Enjoy Those New Schools, Surrey

I hope they are filled with learning and community.

Last Friday, Christy Clark, Minister of Education Mike Bernier, and other political mucky-mucks went to Panorama Park Elementary School in Surrey (cynical me points out the school is in a Liberal riding) to announce a $100 million dollar investment into six Surrey schools to add 2,700 student spaces for fast-growing Surrey. From the news section on the Ministry’s website: “Families are making a choice to call Surrey home – and that’s driving incredible growth along with our strong economy,” said the Premier. “We’ve worked together with the Surrey school district to identify key projects and move them ahead quickly to make sure as many classrooms as possible are built for Surrey families and students.” Apparently this work also “builds on the 1,870 seats already under construction in Surrey.”

Truthfully, I have friends with children in the Surrey school system or who work there and I’m glad for them. I’ve heard of their overcrowding with portables taking up sports fields. Surrey’s population growth *is* incredible. In preparing for this post, I was reading a report that the United Way of the Lower Mainland prepared indicating Surrey’s population had nearly doubled in the last two decades, and that was 5 years ago. That’s bonkers.

By comparison, New Westminster’s population was 43,585 in 1991 and in 2011 had risen to 65,976, a difference of 22,391 (source: Stats Canada). So we’ve grown too, but not necessarily as large a percentage as Surrey.  But Surrey is also much bigger – 300 square kilometres bigger – (316.4 compared to 15.63 square kilometres), and isn’t as developed as New Westminster. People can choose what neighbourhood they opt to move into in Surrey – sometimes into neighbourhoods that didn’t exist 5 years ago. The Surrey School Board lists 25 different secondary schools on their website. TWENTY FIVE.

New Westminster has a single high school.

I have heard over and over from New Westminster trustees how “we need to be patient”, and “an announcement is imminent”, and assurances that Minister Mike Bernier is “a very nice guy working hard for us”. From the Minister himself, I have heard him say that New Westminster’s high school is a priority.

But I noticed this weekend that there has also been a subtle but important language change: the project went from being “the number one priority” to “a top priority”. Further, Minister Bernier is now commenting that concerns from First Nations and Chinese communities about possible burial sites need to be addressed. For more than a decade – yes, that’s right, a DECADE – the District and the Ministry have been well aware of what’s going on under the ground.

Seriously, you guys. We’ve dealt with this. Local Barb Adamski said it best for me on Twitter the other day:

I am losing faith, New West. I feel this community’s kids are at risk because of a bunch of adults are acting like children. I truly do believe the New Westminster school district trustees are working hard, and are as frustrated as I am, but they don’t control the purse strings. What I think is happening here is that New Westminster is being punished because we didn’t vote for a Liberal MLA.

As an aside, I have met Christy Clark, once, in her first few years in office. Despite my public political opinions, I was invited to a “Women in Business” event at her office. There were some modest catered snacks and beverages, and she was quite nice and easy-going with the crowd of women, who were mostly elbowing each other to get closer and have some one-on-one time with her. She made a few light hearted jokes about parenting and being a business woman that I laughed at, but I could tell this wasn’t really an event for me and I didn’t feel the need to work my way through the crowd to speak to her personally. I was too suburban, too politically left, too… skeptical. So I decided to reduce the number of warm bodies in that crowded room and excuse myself. As I was saying my goodbyes and thanks to the staff that had extended the invitation to me, Christy Clark happened to walk by. She shook my hand warmly, asked me about my kids, and wanted to know about my business. The exchange took less than two minutes, but I walked out of there feeling like I had perhaps misjudged her.

There are no such rosy feelings now. Since that day, I have become completely angered over let down after let down, like a stack of blocks one by one by one. I have never been so furious with “the government” ever before in my life.

Maybe our community didn’t donate enough to her topped up salary? Or perhaps our NDP MLA – who I voted for, support, and think is doing a bang up job representing New West – is far too orange for us to get the school we’ve been waiting for for over a decade. Besides, Clark’s privileged son is safe in his $20,000 a year private school, so does the condition that suburban public school children are learning in really matter?

Every day, children in this community and the incredible district staff are subjected to very real risks: hantavirus, asbestos-related diseases, lead poisoning, black mould, and others. And it’s not just the high school, either. Other schools in our community are depending upon this announcement. Two elementary schools are seismically at risk. FW Howay and Richard McBride Elementary (check out the entry for McBride – it notes that the mitigation should start in 2014 – ha ha) are sitting around waiting for the announcement of the new high school so that our other capital projects can get going. To be clear, I have heard different stories on this: our former Superintendent made it clear that the announcements on the elementary schools were absolutely waiting on the high school, other district staff say they are “unrelated”. I maintain that a funding announcement of a New Westminster elementary school before the high school would likely cause a riot. 

