DPAC seeks opinions on New West schools via flawed online survey

The District Parents Advisory Council is on the warpath with a planned rally March 20 at City Hall and an online survey gathering opinions from New Westminsterites about our city's school-building delays.

The New Westminster District Parents Advisory Council is on the warpath with a planned rally March 20 at City Hall and an online survey gathering opinions from New Westminsterites about our city’s school-building delays.

DPAC has consistently and aggressively  pushed council, school board and even the B.C. Ministry of Education for resolution on one of our city’s thorniest problems: the building of the new High School and the linked construction of new and replacement schools in New Westminster. While gathering the concerns and opinions of parents in the school district can be a powerful measure of support and a reliable way to indicate a direction for our city’s decision makers, the survey recently released by DPAC falls short of a credible scientific standard and risks being dismissed as a partisan cudgel. Leading questions and clear examples of author bias make the DPAC’s survey effort just short of push polling.

Instead of asking  to rate the standard “job performance” or their “overall” satisfaction of Parent Advisory Councils, School Board, City Council, Provincial Government, participants are asked to rate how these groups “listen to their concerns.”  What percentage of residents have issued their concerns directly? Concerns raised include a variety of opinions. How does this question account for that?

Even more concerning was an almost impossible question: How satisfied are you with:

The city, provincal(sic) and federal governments for not stepping up to the plate and holding themselves accountable for building on top of a cemetery as well

Phrased this way, the question abruptly turns a survey of opinions into what feels like a weapon in a vendetta against the various governing groups responsible for our schools. It oversimplifies a complex issue. When leading questions are introduced like this, what value can the results have?

I am torn writing this post because I don’t want to vilify DPAC. It is possible that their passion for the children of SD40 and frustration with the ongoing delay in school construction has just seeped into the survey. And I do think that DPAC should be pressuring the school board and provincial Ministry of Education to step up and own their responsibility to the students of this district. While a survey can be an effective tool; this one unfortunately, may be hard to take seriously.

Will Tomkinson

Will Tomkinson is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.


  1. I did the survey and it felt just like the one the City does every year

    around Tax time. They come up with a conclusion that everyone is happy with Council, Staff, and the way the City is run. Up go the taxes 4% in spite of a recession.

    Surveys are great but not when questions are submitted by those seeking support. They are loaded.

    I hope this will bring about enough flack that the city will come forth with the solution and stand accountable for misjudgements of previous councils.

  2. Will which Trustees are you related to or friends with? Do you have any children in the SD40 system?

  3. Hey Don, Will (my husband) & I aren't related to any trustees, nor are we friends with them (though I have spoken with Lisa Graham a bit). Our children are not yet in the school system, though our eldest will start kindergarten in 2012.

  4. Hi Don,

    No, I don't have any open channels with school board officials. I think none of them would recognize me in a line up, but I would know some of them. Our kids will be going into the SD system pretty soon and we keep a close ear to the news on the subject. We live close to Tweeds and my family have been attending school in New Westminster since 1914.

    Why do you ask?

  5. I agree that there are deep problems in school politics here, and we do appreciate the intention behind the survey. That’s exactly why we point this out. Push polling, loaded questionnaires and so on cast the wrong light on the intentions of the organization. Even when well-intentioned it makes them seem deceptive.

  6. Thanks Denise.

    I think it is pretty clear that DPAC (and city parents generally) are frustrated. I am also frustrated and disappointed. Many in the city are, even without kids in school. As I mentioned in the above article, that frustration is understadable and justified.

    While my family is currently going through a stage with no kids in the SD40 system (except strong start, if that counts), there will soon be Tomkinsons again in our city's classrooms. Many of my close friend's children attend school.

    Having no children in the school system should not preclude comment. How many counselors have kids in the system? Does the Record? The Leader? Certainly Bill Chu has none in SD40, neither does historian Jim Wolfe, yet they comment on the state of affairs readily enough.

    While this survey is problematic, in our opinion, it could be used as a lesson that city groups can learn from in order to maintain the moral high ground. The survey was almost brilliant, but was sullied by the appearance of deception. I am sure DPAC will remain New Westminster's vocal watchdog of our childrens' future and I wish them well. I also with they had not released that survey.

