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BCTF Advantage

Teacher Newsmagazine   Volume 23, Number 1, September 2010  

In memorium: John Church 

By Gary Onstad  

John Church was a teacher, writer, curriculum developer, school trustee, and strong supporter of public education.

He earned a BA in history and after teacher training took a Master of Arts degree in history. He taught at elementary and secondary schools in Prince Rupert, Langley, and Vancouver where he was social studies department head for 10 years at Gladstone Secondary School.

In 1964, John Church joined the Professional Development Division of the BCTF. He took a leave of absence to be a representative of the UBC Faculty of Education in a CIDA-sponsored teacher training project in Tanzania in 1968. There, Church established a teachers’ resource centre and taught social, science, and history methods courses to prospective secondary school teachers. On his return to Canada, he wrote an extensive school library study, “Personalized Learning.” This led to the establishment of demonstration school library projects in Vernon and Vancouver from 1970 to 1975. In addition to his interest in school libraries, Church wrote positively about the curriculum development model that gave teachers a significant role in the process. He was a key player as teachers gained direct and shared sponsorship of curriculum revision.

In the late 1970s, Church was a consultant with the Canada Studies Foundation and chair of the board of Project Canada West. This successful curriculum development project involved 14 teams of teachers and students in four western provinces. The project produced uniquely Canadian curriculum—one of Church’s professional passions. He felt strongly that the traditional British and more recent American influences needed to be balanced with Canadian points of view.

Church’s service to education was recognized in 1982 when he was awarded the GA Fergusson Award, the highest honour granted by the BCTF. The following year, he was granted Honourary Life membership in the Federation. He was also an Honourary Life member of the BC School Teacher-Librarians Association and the New Democratic Party.

Education was a high priority for both John and his wife Shirley Church. She was division head of English and modern languages at Langara campus of Vancouver Community College. They were articulate, perceptive, intelligent members of the education community.

In November 1984, John Church was nominated by COPE to run for Vancouver School Board in a campaign labelled “The school wars.” After years of Social Credit restraint and cutbacks, COPE presented a platform of “No More Cuts!” Vancouver voters responded by upsetting the incumbent and compliant NPA Board and electing a COPE majority. Church chaired the important Education and Student Services Committee.

When the board submitted a “needs” budget $14 million over what the government decreed, the entire school board was fired. But to Church’s delight, in the by-election the government was forced to call, COPE swept all nine seats. The cutbacks were never made.

John Church continued his work in education long after he retired. We will all miss his vision, comprehension, and tenacity. Much of his life was dedicated to support for the importance of public education and we will always honour and respect his efforts in the ongoing struggle. 

Gary Onstad is a retired Vancouver teacher.  

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