Further to my open letter to #RBE, another open letter to @PremierBradWall

the regina mom attended a public meeting with representatives of the Regina Board of Education regarding Ecole Connaught Community School.  The following open letter to the Premier follows the open letter to the RBE published in the Regina Leader Post earlier this week.

Dear Mr. Premier,

No doubt my constant challenges and snide remarks on Twitter are annoying to you and your staff.  That’s kind of the point, you know.  It was always tit-for-tat in my family of origin.  Yes, I do try to be a better person now, but sometimes I fall back into old patterns.

It seems the Regina Board of Education (RBE) is also falling back into old patterns.  Yet again, they’re trying to dupe the Cathedral community.  Through years of neglect, the RBE has created a crisis at Ecole Connaught Community School.  Two construction firms with which the RBE conducts regular business have declared the school to be in such terrible shape that the cost to fix it is prohibitive.  Yet, neither of those firms are known as experts in the area of heritage buildings.  In fact, both P3 Architects and J.C. Kenyon are known for their involvement in new builds in the province.  Are there no conflict of interest guidelines within the Ministries of Education or Highways & Infrastructure for local school boards to follow?

And so, based on questionable data, the RBE decided that a rebuild is the only option and will proceed to convince you and your government to fund it.  This is in direct opposition to what residents and the school community have requested.  The RBE has furthermore refused to work with the community and allow heritage conservationists, funded by private citizens, into the school to conduct tests and to provide expert opinions on the matter.  I therefore hold to what I stated in a March 2013 letter to you regarding this matter,

As a 25-year resident of the area I draw on my fundamental human right, as guaranteed by the United Nations, to insist you preserve the building. The real value of Connaught has not been properly assessed. The non-market aesthetic, cultural and other values of a refurbished school have not been properly accounted for. Furthermore, the environmental, social, and economic cost-benefit analysis of alternatives requested in public consultation meetings have not been addressed – in essence, the impacts of redevelopment on our community, our property values, our local businesses, our environment and other amenities such as the Connaught library have not been properly assessed nor communicated to local residents.

It is time for the Province of Saskatchewan to insist that the Regina Board of Education take its fiduciary responsibility seriously.  But to do so, the Province must take seriously its role as Steward of a nationally-recognized historic school.

Really, Mr. Premier, there is an easy fix for this.  Send the RBE back to the drawing board.  Otherwise, according to the rumblings I heard tonight, you’d best be prepared for lawsuits.  And, quite possibly, for me to fall back into old habits.

Sincerely,

B. L. Wagner
Regina SK

cc: Minister of Education
Deputy Minister of Education
Minister of Highways & Infrastructure
Deputy Minister of Highways & Infrastructure
Regina Board of Education Trustees
Regina Leader Post
Prairie Dog
Metro News
Save Our Connaught
Real Renewal

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An Open Letter to Premier Brad Wall Regarding Connaught School

As you are aware, dear Reader, the regina mom is not impressed with the Regina Public Schools Board of Education and their decision to tear down a 100 year-old school without benefit of a second opinion.  So, the regina mom, being who she is, sent a letter to the Premier and copied it far and wide.*

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Here’s the letter:

An Open Letter to Premier Brad Wall Regarding Connaught School March 16, 2013

Dear Premier Wall:

I understand that your government has received a request from the Regina Board of Education (RBE) to replace Connaught School. For a variety of reasons, I request that you deny it.

Before you is the opportunity to make a reckless decision or to invest in an integral piece of our history as a city and a province, as housed in that building. As a 25-year resident of the area I draw on my fundamental human right, as guaranteed by the United Nations, to insist you preserve the building. The real value of Connaught has not been properly assessed. The non-market aesthetic, cultural and other values of a refurbished school have not been properly accounted for. Furthermore, the environmental, social, and economic cost-benefit analysis of alternatives requested in public consultation meetings have not been addressed – in essence, the impacts of redevelopment on our community, our property values, our local businesses, our environment and other amenities such as the Connaught library have not been properly assessed nor communicated to local residents.

As well, the RBE’s renovation options as presented to the Ministry of Education appear to be over-costed and under-researched. Some RBE documents contain basic arithmetic errors in the thousands of dollars! A recommended investigation of the building’s structure was, to my knowledge, not completed, except for a basic visual assessment. In discussions with the Heritage community, I learned that the RBE made absolutely no effort to obtain the advice of experts in the assessment and repair of older buildings. Nor has an embodied energy study been conducted. Neither has the RBE requested comparable estimates, despite the Chair’s recent statement that the consultant’s report is a second opinion to her staff’s. In effect, the RBE has one estimate, provided by a company that specializes in new construction. Hard facts, then, do not underly the cost estimates.