  7. One of the goals of the survey was to get people talking. In that I think it has succeeded.
    With all due respect, since your children have yet to be students in the district, I’m not sure that you can understand the level of anger and frustration that we feel. My son will graduate from NWSS next year and I have been involved in this process for most of his school life.
    We cannot afford to sit and wait quietly for decisions to be made. The City and School District need to know that we are fed up.

  8. The 10th to the fraser is a rank amateur. They ought to take some time and to some research before posting. They are simply wrong in many of their assertions. They are maligning people with no basis for it.

    "Having no children in the school system should not preclude comment….neither does historian Jim Wolfe, yet they comment on the state of affairs readily enough". – Do some research Will get your facts straight Mr. Wolfe is a parent of a SD40 student.

  9. I never said that people must have children in the system in order to comment. I don't believe that working towards change is futile and hope that you will attend the rally on Saturday at City Hall at 10:00. We all need to put pressure on the City and School District so that all our children get the schools they deserve.

  10. @ Jim,

    Sorry about that Jim. I was mistaken. I only intended to provide some examples of people who have valid views on the issues and should not be prevented from public comment. Think what a world that would be.

    You are also right that I mistook your professional reports for public comment. My apologies.

  11. @ Don.

    Rank Amateurs! Oh, that's harsh. I prefer not to personally criticize people in comment sections. I also maligned no one. The post above is a criticism of the survey, which contained significant problems. Those problems have largely been echoed in the report by Denise and effectively dealt with there.

    I have been complementary of DPACs positions both in the above post and in other forums. If a group of amateur bloggers can spent their time and money for the betterment of their community, as we do, we should also provide support and constructive criticism for amateur school administrators so you can wage a more effective fight for the students of our dictrict.

    I noted the survey gaffe but I also suggested it crept in unintentionally due to DPACs passion and frustration. Please, consider my amateurish zeal due to a love of my community and my desire to help it in any way I can.

  12. @Denise, I'd love to come to the rally, however it's been scheduled for the same date and time as the Royal City Farmers Market Winter Market, and I work there, so can't make it. I guess I misinterpreted your comments… I read it to mean one couldn't possible be qualified to make a comment if one has no children in the school system, but now I've re-read it and I see you said that one couldn't understand the frustration you as a parent of a student have gone through. And that's true. I can sympathize but not empathize. To be perfectly frank, if our son ends up in public school, I hope I don't have to go through what many parents are going through now. Good luck with the rally, I will be thinking of you at the market.

  13. Changing the subject just a little…what do you think of that idea (cover of a local paper recently) where Mercer stadium (& track?) would move to Moody Park? (i.e. so that the new high school would be built in its place)

    If a junior school were built where St Mary's was – wouldn't it be close to a half-way house? within a few blocks?

    Didn't see the survey. Don't have children.

  14. With all due respect, Denise, I disagree, that one must have children in the system to be allowed to make comment. Like Will and Briana, I have a young son. He is almost 2. While I respect that you are frustrated, tired, angry, etc, my disappointment with the school district has led me to be fearful of the future and has led me to believe that efforts to change may be futile. I’m already exploring home schooling options for my son. I’m a more concerned parent if I’m thinking about the future and getting involved now than if I sit and hope someone else will fix it by the time my son is set to be enrolled.

  15. Thanks for the great debate and forum on city issues. I need to correct your recent comment and post about me on your blog. I actually have a son who attends Herbert Spencer in Grade 4. Also as a correction I do not comment on the high school situation generally to anyone or the press. I am a heritage consultant who was paid for my professional opinion regarding the site history and potential for burials on the site. I have not commented on the high school situation publically to the press with my personal views since being hired. This would be in conflict with my role as a paid consultant.

  16. Hey Jim, thanks for the comment/correction.

    Denise: Thank you for sharing the link to the survey results. I’m very impressed that DPAC has shared the full results, including the comments that echoed Will’s criticism about some of the survey questions. For those who are interested, the permalink to the post is here: http://communities.canada.com/VANNET/blogs/timeoutcorner/archive/2010/03/16/results-from-dpac-s-online-survey.aspx

    There are some pretty bold opinions expressed in the survey. I hope that DPAC weathers the criticism and learns from it, so they can do it again with better-constructed questions. I do think it helps them better represent district parents to give them an opportunity to share their opinions on what should happen in New West.

