Letter 2- Concerned Parents of Area V Mandarin Bilingual Program
Letter 2- Concerned Parents of Area V Mandarin Bilingual Program
November 9th , 2016
Director, Area V
Director, Planning and Transportation
Dear Ms. Smith and Ms. Edwards:
Thank-you for meeting with Midnapore parents on November 1, 2016. In that meeting the CBE acknowledged that it did not provide any opportunity for parents of the Mandarin Bilingual Program – South to dialogue with the CBE prior to its decision not to site a Mandarin Bilingual junior high program in the South (despite its earlier commitments and representation through program open-houses, communications by the principal, individual parent conversations and letter correspondence). As you confirmed at the meeting on November 1, 2016, beginning next year any students graduating from grade 6 in the Bilingual South Program must bus to the North of the City (currently Colonel Irvine) if the student wishes to continue with the junior high portion of the program that the student (and the student’s parents) invested in for many years in support of the CBE developing this alternative language program in the South.
Rather than engaging parents in a dialogue that ensured parents had the “opportunity to be heard, to share their perspectives and to participate in decisions that affect them” (taken from CBE’s purported Dialogue Process), the CBE presented parents with a high level presentation (leaving more questions than answers) on what the CBE sees as its challenges and preventative factors in opening a junior high program at this time, or any time unless and until the program at Midnapore can produce between 40 to 50 grade 7 students ready to attend junior high. This is in addition to the requirement that there be space at the time of such numbers and, the requisite number of qualified staff (which for the CBE’s is an undue challenge on its own).
Rather than affording parents an opportunity to ask direct questions of the CBE in order to test and better understand some of the assumptions and conclusions made by the CBE in its presentation, parents were ushered into “talking groups” hosted by CBE consultants and asked to comment on points from the CBE’s presentation. Any further comments or questions parents had could subsequently be stuck on a wall by post-it note or emailed to the CBE. The Concerned Parents of Midnapore do not view this as engagement but rather as the CBE telling parents about its view, trying to justify its decision and now communicate its current “requirements” before any junior high program could ever be proceed in the South. This experience has left many parents feeling even more insignificant, powerless and frustrated than before the meeting, on a topic that is of central importance to their lives, namely the education of their children, including the long-term viability and realistic continued access into the alternative language program they have already invested in.
On this basis, and on the basis that the CBE did not follow its own dialogue process before coming to its decision, the Concerned Parents of Midnapore respectfully ask that the CBE reconsider its decision to only house a junior high program in the North, as set out in its Scenarios 1, 2 or 3 for Areas I and II and begin a proper consultation process with the parents of the Mandarin Bilingual program in the South.
The Concerned Parents of Midnapore reject the CBE’s decision not to site a Mandarin junior high program in the South and seek to be involved in meaningful engagement with respect to this issue.
The parents take issue with a number of points raised by the CBE in its November 1, 2016, including:
Midnapore School K-6 space to 2021
The parents question whether Midnapore School really has the physical space (and by space parents are trusting the CBE was thinking of proper classrooms and not adjunct space) to house a K-6 program until 2021, as represented by the Area V Director. While there was a rough student head-count calculated to make this representation, the number of classrooms that would be necessary was not taken into account. By our calculation space at Midnapore to 2021 would require 26 classrooms to be available by at least the fall of 2019 based on the current trend of Midnapore currently having 2 classes for each grade in the K-3 Mandarin program and the K-3 Regular Program (taking into consideration that Kindergarten only uses 2 classes on account of its ½ day schedule). We understand Midnapore only has 23 classrooms.
The parents also wonder whether this representation aligns with the Midnapore Principal’s view, given her comments at the September, 2016 parent council meeting simply that Midnapore could continue to host a grade 6 program for the 2017-18 calendar year, without referencing any future years.
