A telephone press conference was held August 29th, 2007 with Education Minister Shirley Bond and journalists from Northern B.C. Communities. The goal of the conference was to allow the voices of Northern B.C to ask questions pertaining to the upcoming school year. Minister Bond stated as she travels across the province to northern and rural communities, she is realizing there needs to be more time to talk and connect with these communities to hear their questions and to listen to their needs.
As we head into a new school year, Minister Bond commented that there are priorities that the Ministry of Education will be focusing on over the next couple of years. Student achievement, the needs of students, an aggressive healthy school agenda, literacy, the early years and how important they are, will all be areas of focus.
Declining enrollment and the effect it may have on new school projects was a concern in Prince George. Minister Bond stated the issue of declining enrollment across the province has brought forth the need to revisit projects in order to ensure that ?we?re not building building?s we don?t need?. If the new school is necessary, then it will be built.
Regardless of declining enrollment, Minister Bond said the B.C. Government is committed to an ongoing increase in funding. There has been almost 20% increase in funding since 2000/2001 even though there has been a loss of 50,000 students. School District 82, Coast Mountain School District, has been hit particularly hard in declining enrollment, a bad economy and an increase in teacher layoffs. Even with these hardships, Minister Bond said there is still an increase in funding going to this district in the 2007/2008 school year.
Bill 20: the School(Student Achievement Enabling) Amendment Act 2007, addresses quality, choice and accountability in order to improve student achievement throughout B.C. As a result of Bill 20, Superintendents of Achievements will be appointed my Minister Bond. Rick Davis and Marion Turner have been appointed as Superintendents of Achievement as of press time. The remainder two have not been finalized. Minister Bond said that these Superintendents will not be attached to a specific school board. They will be collaborating and consulting with school boards across the province. They will work with school boards to support student achievement, early learning programs and literacy plans.
Teacher retention in the north is also a concern with several school districts. Attracting teachers to Northern BC is the easy part. Retaining them is a lot more work. Minister Bond shared that the Ministry is contemplating a loan forgiveness program for teachers, if not for all , then for specialty teachers. She also said there is a rural school strategy in place in order to address the issue of teacher retention, especially in rural communities. The contract in place at this time does reflect some issues with teachers in remote areas, with extra money for teachers in these communities.
The Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) is a groundbreaking agreement between B.C. and Alberta. Minister Bond stated this agreement between B.C. and Alberta will help to create a shared criteria for teachers of these two provinces. This will enable teachers to move across borders without the need for certification renewal in their new province of choice.
The new school year will be busy with new legislation, Bill 20, and new goals of the Ministry of Education. Minister Bond promises she will connect with northern communities more often to hear their voices and address concerns of the north and rural areas. The declining enrollment across the province will be an issue until 2015 according to Minister Bond. The promise of continuing increases of funding and the focus on student achievement this year will be welcomed by all.