  17. Don: Jim was kind enough to correct us as well. You are correct that we are amateurs. We make no claim otherwise! We run this blog for the love of New West. We write about New West issues as we discover them and share our learning process and opinions publicly in the hopes of fostering more public debate. We depend on the more informed citizens to share their knowledge with us when we err, through comments and guest posts. Thank you for that.

    You should know that you are also welcome to submit a guest post if you think we got it wrong. We hope to represent diverse opinions in New West, but as an amateur publication, what ends up published here is the thoughts of those who take the time to write down their opinions.



  18. I don’t live in New West anymore, and don’t have kids, but as someone who spent all my school days in New West (Spencer and NWSS) and lived in New West for 16 years, I hope my comments can add to this discussion and be taken as a sort of “impartial” view. I have no connection to this issue beyond my role as contributor to Tenth to The Fraser.

    As a population health researcher at UBC, I run several research studies that use surveys and manage data including 3,000 survey responses. I also create, validate and recruit participants for new surveys in our content area. I studied survey research in school and use it regularly at work.

    Although DPAC seems to have good intentions in this in this situation, my concern about this survey is that it doesn’t meet either of its suggested purposes: it doesn’t meet basic reliability criteria that would make its data useful, and its proposed purpose as a “conversation-starter” is clouded by packaging the message as a clearly biased survey.

    The data gathered by this survey cannot be used to make representative assumptions about the population it sampled because of the previously mentioned concerns about bias and double-barreled questions, and some even more troubling issues with how the survey sought responses and dealt with results. If it truly was intended only as a conversation-starter, then it is not a survey and its results should not be released as such. It is understandable that DPAC may not have had intended it to be “scientific,” however if this was the case, the results can’t be posted on the blog of a mainstream media source such as Nikki Hope’s Record blog as they are not accurate representations of any particular population and cannot be understood to be any more meaningful than if DPAC wrote the survey results themselves (note that I am not suggesting this is the case). It is unfortunate that this survey’s lack of clarity of purpose can only undermine DPAC’s credibility if it is left as is.

    In a political situation that is so obviously contentious, a survey distributed by a group with such an evident interest in its outcome depends upon an assurance that responses are genuine and relevant:
    – The survey was not restricted only to New West residents, to parents, or to parents of children in SD40. Coupled with its distribution on the web and a lack of a mechanism to prevent duplicate submissions means that there is no way to know whether responses were individual or by anyone related to New West. I filled it out (don’t worry, I indicated that it was a test!), and then opened a new browser window and was presented with another opportunity to fill it out again.
    – Of greatest concern for me is that the survey’s results were released by DPAC and have already been posted on the Royal City Record Education blog before the survey is closed. Two problems here: this early publication of results make the survey’s results vulnerable to tampering by those who don’t like the early responses (hence not representative of the population’s real opinion), and without a total number of responses (notice that the actual response number was not provided but percentages were) make it impossible to know whether the results were tabulated accurately, or whether they will change with more responses to the survey. In short, releasing the survey’s results before the survey is finished further invalidate any data resulting from it.

    I trust Will’s faith that New West’s DPAC prepared the survey with good intentions. My past experience with New West’s city committees also tells me that people go into organizations like DPAC because they want to make things better in their city. My concern is that this survey not only reflects poorly on DPAC and muddies the issue; it is also misleading and likely to influence this debate in a way that doesn’t properly reflect those who participated in it, and those it is supposed to represent.

    A final thought: I have always believed that if you offer criticism, you should offer a way to fix that which you criticize. I would like to offer my experience and skills in survey design to New Westminster’s DPAC if they would like to prepare a new survey. I’d be happy to volunteer my time on this matter because I think it’s an important issue with obviously important consequences for the community. I can be reached through info at tenthtothefraser dot ca.

    * (Note that I wasn’t at all involved in Will’s post and did not know he wrote it until after it was published.)

  19. Thanks Bobby.

    TTF is zero profit (almost zero revenue) so there is no legal team. With the important exception of mistaking Mr. Wolfe's status as a parent and his work on official reports that were posted <>, there were no errors. For the actual article itself, I stand by every word. Please review. I disparaged or maligned no one and no organization; I supported the organization and offered the benefit of the doubt even as I provided criticism on a particular aspect of the survey. I have done here what thousands of others have done before: offer even handed public comment on a community issue.