RBE has done a less than impressive job of assessing redevelopment. The community consultation process was seriously flawed, conducted by a private firm that will likely bid on the new build. The recommendations in no way serve the school community, my Cathedral community, the residents of Regina or the people of Saskatchewan. The community input we gave through the consultation process has been disregarded and disparaged. This is in direct contravention of our community’s right to appropriate development strategies and equitable participation in decisions affecting heritage, as guaranteed under the ICOMOS Stockholm Charter, signed by Canada.

To demolish Connaught is to miss an exceptional opportunity to preserve our history. It is a cornerstone of the Cathedral Village and holds significant cultural and aesthetic value, a source of pride to past and current students, to residents and to all who pass by or enter its halls. That it be sent to the landfill is a disgrace and should be the absolute last resort of any administration!

I therefore support the demands, as articulated by the Save Our Connaught Committee which came into being on the March 3, 2013, that your government agree to the following:

  • An independent second opinion by experts in the field on the renovation versus new build option for Connaught School, based on thorough research, recommended studies and detailed unit costs. ‘Best guesses’ are a slap to the face of our joint cultural heritage.
  • A full and independent consideration of the environmental, social and economic costs and benefits of redevelopment options which includes proper consideration of the relative value of a new building versus a refurbished historic school must inform the decision.
  • The Ministry of Education and the Province of Saskatchewan must apply a more fiscally responsible, community-sensitive approach to school renovation in our community.
  • The Province must understand, acknowledge and take seriously its role as Steward of a nationally recognized historic school, on behalf of citizens of Saskatchewan and Canada.

I trust you will do the right thing. Thank you for your time and immediate attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Bernadette L. Wagner

Regina SK

cc: Ms. Katherine Gagne, Chair, Regina Public Schools Board of Education

Honourable Kevin Doherty, Minister Responsible for Parks, Culture & Sport

Honourable Russ Marchuk, Minister Responsible for Education

Mr. Cam Broten, Leader of the Opposition

Mr. David Forbes, NDP critic for Education

Ms. Danielle Chartiere, NDP critic for Culture

Hon. John Nilson, MLA for Regina Lakeview

Save Our Connaught

Real Renewal

Regina Leader-Post

Prairie Dog Magazine

Metro News

CKTV

Global News

CBC-TV

CBC Radio

Radio Canada

Rawlco Radio

MBN Radio

Accidental Deliberations

Saskboy’s Abandoned Stuff

.

* Email addresses should you care to follow suit:  citydesk@leaderpost.com, ckck@ctv.ca, globalnews.reg@globaltv.com, Jacob.Zehr@globalnews.ca, Jdedekker@leaderpost.com, direction@accesscomm.ca, mwood@rawlco.com, news@620ckrm.com, news@mbcradio.com, ponops@hotmail.com, regina@metronews.ca, saskboy@gmail.com, sasknews@cbc.ca, sheila.coles@cbc.ca, tjsask@radio-canada.ca, kdoherty@mla.legassembly.sk.ca, rmarchuk@mla.legassembly.sk.ca, cbroten.mla@sasktel.net, dforbesmla@sasktel.net, saskatoonriversdale@ndpcaucus.sk.ca, gagne@accesscomm.ca, saveourconnaught@gmail.com, realrenewal@gmail.com,<j.nilson.mla@sasktel.net>, greg@gregfingas.com, <carlabeck@sasktel.net>

Too much politics all at once

Really, the regina mom thinks she should take up juggling.  She’d be good at it, given her propensity to deal with many things at once.  Oh, sure, the kids have moved out and she’s not juggling their lives in with hers as much as she used to, but it seems that other things have moved into her life and she’s throwing them around, too.

Last week, this ridiculous idea of a Public-Private Partnership (P3) that the HarperCons have set up to help their friends make more money municipalities deal with infrastructure issues, in this case Regina’s wastewater issues came to the fore.  In an email conversation with City Councillor Wade Murray, the regina mom learned that Councillor Murray doesn’t much like public involvement in such issues.  From that conversation:

I am open to dialog and learning of the alternatives, for until the moment the question is called, I reserve my decision. It’s unfortunate that people only get involved just before the decision is to be made. We have been discussing this for 2 years, it was a topic through the election, but no one really seemed to care at that time, all of a sudden it’s time to get involved.

the regina mom really doesn’t remember a single Councillor making an issue of this during the campaign, do you, dear Reader?  And now, at tonight’s Council meeting, they approved going ahead with it. Unanimously.

