Comments to Board about Sibling Priority Inclusion in Policy – Jacqueline Dockray

November 23rd, 2010 – Comments to Board about Sibling Priority Inclusion in Policy, Jacqueline Dockray, École College Heights Elementary Parent

I would like to speak about the proposed changes to policy 5119 that are presently available to parents and the community for input.

First and foremost, the proposed changes have been published without a background or a rationale.  This means that many people will be unable to understand the grounds for the changes or indeed the context under which the proposed wording has been developed.

Secondly, the proposed policy does not include definitions for important words that are crucial to its correct interpretation.  For example, the word “entitled” seems to mean something different to the Board and District than the definition given in the dictionary.

Unfortunately, only those who are present at the Board Meetings for the discussion around the policy or who read the minutes (that are, by necessity, much less detailed) will get any context for what is proposed.  This is a major frustration and shortcoming in this important process and needs to be addressed for future policy discussions.  I’ll put my full thoughts to the Board and District in writing; I appreciate the opportunity and encourage all families to do the same.  I do want to urge people, however, to ask for clarification on anything they do not understand, and perhaps the Board can give some of that clarification at the December 7th meeting.

At this point, I would like to focus on an issue that I feel, and many of us feel, is crucial to the well-being and success of our children in our schools, and that is the issue about which our sub-committee met with you on April 28th of this year – the lack of policy around siblings when registering in kindergarten.

I would like to draw your minds back to the 60-day consultation period around the proposed school closures and reorganizations that we all suffered through at the beginning of the year and the many heartfelt presentations you listened to during that process.  I do not recall one person who stood up at those meetings who did not talk about the importance of families and communities in their passionate discourse about their local school.

Families invest in schools as families.  Not once in the decisions that families make about the school their children will attend do they even consider that they may have to place each of their children in different schools.  In fact, this is so contrary to what people believe and feel is right, and know is common sense, that parents don’t even investigate policies around this issue.  They assume that something so basic and necessary would be a shared value in a school district. Some parents have questioned it in the past at choice schools, but most don’t – they just assume that once their child/family is in the program, their entire family will be embraced as committed members of that choice program.  Up until March 30th of this year, that was the accepted practice at choice programs/schools.

As you heard over and over again in the school closure consultation period, parents told you that communities are stable because of the presence of community schools in which families invest.  Multi-generations are supported in these viable, vibrant and stable communities making the investment that families make in a community worthwhile and beneficial to all in the long-term.

You also heard that children learn and develop through three overlapping “spheres of influence”:  family, school, and community.  The benefits of parental/caregiver involvement in a child’s education are integral to successful academic performance and improved attitudes towards school.

Families invest in schools as a whole.  Parents get involved as volunteers: on the PAC, in fundraising for playgrounds, attending and helping out with field trips and sports activities, volunteering in class, keeping an eye out for the safety of all children, and in many other small ways that make a huge difference to their own children and to the entire school population.

How will the lack of sibling priority in policy affect families?   Families may be faced with taking their children to two or more schools.  Amongst the other reasons why this is ridiculous, if parents have their children attending separate schools, the investment they can practically make in these schools will be reduced by at least half.  If parental involvement goes down, the types of opportunities that our children will have for full and satisfying academic, cultural and social experiences at school will be reduced.   Academic performance will be negatively impacted, and attitudes towards school may be soured.

Younger siblings are naturally supported by their older siblings in schools.  Indeed, parental involvement with the first child exposes siblings to the school environment well before school entry age and makes for a much more comfortable initiation for subsequent children into the school.  Siblings learn about and gain a positive attitude about school-learning that has been fostered by their older sibling’s experience at family-supported schools.  If children cannot attend the same school, they risk missing out on the valuable support of older siblings and of parents due to lack of time.

Private and Catholic Schools seem to understand the importance of families very well.  They understand that the investment they make in families is for the long-term, not the short term.  Siblings get priority at these schools, and usually with reduced tuition.  And you may argue that it is about the money.  However, each School District, as has been made painfully clear to us, is funded on a per pupil basis.  If those with the means choose to move to a private school that understands the importance of family investment, those dollars are lost to the public school system and the stability of public schools in our district will be seriously undermined.

No family in this city expects to have to take their children to different schools because of lack of available space.  But, because of the apparent lack of support for families shown in this revised policy, many families will be faced with this reality when more schools close in this district.  And, as remaining schools are filled up with children from closed schools, these policies will functionally come into effect, and those who aren’t aware of the policy, will find themselves in the awful situation that parents at ECHE found themselves in this last April.  This is not just an ECHE issue!  This issue affects everyone!

We have racked our brains and simply cannot understand what is the piece of the puzzle that we, the parents, are missing that would help us to understand why you so clearly do not want to support siblings and families in this district?  The right vs. right argument discussed at the previous Board meeting suggests that parents are unable to, or incapable of, looking forward and seeing how a first-come-first-served approach to kindergarten registration will impact their families as soon as their next child goes to school.

This Board needs to decide what its basic philosophy is around public schools and education, and then communicate that philosophy to us.   If you consider an isolated child as the most important basis of the education system, then this policy, as put forward, will, perhaps, serve a few students in an incredibly unsupported way.  If you, however, value the community in which you live and value stability within Prince George, you have to look at each student as a nexus with families, families that are the underlying scaffold that support the public education system.  What sort of continuity or stability will you have in any school if you have families divided?  It makes no sense whatsoever!

We have just been through a period of major upheaval in this district.  What signal do you, as a Board want to send out to families about stability in the public education system in Prince George?  Families and students are looking for a message from you that we can now move forward. Supporting sibling priority is in itself a symbol or indication of long-term stability and commitment to schools.  The first-come-first served alternative would be a move backward to instability and upheaval.   Now is the time for the Board to send a clear message about what its commitments are.  Please let us know that you support families by including sibling priority in the policy for ALL schools.

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