeting, is meant to “directly explore how the board is achieving its educational goals.”

Superintendent Jordan Tinney said the Learning Liaison Committee will have “detailed” agenda items.

The committee is expected to meet six times a year.

Three meetings had already been tentatively scheduled for the remainder of the school year: one for programs of choice, one for curriculum changes and core competencies and a third for supporting students with special needs.

However, while creating this new committee, staff recommended that the board “eliminate” its four advisory committees for district choice programs: French Immersion with 3,255 students in 16 schools; Intensive Fine Arts with 363 students at two schools; Montessori with 577 students at three schools; and Traditional with 809 students in three schools.

“When you consider our enrolment, our programs of choice represent a small percentage of our population, about 5,000 students in total, but they hold the status of having four dedicated committees to the board,” Tinney said.

“There is not standing education committee board.

Tinney said that while the choice programs are “important,” and that he didn’t “want to diminish the role of French in a bilingual nation,” there is an “imbalance” of specific advisory committees.

“For one example, we have over 18,000 students who are English language learners and we don’t have an advocacy committee for their needs. I could go on and on,” he said. “We have well over 25,000 students in careers and we don’t have a careers committee. We have over 4,000 students level special needs, including autism, and we don’t have a committee for autism, nor for a really dedicated group for things like athletics, extracurriculars.”

Meantime, The Canadian Parents for French British Columbia and Yukon have voiced concern following the axing of the French Immersion Advisory Committee.

It says the decision “eliminates an important oversight and accountability mechanism” for parents and teachers.

Mary-Em Waddington, CPF Surrey chapter president, said the French Immersion committee is an important forum for parents to collaborate with school district officials.

“Conversations have focused on issues that matter to parents, including the recruitment and retention of French immersion teachers, outreach and supports, waitlists for incoming kindergarten students and more,” she said.

“Our shared goal should be to grow the French immersion program. We are devastated to see this further erosion of support by the Surrey School District for our French language programs.”

Waddington told the Now-Leader that the French advisory committee is recommended by the Ministry of Education.

“The reason it’s recommend is because French Immersion comes with federal funding, so this is a means of grassroots support and oversight to look at how the money by the federal government is being managed in the district,” she said.

Waddington spoke at the Feb. 12 board meeting, prior to its decision on the committees.

She said her “biggest ask” for maintaining the committee is because of the accessibility to Surrey Schools staff and trustees.

“What removing the mechanism of the advisory away from the group does is it takes away the access point to the trustee, so that they’re actually hearing the information directly firsthand from the community and not funneled in through the superintendent’s office,” she said.

“We’re losing that piece, which I think in terms of them doing their job, is critical.”

READ ALSO: ‘Significant waitlists’ for early French Immersion programs in Surrey, Feb. 22, 2018

In her presentation, she said that in April 2019, there were 168 students on a waitlist for French Immersion, starting in kindergarten.

“Unfortunately, we lost 61 students last year,” said Waddington, referring to the students who left the choice program. “The question is, of course, why we have students that leave the French program?”

She said one of the problems is students not getting the learning resources and learning support teachers they need to be successful in their work.

“It’s not the matter of the student learning French, it’s a matter of not having access to a French language support teacher because the learning challenges that the student has will present in English as well,” said Waddington, adding that available supports are “more robust” in English.

“It’s a terrible choice for a parent to have to make for their kids who wanted their children to learn french, to have to pull them out because the support is not available.”

READ ALSO: French Immersion enrolment down in Surrey: report, Sept. 5, 2018

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