    Summary Quote form the article: "It is possible that their passion for the children of SD40 and frustration with the ongoing delay in school construction has just seeped into the survey. And I do think that DPAC should be pressuring the school board and provincial Ministry of Education to step up and own their responsibility to the students of this district."

    Considering the conciliatory tone of my post, I was surprised to have any heated attitudes in the comment section. I do not expect to be 'attacked' by anyone, unless that was a warning, but I don't think DPAC is the kind of organization that goes around kneecapping writers.

    Lastly, I refrained from personal attacks when provoked. I think others from DPAC, some who have commented here, get the idea that we are not opposed to them and are not critical of the group at all. We do not yet live in a country where a man needs legal representation to publicly dislike a couple of survey questions.

  20. Though Tenth To The Fraser has become a source of news for community of New Westminster, our claim is as diehard New Westminster fans with a personal interest in the city.

    Granted – it's always best to check into things but I'd like to point out that the only incorrect fact pointed out by Don was Will's comment to this post about Jim Wolfe – which Jim himself corrected and both Will and Briana acknowledged. Don, you mentioned there were other inaccuracies, what are you referring to?

    I read frequent support of DPAC, sympathy for their frustration, and desire to see things from their perspective that are cited here in the post and the comments on this post. While some may have hurt feelings that the survey wasn't received uncritically, I hope that someone involved in its creation could take the criticism in the spirit in which it was given – and even the offer for help in making it better.

    Let's face it, I think we all want a solution to this very difficult problem. I think we're all on the same side here, though we can all appreciate the fight that those currently involved have experienced.

    My motive here is not to break down the DPAC's effort, it's in the hope that DPAC could be successful in understanding how New West citizens feel about the issue, and in gathering support for their cause. I am sure TTTF would welcome a guest post from DPAC or any other interested group (as we have offered to other groups in the city).

  21. I would disagree with those who suggest that the data from this survey is not useful. I believe that just the opposite is true simply because it is so blatantly political. I think that the mere act of conducting a survey, (never-mind the results) is already raising the profile and urgency of this on-going New West school/city/prov.-issue. I also fully concur that the DPAC intentions and passion do reflect their strong commitment to the children of New Westminster.

    That said, some of the criticisms of the survey are, in my opinion, valid. If I were DPAC, in response to that kind of constructive criticism, and to avoid any confusion or unintended misrepresentation, I would think it imperative to make an overt disclaimer that the survey is NOT scientific. Similarly, it should be stated that the survey was open to all, that x-number of responses were received, and that the compiled results accurately represent the views of all respondents.

    Are you listening DPAC?

    P.S. I would also jump to take advantage of Jocelyn's generous offer to volunteer her expertise for this issue.

  22. Wow, Good conversation! Or should we call it a respectful pis—g match.

    I am a little disapointed in Jim Wolfs comment that he feels he can't speak his mind because he is a paid consultant..? Is that not why we pay so many millions to consultants in this city….for advice and he can't speak freely? Who is dictating his information. Certainly we do not pay him to "dig up" information on history without a final report on a solution. Or is that a different consultants job?

    DPAC reminds me of the concerned Community group "Voice New West" where they would make an attempt to offer solutions to problems and try to involve the community. The School District and the way it was functining was a major concern and still is today.

    Voice ran into the same Don's and Bobby O's as Will and his blog. This is normal but the sad part is most objections come from a particular political group which is locked in a mind set that reverberates over and over. "We Are Right and to hell with all else".

    The damning comment during or before the last election was a comment made by the Mayor,"the Line is Drawn in the Sand" Well the line in the sand has deepened and Voice will continue to go along with improvements and lobbying for a better community. And, like DPAC and other groups, they will force both the School District and the City to make the right decision. If not we know where th ballot boxes are, and don't allow this political group tell you how to vote.

    I truly hope this school issue will resolved to the betterment of all. It will take a Mayor and council with guts to make a decision without referring to staff and consultants. You can't make music all can dance to so I suggest the Mayor get some balls and get it over with.

  23. Will, I have to agree with Don on this one, you need to research and be more careful what you post. Don’s comments might have been harsh to you however they were accurate. Keep in better contact with your lawyer and researcher when making such comments in the future. As for this DPAC well done!! It is long over due, you should be thanking them not attacking.

