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Parents rally to save aboriginal school in Vancouver

VSB also closing Maquinna Annex

Parents worried about the closing of Sir William Macdonald elementary held a rally last Thursday. They don’t want the aboriginal focus school there discontinued.

Macdonald elementary is one of the schools identified for closure in a recently released report commissioned by the Minister of Education.

Special adviser EY’s report states 68 students were enrolled at Macdonald in 2014-2015, meaning it was only at 25 per capacity. The report notes the school on East Hastings Street near Victoria Drive is rated as high risk in the case of an earthquake, but it remains unfunded for seismic mitigation. In 2010, the Vancouver School board projected annual savings of $275,000 if Macdonald was closed.

Diana Day, co-vice chair of the District Parent Advisory Council and a speaker at the rally, says of 35 of 70 students enrolled at Macdonald attend the aboriginal focus school. The focus school welcomes students of all backgrounds and the only kindergarten class in the school is part of the aboriginal focus school.

Curtis Clearsky of the Aboriginal Focus School’s Parent Advisory Committee sent a letter to the VSB June 17 asserting the board has made minimal effort to support the success of the program.

The Aboriginal Focus School PAC held a related press conference June 23. The press release states the PAC wants the VSB to commit immediately to prevent the closure of the aboriginal focus school, dedicate money to further develop the succession of the school together with aboriginal families and the community.

Day doesn’t believe the VSB would terminate the aboriginal focus school. She was heartened to see the VSB’s superintendent and trustees from all three parties attend the rally.

Day noted parents from outside the neighbourhood and the district send their children to the focus school because it’s the only one of its kind.

The aboriginal focus school accommodates students in kindergarten to Grade 4. Day wants an aboriginal focus school for secondary students.

“Once kids switch to Grade 5, they’re pushed out into the mainstream schools and it’s not always culturally safe for them. Although there are some changes, it’s not fast, and we’re still losing kids in Grades 7, 8 and 9,” she said. “There were 251 aboriginal youth last year in alternative programs in Vancouver.”

The VSB says it isn’t currently discussing closing Macdonald. Jen Hill, community engagement coordinator, told the Courier school and district staff have been in touch with the PAC to discuss members’ concerns.

Hill noted the VSB created the aboriginal focus school as part of its ongoing development of programs that contribute to the academic success and positive self-esteem through cultural awareness for aboriginal students as part of its Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement.

The Courier could not reach Clearsky for comment.


Annex axed

The Vancouver School Board is closing Maquinna Annex for a savings of $154,080.

The annex at East Fourth Avenue and Renfrew Street has seen declining enrolment for years, with 109 students in 2008-2008 and 29 in 2014-2015.

Parents could send their children to the annex or Chief Maquinna elementary on East Second Avenue near Slocan Street for Grade 3.

In early March, 34 students were enrolled at the annex. Then parents transferred children to the main school, decreasing enrolment at the annex to 22 by the end of April.

“After discussion with school and district administration about the educational and social opportunities available at the main school compared to the annex, parents of all remaining students ultimately chose to have their children attend the main school next year,” the June 17 report states.

Staff from the annex will be employed elsewhere in the district. The StrongStart Early Learning Centre at the annex is moving to Maquinna elementary.

The VSB hasn’t decided how to use the annex in the future. The report states the board hasn’t closed the school under the official definition of the School Act. Options for the building will be considered in the VSB’s Long Range Strategic Facilities Plan.


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