Future Mandarin South Junior High
Even if it was possible for Midnapore to house the Mandarin program until 2021, this model is not able to accommodate any growth into the program, which is vital given the CBE’s only newly-communicated requirement to have at least 40 grade 7 students (i.e. 2 classes of 20) to launch (and presumably sustain) a junior high program. The reason why growth is critical is due to the natural attrition rate that occurs between Kindergarten and Grade 7 in a program of this nature.
While some parents may view the “K-6 at Midnapore” representation and model as positive or reassuring (at least on the surface), the Concerned Parents of Midnapore see it as a potential barrier to ever having a junior high program located in the South, particularly in light of the CBE’s newly-communicated requirements around numbers. This is extremely frustrating, particularly given the fact that the last few years have seen lottery entrance into the Mandarin kindergarten at Midnapore.
Ironically it may be possible to continue the K-6 program at Midnapore for years beyond 2021 if there is no junior high program put in place before the CBE’s required number of 40 students due to families leaving the K-6 program altogether and class sizes becoming smaller. In this scenario, the program would never be able to achieve a junior high program. In other words, the CBE’s decision to require Grade 7 students to attend in the North creates a cycle that perpetuates an elementary program in the South, with no ability to achieve the CBE’s milestones required to launch a junior high program in the South. Parents do not accept the extremely unreasonable travel times to the North junior high program or the added burden of splitting children between a North Program and a South Program. Based on this, many parents have indicated that they would ‘pull’ their children out of the Midnapore Mandarin program to increase their children’s chances of being accepted into other alternative elementary school programs that have junior high schooling in the South.
There are several other inherently unfair and circular aspects to the CBE’s three stated requirements before it would open a junior high Mandarin Bilingual program in the south, namely “Space, Staff and Students”.
While the CBE represents that space is currently not an issue in the South on account of new schools having opened up, there is no guarantee that this space will remain or that there will be any new space available at the time Midnapore might be able to produce 40 grade 7 students (fall of 2020 based on Midnapore’s current class sizes? ever based on a perpetual K-6 model at Midnapore?).
The parents view the CBE as having no motivation to staff the Midnapore Mandarin program, given the relatively low number of students in the upper years and the space constraints that prevent the program from growing in a meaningful way at lower grade levels. Parents implore the CBE to consider the long-term planning of this incredible program before it’s too late. Without a vision now and a “If We Build it They Will Come” attitude, parents are of the view that a junior high program in the south is not viable as an option at all.
There are 6 kindergarten classes in the North, and only 2 classes in the South. Obviously this creates a more vibrant North program that can support a middle / junior high program. The CBE has not taken steps to grow the program in the South by making more Kindergarten spaces available, nor does it market the program because the CBE says it cannot find qualified teachers and staff. Parents find this to be disingenuous and question the CBE’s recruitment strategies. With respect to the CBE’s stated reasons as to why it cannot seem to hire qualified staff, the parents have this to say:
o Edmonton Public Schools has 6 Mandarin Bilingual elementary locations, 4 junior high schools and 3 senior high locations. Edmonton has obviously been able to staff its program.
o The CBE has only just recently communicated to the Mandarin Bilingual South parents that in the CBE’s view staffing is a major challenge. Why hasn’t the CBE reached out to the parent group earlier, particularly when these parents (particularly the Mandarin speaking parents) serve as a large and important network of contacts and ideas? The CBE confirmed that the Edmonton program relied heavily on this aspect in the past.
o The CBE represented in its presentation that it would “jump on” hiring any qualified teaching candidates for the Mandarin program and make accommodations to ensure these candidates would not be prejudiced (or lost) if only a temporary contract was available at the time. The Midnapore parents question this commitment. Our understanding is that qualified (and versatile) teachers do come along but are only offered a string of temporary contracts and so naturally pursue job opportunities elsewhere.
o Parents also learned from the presentation, that the CBE only has a few recruitment strategies and one (advertising on Canadian Universities career websites) is only in its development stage and has not yet been implemented. This is disappointing and concerning to parents.