At close of business on Friday the Regina Board of Education announced via its Agenda for the Tuesday, February 26 meeting that it’s considering the wrecking ball for Ecole Connaught Community School, the oldest school in Regina that’s still used as a school.  the regina mom‘s kids attended there, as did her 86 year-old mother-in-law! The irony is that at tonight’s City Council meeting, the Connaught Centennial Committee and the kids who put on a spectacular array of events to celebrate the school’s 100th anniversary last year, received a Municipal Heritage Award.

Real Renewal, the group that came together a few years ago when school closures were all the rage has come forward to speak out against this ridiculous plan.  The group has raised questions in 13 different areas and, being the helpful political activist she is, the regina mom started a petition on Avaaz which you are welcome to sign.  At last look, there were 661 signatories on the petition requesting

That the Regina Board of Education delay the decision to demolish or retrofit Ecole Connaught Community School until the recommended studies and thorough and proper community consultation can be carried out.

It’s a long shot but here’s hoping that one of the oldest buildings in the city stands for many years to come.

And then there’s the Saskatchewan NDP Leadership contest, heading into the homestretch.  We on the Ryan Meili/Erin Weir team are working hard to GOTV, contacting hundreds of voters who have not yet cast their ballots.  It’s going to be close and thus, interesting, come the March 9 convention in Saskatoon.  We’ll either have the same-old New Democratic Party or we’ll have a New Democratic Party that will change the conversation in Saskatchewan politics.

On top of the political work the regina mom does, there’s her volunteer work with the Sage Hill Writing Experience and the Cathedral Village Arts Festival.  Oh, and her writing career!

Classism and Racism at Regina Board of Education (RBE)

Others won’t name it outright. I will.

The Regina Public School Board of Education’s 10-year Renewal Plan is at best, stupid. At its worst, it is racist and classist. It goes against the RBE’s own shared values:

Our Shared Values transcend our differences and provide an equal opportunity to recognize and encourage the unique characteristics and contributions of students, parents/caregivers and staff.

Well, maybe they somewhat did until now. The RBE has chosen to ignore significant data revealed to them by citizens’ groups.

Independent studies have shown that the majority of the schools slated for closure are in areas of the city where the First Nations population is higher than average and where the socio-economic status of the citizens is lower than average. It has furthermore shown, given 2006 numbers and the RBE’s own data on closures, that as many as 45% of the RBE’s student population in K to Grade 8 will be bussed when the new plan takes effect.

So the 10-year plan is not only classist and racist, but it is also devised to create more greenhouse gases in our city!

And I will refrain from commenting on the Campbell Collegiate Community Council’s presentation to the Board except to say that it demonstrated exactly why the south end is deemed to be a place of white power and privilege in Regina. And it sickens me that my kids are enrolled there.

Then again, maybe they can make a difference…

Retreating and Updating

The Regina Mom is participating in the Saskatchewan Writers Artists Colony at St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, SK where the temperature has rarely climbed to the minus single digits in the more than two weeks I’ve been here. Nevertheless, it’s been a beautiful and creative, albeit grueling, time for me. Just yesterday, I finished the first draft of a children’s novel that’s been living in me for almost two years. It feels so good to have it outside of me, even though I know that it needs more work before it makes its way to a publisher’s desk.

As I write this, one of Saskatchewan’s finest writers, David Carpenter, sits on the blue sofa next to the one on which I am seated, checking his email. Across the hall in the St. Pete’s boardroom, the award-winning Saskatchewan poet, Brenda Schmidt, works away on her laptop.  And, if I’m not mistaken, the Victoria, B.C. poet, Rhona McAdam, sits across the table from her.  (Check out her link for some great images and tales of our adventures here.)  Ontario poet and essayist, Maureen Scott Harris, just walked by.

It’s such a wonderful community we’ve created here, a colony of writers and artists who gather for a brief time to focus in on their work, to renew friendships and create now, and then to scatter back to their regular lives. It is a community in which I look forward to participating each year.  This year marks the tenth February I’ve spent time at Colony and I know the children’s novel never would have made it out of me without this time.  To all who have been part of it, including the St. Peter’s community, I extend my gratitude.
Still, while I am here the world carries on. Real Renewal, a citizens’ coalition in Regina has organized a petition drive to ask the Regina Public School Board for a moratorium on school closures. They have also provided some interesting statistics about the aboriginal populations in the areas where schools are targeted for closures.