Last night, a few of the New West twitter folks had a chat about this. Brad Cavanagh said something that really stuck with me. 


It *is* such a shame! Why am I managing feelings of anger about this and having to remind myself that Surrey needs schools, too? Why am I so angry and cynical with a government and talking about home schooling my child? Our children have a right to a safe, heathy learning environment, and it is clear that this government disagrees.

So, Surrey, I get it that you needed schools. I get it that you are suffering from horrific overcrowding in your schools and that you really needed this announcement. Good on you, and congrats. Enjoy those schools. I hope they are filled with learning, community, and social connections.

But here in New West, enough is enough. Things have got to change. I urge you to join the Rebuild NWSS Now Facebook page and get involved. Surrey families took their plight to Victoria, and I think we have to start putting the pressure on. The BC Legislature doesn’t sit again till October. But we need to get organized now.

 

 

 

 

Jen Arbo

Jen Arbo is the editor and co-publisher of Tenth to the Fraser. She's been writing for the site since 2007 and lives in Sapperton with her family. A project manager at heart, she also operates Hyack Interactive, a digital communications company. Find her on Twitter or Instagram.

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5 comments

  1. As Brad suggests, there’s a handy bit of ‘divide and conquer’ going on here. If you limit the funding such that not everybody can get a school, the districts will spend most of their time fighting each other to prove that they’re more worthy, instead of fighting their own individual cases purely on their merits.

    Those politicians don’t get where they are by being nice and buying people cookies.

    1. You make a good point. Am I a total idiot for wanting to believe they could at least follow through on what they say they’ll do?

  2. This is comparing apples and oranges. It is impossible to compare the growth and needs of the Surrey school district with other school districts. Do I think the New Wesr high school needs replacing? Absolutely. But as a teacher in Surrey who has been teaching in a district where BRAND NEW Schools open with 4-6 portables taking up the play areas, something is wrong. Population growth is very different from student growth. If we did a demographic study of how many new school aged children were coming into the New West district each year compared to Surrey, you would see why Surrey needs new schools. We get 100’s of new students EVERY YEAR. Kids move to Surrey into their shiny new townhouse and need to go across town to go to school because their catchment school is full. And full is full. Like no extra rooms. I know of one school where a classroom was made out of a boiler room. Where the kids had to carry their supplies in bins around from the boiler room to the library to the computer lab. Surrey has been lacking space for a decade, and FINALLY the government is building some new schools.

    I don’t agree at all with this comparison. At least kids have schools and classrooms in New West.

    1. First, I can only imagine the stress that this puts on you every day at your job. I think teachers are amazing people. Second, I wasn’t trying to make a comparison. I did look at the Stats Can numbers for growth of people aged 15-19 and the comparison was actually really similar so I didn’t call it out. I also didn’t compare the 6-12 year old range as I am talking specifically about high school aged children for New Westminster. There is an obvious need in both districts, for different reasons, and Surrey has been fortunate enough to get their need fulfilled before New West. I’m fairly certain it has a lot to do with the fact that Surrey is a Liberal community and New Westminster is NDP. What I am suggesting with this post is that I’m tired of hearing that NWSS is the “top priority” when clearly, it’s not. This isn’t a case of “no fair, Surrey doesn’t deserve it”, this is a case of “I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to want my child to go to high school in a school that isn’t full of asbestos, lead paint, with rats and mice and seismic problems.” I can’t pick up and move to another neighbourhood or even cart my kid across town to another school. This is my only choice aside from home schooling. I happen to be fortunate enough to work from home so that’s a very legitimate possibility for us, but for many families, it isn’t an option. So what’s worse? Overcrowding or a near-condemned building? I say both suck. I’m advocating for my home community and my child’s education. (edited to add a word that I removed by accident).

  3. Well said Jen. Being a Surrey School District employee (retiring very soon) I am happy for Surrey, but was very disheartened last Friday when the announcement was made. Parents in New West have the right to be outraged.

    While out knocking on doors for my campaign for Trustee in SD40 the number one topic I am asked about is the NWSS replacement. Parents are bitter and frustrated.

    I have heard from families whose children were suppose to be the first graduating class of the new NWSS but these children are all now 27. I have met families that send kids to schools in Burnaby because they don’t want their kids at NWSS, even though NWSS has some of the best programs for students. I have met families that are moving out of New West.

    Keep up the pressure, keep up the fight. Now more than ever parents need to be vocal over this. No way should New Westminster students be punished for living in a NDP riding.

    I question if the Minister of Finance or Minister of Education wants to make this an election issue. It is not fair that the funding for the new school is on hold when it was promised to be a “number one priority!”

    New Westminster has been let down one more time!

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