Independent schools aren’t an option for all families for obvious financial reasons. For the 88 per cent of students in the public K-12 system, the tumultuous labour relations between B.C. school teachers and the province has given parents a renewed reason to explore education avenues.
With programs of choice emerging on the public side of the system in Greater Victoria, parents have more schooling options than ever – regardless of their financial status.
Do your homework
Parents need to make an informed enrolment choice. On April 30, the Fraser Institute released its 2012 school rankings, a controversial report of public sector and independent schools in B.C.
The first consideration parents should make when selecting schools, said Helen Raptis, researcher into the history and sociology of education at the University of Victoria, is to disregard the rankings.
The rankings are a distortion of the foundation skills assessments, tests administered in Grades 4 and 7 to measure basic reading, writing and numeracy skills, Raptis said, noting how factors such as number of students who abstain from writing the tests are combined with test results to determine a school’s ranking.
Raptis uses the example that in 2011, Torquay elementary scored higher than Pacific Christian in FSA test scores, but ranked lower in the Fraser Institute rankings than the independent school.
“Despite the flaws, (the rankings) have managed to have credence over the last 10 years,” Raptis said. “Parents continue to rely on flawed information … (The Fraser Institute) adds variables that haven’t been tested to have any merit in terms of measuring student achievement.”
Know your child
Is your child thriving in their current setting? And if they’re doing well academically, but are unhappy, is that OK? Monitoring achievement is an integral step in the process of finding the right educational fit.
Schools, public or private, are generally interested in opening their doors to prospective students, but before parents take that step, Raptis said, they should already know in which arts, sports, or academic pursuits their child is most interested and which schools have a proven reputation in those areas.
“There’s nothing worse than having a bad school experience and having a bad fit,” she said. “We want our kids to thrive and pursue goals, to come out of their experience contributing positively to society. They can’t do that if the fit isn’t right.”
Raptis warns of switching a child out of any school – public or private – should they be enjoying a positive social setting.
Choice for all
Since 2005, parents have had complete choice on where they can register their children for any school outside their catchment area within the Greater Victoria School District.
Admission is dependent on spaces available once transfers have been submitted, but SD61 associate superintendent Pat Duncan said virtually all schools in the district accept new students – including “schools of choice,” such as Cloverdale Traditional school, which sees students sport uniforms in a more structured setting, or Victoria’s South Park Family school where letter grades are foregone.
Parents have yet to fully explore transfers. For the transition between the 2011-12 school year and this September, 876 transfers have been submitted out of a potential 20,000 Greater Victoria students.
“Because parents choose (for their kids) to go to any one of our schools – it’s becoming that the whole district is seen as a school of choice,” Duncan said.
In times like these, when a labour dispute has stretched over an entire school year and “parents of public school students are being held ransom” by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, according to education historian Thomas Fleming, we’re likely to see more choices arise, and fast.
Fleming, professor emeritus at the University of Victoria and author of Worlds Apart, an in-depth look at labour relations between the teachers’ federation and the province, said B.C.’s education system is captured by its own bureaucracy.
“The insiders don’t want it to change,” Fleming said. “They have an industry. This is like the Detroit auto industry from the 70s to the 90s. … It’s a system built for another age.”
The wealth of resources available online and current opportunities to find small, independent schools are two factors likely to shape the future of education away from the current model, he predicted.
Meanwhile, the reasons for enrolling in independent schools – character education and citizenship – continue to lure families.
“I hear people all the time saying they want youngsters to be leaders in non-public sector schools, to take responsibility, to be altruistic and show regard for others, to get out of the cookie-cutter mould.”
For Fleming, a former teacher of Grades 7 through graduate school, said education in B.C. should be all about the kids, but he doesn’t believe it is.
“There are some Victoria and Vancouver public school teachers who have their own children in non-public sector schools and I think that begs some very interesting questions,” he said.
The removal of geographical restrictions and emergence of more public schools adopting fee-based programs, help create new options for parents.
“As for the question: public versus private? – That kind of black-and-white thinking is not very productive,” Raptis said. “Everyone has something to offer and the trick is to match that to the needs of your child.”
Independent school fees for local day students in Greater Victoria
-St. Margaret’s: $8,000 for kindergarten; up to $15,000 for Grades 10 through 12
-St. Michaels University School: $14,700 for K through Grade 5, up to $18,270 for Grades 9 through 12.
-St. Andrew’s Regional High School: $5,278 for a single child of a Catholic parish-supporting family, or $7,008 for non-parish supporters.
-Pacific Christian School: $5,018 for one child in full-time K to $6,223 for one child in secondary.
-Glenlyon Norfolk School: $14,095 to $17,430 for Grades 9 through 12.
Public school fees for SD61 programs of choice
-Spectrum Community school’s Lacrosse and Hockey Skills Academy programs: each $1,250.
-Reynolds secondary’s Centre for Soccer Excellence Academy: $1,000.
-Lambrick Park’s Diamond for Excellence Baseball and Softball Academy: $1,250.
-Esquimalt High’s Curling Academy: $400.
-Rockheights middle school (Esquimalt) Hockey Skills Academy: $750.