||Volume 10, Number 1, September 1997|
by Barb Parrott
Our struggle was long. It started in October 1995 and ended in May 1997 when the Vancouver School Board agreed to provide additional staff to address the needs of the students at Sir William Macdonald Elementary School.
Teachers at Macdonald, an inner-city school in the north-east of Vancouver, met to discuss the desperate unmet needs of our students.
The first step was for every teacher to keep a diary for a designated week. We shared these diaries of incredibly compelling stories of events in our students’ lives for the week and the significant effects that these had on their behaviour. Our area’s assistant superintendent was deeply moved.
Teachers agreed to be diligent in demanding the services that our collective agreement required.
During the 1995–96 school year, our school underwent accreditation. We defined as a goal a minimum of two trained adults in every classroom. The external team unanimously supported this.
The year before we had completed a “Dynamic Assessment” on all our students. The assessment showed that our students could learn, could be excited by learning, but usually did not have the skills or strategies necessary to make progress. We decided to use this information in a major brief to the school board. Our two learning-assistance teachers reviewed the achievement levels of all our students in a number of areas.
We presented the brief to the board. We asked for a pilot project at Macdonald that would provide an additional trained person in every enrolling class. Parents assisted in the presentation. The board thanked us.
As a result of the inaction by the VSB and the escalating problems at Macdonald, the executive of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association (VESTA) declared Macdonald a “school in crisis.” We withdrew our association representatives to many district committees.
The superintendent requested an immediate meeting with our three full-time table officers. We again presented our concerns. The entire staff was present and introduced themselves to the array of assembled trustees and senior management. The board responded by providing, until June, one additional support staff person for the entire school. Not good enough!
VESTA, with the financial assistance of the BCTF, hired a community organizer. Mel Lehan worked with parents to assist them with strategies and tactics that might successfully result in more support for their children. Parents, staff, and VESTA representatives again met with the board and officials from various ministries, but there was no response from the VSB.
April 2, 1997
In frustration, a group of parents set up a camp on the lawn of the school-board offices and resolved to stay until the needs of their children had been met. They were there for 40 days!
Lana Wright, a parent, decided to walk from Prince Rupert to Vancouver to raise awareness, not just of the unmet needs of the students at Macdonald, but for all other inner-city schools and First Nations children. She began her walk on April 12 and arrived back at Macdonald on June 14.
During this period, most of the teachers and many parents were interviewed on radio, appeared on TV, or were quoted in newspapers. The parents’ camp was covered in every local paper, on all Vancouver TV stations, in various union and other newsletters, and even in The Globe and Mail.
As a result of these concerted and co-ordinated actions, the VSB agreed to continue the January to June alternate program worker, and to provide two additional teachers and two additional support staff workers for at least the 1997–98 school year. Through the co-ordination efforts of the VSB, various ministries and community groups are committed to continue addressing the problems by such actions as developing and locating programs at Macdonald School or in the Macdonald neighbourhood.
It may not be perfect, but all involved believe it’s a considerable victory for our students. We hope our efforts can be used to help other teachers and parents address their “in crisis” schools, too.
Barb Parrott is VESTA 1st vice-president, a member-at-large on the BCTF Executive, and a teacher at Macdonald Elementary School, Vancouver.