  24. Respectfully, Honest John, I disagree with you that it will take “guts” or “balls” to resolve the deep-rooted issues affecting the education of today’s and tomorrow’s New Westminster school children. To meet the needs of New Westminster now, and in the future, requires a unique combination of collective integrity and political will. I, for one, am keeping my fingers crossed because of the grass-roots actions of community volunteer groups like DPAC and I commend them for their leadership efforts towards effecting a positive outcome for children, and indeed, for all of us. Keep going DPAC! Personally, I think you are on the right track! Rally to let the decision-makers know that this issue is important and needs immediate action!

  25. Just caught Margot Barton's interview on CBC Radio's "on the coast" with Steven Quinn (Friday March 19th 310pm, 88.1FM). Short Sweet to the point: onus on council to do something…. what, I do not know.

    My idea? Scan for bodies. Dig them up. Build a 3 floor school and a memorial garden. Make room for school board offices within the building. Keep Mercer Stadium, keep Moody Park, keep Massey Theater.

    Build a smaller high school in Qbro. No new middle schools. Renovate existing elementary schools if neccessary. Add permanent class rooms to Tweeds and other crowded schools.

    I reserve the right to change my mind.

  26. To Will;

    You should consider running for trustee on that platform. I would not only vote for you, I would campaign for you!

    To the Parents;

    Go DPAC! Go!!

    Good things can happen when hearts and minds are in the right place!

    To Tenth to the Fraser;

    Yes, please — conduct a survey on this issue!

  27. Parent survey ‘flawed,’ local bloggers say
    Niki Hope, The Record
    Published: Saturday, March 20, 2010

    Thanks guys maybe the PACS could all have a bake sale then they could hire Jocelyn, Will and Briana to do another survey. You people have no idea what these parents and children have been through in this district for the last 12 years, you are doing more harm than good! Jocelyn you stated you don’t even live in New Westminster. Will and Briana are you trying to do here? Maybe you both should attend a few PAC meetings before you share any more of your expert knowledge or are you just doing this for free publicity for your blog, either way you are NOT helping the cause!
    I hope I see you at the rally!!

  28. I attended the DPAC rally today and was supprised that District experts Will Briana and Jocelyn did not bother to show up. These three are as bad as the city who also failed to show up! You got your story in the paper Will now kindly keep your uninformed comments to your self unless you properly research them.

  29. Don: Jocelyn grew up in New West and visits often. She commented here only to share her expertise in survey methodology, as she is a researcher by trade. As mentioned in the comments here and in Niki Hope’s article, Jocelyn has generously volunteered to support DPAC in preparing a more credible survey for free. No bake sale required. As for Will and I, we have stated here several times already that we are not opposing DPAC in fighting for better conditions for the students of our district. Will’s comments were specific to the choice of tactic used by DPAC (specifically the structure of the questions used in the survey).

    Bobby O: Will and I were already committed to volunteer at the Farmer’s Market all day today, so we were unable to attend the rally. Also, as we have stated here, we make no claims whatsoever to be experts on school politics in this district. Will’s post was about the survey questions only. Also, it may bear mentioning that we did not contact the Record about this story. Niki Hope contacted Will and Jocelyn for comment without any solicitation from us.

  30. “without any solicitation from us” really Briana! looks to me like you went to her for some free advertising for your expert blog, you forget all the comments you left on the record blog. Its a shame you didn’t take 10 minutes out of your busy morning (you were only a block away) and come and meet some of the concerned parents. I know you folks have upset some parents with some of your remarks. It would have been very educational for you and you might have even learned some thing about what all the kids and parents have been going through for the last 12 years.

  31. To Don and Bobby O: When did this get so personal? The article stated that the author supports DPAC. You support DPAC. You're on the same team. They were just letting us know that the survey was not scientifically solid. I think that's fair.

  32. Hi Will I took the folowing off the Vancouver sun blog. Who do you think should be responsible and accountable for what happened on the NWSS/Cemetery site? Why is the city not communicating with the DPAC while three diferent Ministers are?

    "Speaking of logjams I understand SD40 DPAC is now in direct communication with 3 different ministers on the high school/cemetery fiasco. Is it true the city of New Westminster refuses to communicate on this issue?"

    TTTF: Note, we will be closing comments on this post March 31

  33. On behalf of the right to freedom of expression, with no intention of belittling the issues faced by parents and students, I wish to voice my support for those that scrutinize and discuss.

    As Voltaire said, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."

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