The provincial government in Saskatchewan continues to attack organized Labour in the province by removing all Labour representatives from Crown Boards. Let’s watch what happens to our Crowns without the voice of Labour to speak for them.

The most destructive project on Earth, the tar sands development in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, carries on with support from the federal government.

The nuclear industry carries on with its “renaissance” which, if it succeeds, will kill more life on planet Earth.

Carpenter has taken his leave from the blue sofa and now the emerging poet and fiction writer, Shelley Banks, a Sage Hill Writing Experience alumnus and a Masters student in the Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia has replaced him. It signals that I’ve been here a while and had best get back to my creative work.

Usher High School Defends Its Existence

Terri Sleeva’s notes from the Regina Public School Board’s “Renewal” meeting at Usher High School document a number of issues which the Regina Board of Education has failed to address in the plan for closing Usher and other Regina schools.

It is essential, I believe, that the valid questions raised here and elsewhere be addressed before any closures go ahead.  What is at stake is the quality of education of Regina’s children.  The RBE has not taken this into account in their plan for renewal.

Here’s Terri’s report:

Usher Closure Meeting with Board of Education Trustees/January 17, 2008

School renewal process

 

Nov, 2007 – Pass recommendation of 3 school closures

Final decision March 11, 2008

 

Cindy Anderson

  • Addressed students mainly because Usher is about their kids
  • 587 students when opened in 1979
  • Is a community and not an institution
  • Any child removed from the school due to economic status is one too many
  • Many concerns as a community
  • As a community we think of the issues of students terrified to go to another school, having problems with participating in extra curricular activities, violence, social rejection, money for gas, teacher rejection, transportation, being able to afford bus passes and lunch money.
  • Thom Collegiate has had no response towards taking in Usher students
  • Top three academically in math and English
  • Putting one or two children in a high school is minor; placing 200 in a high school is a tsunami
  • Children do adapt, teenage adults do not.
  • Money is not being wasted, but being used to increase education
  • 357 students
  • Lowest vandalism
  • Only high school in 25 years to receive a standing ovation from the Mayor of Regina
  • If you have to work to bring the students into another community or school, then you should be able to work to bring children into this community

 

Transportation and Safety – Kim Anderson

How am I going to get to school?

  • Many students walk to school
  • A big obstacle for low income families because bus passes are $42.00 a month.
  • Regina Transit is not very accommodating. Students will have to wait for buses as early as 7:15am and with travel time of up to 68 minutes. Many buses have short arrival times, leaving students with as much as 3 minutes to get to class. To compensate for this, children will have to take a bus 40 minutes earlier.
  • After 6:15pm buses only run once every hour, which makes it impossible to do extra curricular activity
  • Choir programs run early in the morning so students would have to go earlier then normal
  • Transferring buses downtown is a major concern
  • To Thom, with service only in Uplands area with a ride of 15 minutes

 

Safety – Kim Anderson

  • Resource officers states that 5% of the students are considered to be bad apples
  • Comments from other high school students – “Usher students are too gangster and it will cause fights.”

 

Small Schools – Val Dodman

  • Smaller classroom sizes are the best for learning because it gives more one on one time for learning
  • By cramming as many students as you can into one room you are ignoring what the school system is made for – to give the best education possible to students. In actuality the school board’s responsibility is to build more facilities to get the best education possible.

· Why are smaller schools better:

· greater success in smaller schools

· larger graduation rates

· smaller student-teacher ratio means students can get help to understand better

· allow extra curricular activities (all kids who register get to participate, which boosts confidence)

· can identify more emotional and educational problems among children

· less vandalism

· give children a chance to walk or cycle to school and be more active

· allows children to go home right after school or at lunch to look after younger siblings.

 

Real Renewal for the Public School Board – Karen Wilke & Patricia Elliott

Karen Wilke

  • Lead best when we lead by example
  • Seek out office space in schools that are experiencing low enrollment
  • Advantages:

“You will demonstrate all though change is hard, chaotic, and disturbing, that you have not asked young children, staff or families to do anything that you yourselves are not willing to do.”