The CBE’s minimum 40 grade 7 student requirement ignores its accountability for starting the Midnapore Mandarin program with a small number of students, which the CBE says now prevents it from starting a Mandarin junior high program in the South. Parents have kept their commitment and supported the program since its inception. The parents expect the CBE to honour its commitment despite the low number of Grade 6 students in the short term. To do otherwise breaches the trust between parents and the CBE.
In sum, the Concerned Parents of Midnapore view the CBE’s stated requirements of Space, Students and Staff (all occurring at the same time) to be an inherent barrier to ever launching a Mandarin Bilingual Program in the South and instead only serving as a feeder program to grow and support a continued (and more vibrant) program in the North.
In that regard, the Concerned Parents of Midnapore ask the CBE to pursue an option in the South for a junior or middle school for this program and engage in proper consultation with our parents around such options.
In terms of options and potential solutions parents ask the CBE to specifically consider the following options:
Open in September, 2017 a junior high program (i.e. Grades 7-9) in a South location (alongside one or two other compatible CBE programs), beginning with Grade 7 based on the current number of Grade 6 students. One suggestion to increase the size of the first class of Grade 7 students is through targeted advertising of the program and facilitating late entry to the program through ‘testing-in’ eligible grade 7 students.
For September, 2017 move the Grade 5 and 6 program from Midnapore, together with the Grade 7 students, to a middle school program (i.e. Grades 5-9) in a South location (alongside one or two other compatible CBE programs) and grow, year by year, to grade 9 like Colonel Irvine in the North.
The first option provides a way to introduce new growth to the program at the junior high level. Parents urge the CBE to consider the south locations of Woodman and John Ware where the Mandarin Bilingual junior high program could be added to “Scenario 1” and be added alongside the Regular Program/Spanish Bilingual Program. Both of these programs appear to offer staffing efficiencies. We also note while Harold Panabaker is “nearing capacity” the Mandarin Bilingual junior high program could be added (even if it was an interim option only until numbers grew) alongside the Regular Home Area 7-9 and Silverado 7-9. We would also point out that many Mandarin speaking families live in the community of Silverado and if the Silverado 7-9 is being bussed to Harold Pannabaker there could be a higher chance of late entry into the Mandarin Bilingual junior high program.
The second option also allows for efficiencies in terms of staffing the program (mandarin teacher(s) to be shared amongst the grade 5, 6 and 7 grade levels). Parents would urge the CBE to consider south locations like R.T. Alderman or David Thompson for such a Middle School program both on account of space and the added benefit of a future possibility of being able to house a K-4 program in an the adjacent elementary school (Maple Ridge / Acadia) to develop even more staffing efficiencies (not to mention scheduling and transportation efficiencies) along the lines of the Highwood / Colonel Irvine model.
The Concerned Parents of Midnapore are committed to ongoing discussion, dedication of time, input and ideas, with respect to how both CBE and parents of the Mandarin Bilingual program can see this exceptional program continue and be accessed by students in the south through the junior high grade levels.
We thank-you for your attention to this matter and look forward to hearing from you at your earliest opportunity with respect to our comments, proposed solutions and weather the CBE will pursue an option in the South for the Mandarin program and enter into meaningful consultation with parents over such options. In that regard we would ask the CBE to formally respond to this letter and address its communication to the Concerned Parents of the Mandarin Bilingual Program (South) at email@example.com.
We highly value the opportunity to have our children be part of this alternative language program and sincerely want to see the opportunity remain.
Concerned Parents of Areas IV and V Mandarin Bilingual Program
cc: David Stevenson, Chief Superintendent of Schools
cc: Susan Church, Deputy Chief Superintendant of Schools
cc: Amber Stewart, School Trustee, Wards 12 & 14
cc: Julie Hrdlicka, School Trustee Wards 11 & 13
cc: Judy Hehr, School Trustee Wards 8 & 9
cc: Brant Parker, Director, Area I
cc: Darlene Unruh, Director, Area II
cc: Jean Hugill, Principal