Boundary MLA leads provincial study of rural education; open house planned

This review will explore rural school funding and educational practices, as well as the role educational programs and schools play in rural communities across the province.
This review will explore rural school funding and educational practices, as well as the role educational programs and schools play in rural communities across the province.

The future of rural education is being investigated online with the Boundary’s MLA at the helm as the province tries to develop a new education strategy for areas outside its major urban areas.

Led by Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson — Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Education — an online discussion about the meaning and the future of rural education is now winding down, but an open house will be staged in Trail on Feb. 24 (6-8 p.m., site yet to be determined) to gather more feedback.

Larson said she is looking for more input from people and interested stakeholders to provide a range of different perspectives on the challenges and opportunities facing rural school districts and communities when it comes to delivering, and maintaining, rural education.

“This review will explore rural school funding and educational practices, as well as the role educational programs and schools play in rural communities across the province,” Larson said in her online message.

She added that she would be using the regional meeting to discuss what she has been hearing “face-to-face” so far in the months the online discussion has taken place with those who attend the open house.

There are seven school districts in the Kootenay-Boundary and Columbia basin region, with just over 100 rural schools. Last year at least six schools in the region were threatened with closure in Nelson and area, with Rossland losing two schools three years ago, as well as Castlegar losing one.

Larson noted that everyone is welcome to attend the event in Trail, with the first 30-45 minutes of each meeting set up as an open house format. She will hold a more formal question and answer format for the remaining portion of the meeting.

Larson was tasked with the project of developing a rural education strategy through a website — which started in the summer of 2016 — and was asked to work with the education sector, the public and community stakeholder groups — as well as Donna Barnett, the minister of State for Rural Economic Development — to create a rural education strategy by the summer of 2017.

The first phase of the engagement, which included an online discussion and a technical survey, received a total of 270 comments but is now closed as of Jan. 9, 2017. People can still read the archived online discussion. The online discussion took place under the topics of four questions:

Discussion 1: What is your definition of a rural school?

Discussion 2: What are the positive impacts in the community?

Discussion 3: How are schools being used?

Discussion 4: Share your rural education story.

The next phase is to receive stakeholder submissions by Jan. 31, 2017. These will also be posted to the website once received.

In late winter (or early spring) a summary paper will be posted to the engagement website for further public and stakeholder comment.

Larson explained that all comments, surveys and submissions received will be reviewed and a final report, with recommendations for the future, will be released near the end of the current school year.

“The final report coming out of this will include recommendations for the future, with a focus on the unique challenges facing rural school districts and recognizing the economic, social and cultural impact that schools have on small communities,” she said.

If people are unable to attend the open house, they may comment on a draft discussion paper posted online (http://engage.gov.bc.ca/ruraleducation) in the coming weeks and can also submit feedback by email to Rural.Education@gov.bc.ca.

Student progress report

In addition, a new parent-engagement process has been launched by the province to better understand how parents want to be informed of their student's success from kindergarten to Grade 9.  People can participate in this process by visiting http://engage.gov.bc.ca/yourkidsprogress.

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