  • By moving to different buildings you will be prolonging the building use, and helping the school to stay open.
  • Opportunity to work with school and staff
  • You will experience the lives of the students

Patricia Elliott

  • Parents are not just nostalgic and emotional.
  • They care because educational standards are about to be lowered.
  • This plan is a replay of similar plans developed in the U.S. in the past 20 years that have since proven to be disastrous for students and communities. U.S. school districts are not trying to rebuild their small neighbourhood schools.
  • The School Board has done little or no research into the potential impacts of school closures, relying on a single literature review done hastily in Toronto.
  • The Board should not be so worried about whether their decision will be unpopular – of course it will be – but should rather be worried about whether their decision will be deeply flawed. It seems you are planning to spend a lot of money to make things worse.

 

Community – Donna Dubasov

· Not enough time for students to show other schools how great they really are

 

Economics – Karen Zibreski

· Average house amount in area of school is $119,000

· Average house amount surrounding Thom is $166,000

· Average house amount surrounding Winston Knoll $232,000

· Can all of the community afford to send their children to a school out of the community?

 

Government Issues and Interaction of Usher students with Elementary – Bill Trenaman

  • Elementary schools always use Usher for their grade 8 graduations and for other big functions

 

 Vocational Education – Rick Knibbs & Tyler Stewart

  • Easy to make friends at Robert Usher
  • What will happen to all of the stuff inside of the school if it is closed (trophies etc.)?
  • Usher has so much to offer and so much to give
  • If we lose one because of drops outs and drugs, it’s one too many

 

Seniors’ Presentation – Cel Shtuka, Agnes Moldenhauer, Elfrieda Wolfe & Joyce Anderson

  • On a limited budget, I am able to enjoy the school’s functions and productions for a small price
  • Study at a large school in Toronto found that:

57% carry knives

42% carry hand guns

12% sexually assaulted in school

  • Results showing that small schools are more safer

 

Student Representative Council

  • Many school achievements in both academics and athletics

 

Questions that are voiced by students:

  • Will a plan be developed to transport students to other schools?
  • This building is in good shape, why close it?
  • Have they thought about how to keep Usher sustainable rather then close it?
  • Have they considered the effects that closing will have on the community?
  • Why were we only giving 4 months when other schools have 3 to 4 years?
  • Why is only school size being considered?
  • What will they do with the building, will they sell it? Where will the money go if the property is sold?
  • What will happen to the local businesses?
  • Will I be safe at a new school? Will I be accepted?
  • How will we be sure that students are comfortable?
  • What will be done to prevent violence at a new school?
  • What if we can not afford to take the city bus?
  • Fear of rejection from other students?
  • What happens to Usher’s banners, graduation pictures etc. that we have taken so much pride in?
  • How do we deal with the negative image that other students have of Usher students?
  • Are we not going to have the opportunity to be the SRC president, Valedictorian, or team captain?
  • What are our chances of getting scholarships at a large school?
  • If you participate in after school activities, how will you get home if you rely on the bus?

 

What does Usher mean to you? (students)

  • Like my second home, I am here more then my own home
  • Everyone I know is here
  • Opportunities for scholarships in a small school
  • Chance for opportunities in music program, yearbook club, sports teams, etc.
  • Family
  • Friendly people
  • Get along with anybody (no little cliques)
  • Welcomed with open arms
  • Love going to school, knowing that you are going to have a great day
  • It means going to school and seeing happy faces
  • Know everyone and have many close friends
  • Lots of fun while learning
  • Sense of security and safety

 

Necessity

  • The very big size that the other schools may become
  • Solutions:

Distance education

Tutorial program

Fine arts programs

Adult campus that runs (you give them a second chance, so give our children one chance)

Regina Public Schools: Renewal or Bad Research?

The Regina Mom is sick and should be in bed but she knows she won’t be able to rest until she takes care of business.

The Regina Board of Education (RBE) has developed what they call a 10 year renewal plan for the school division. [Just a quick note regarding that link; the direct link to the renewal activities is not available — maybe it’s just my foggy mind, but if anyone call pull it for me, I’d appreciate it]

The plan is to close inner city schools and to bus kinds to bigger schools. And, though their research shows the importance of small neighbourhood schools, their plan does not acknowledge the importance of small neighbourhood schools.

realrenewal.org logoRealRenewal.org is an organization whose members have come together because its members are “concerned about the future of public education in Regina.” They want the RBE to conduct a “full and fair evaluation of all alternatives.” They say that “school closure is a choice, based on a management theory that says ‘bigger is better’ at any cost.”

Their website is thorough. And they include a vast array of questions they have put before the RBE, questions the RBE really must answer before closing any schools.

And note the contact page if you want to be informed of their activities.

That’s all for now. The Regina Mom needs ginger tea and sleep.