Students at Elizabeth Buckley School engage with the STEaM curriculum using a hands-on approach. Facebook

Students at Elizabeth Buckley School engage with the STEaM curriculum using a hands-on approach. Facebook

Victoria’s Elizabeth Buckley School to close in June

Independent school suffers teacher shortage after 30 years of providing education alternatives

For 30 years, Elizabeth Buckley School has provided an alternative for education in Victoria, but due to a shortage of teachers, the independent school will close its doors for good in June.

The elementary/middle school has two Victoria locations and currently employs 15 staff, including teachers, education assistants and office staff. The school’s 61 students have varying needs in classrooms defined by a variety of learning styles.

Roberta MacDonald, who teaches and serves as the school’s vice-principal, has been at Elizabeth Buckley for nine years.

“It’s a very welcoming, inclusive community that we’ve built at the school,” she says. “It’s a loss – just as we grieve a person, we’re losing this organization.”

The school is home to a large number of students with special needs, and finding other schools for them to thrive in has some parents concerned, she says.

The irony that a school dedicated to specialized learning and small class sizes is closing in order to comply with provincial regulations on smaller classrooms isn’t lost on MacDonald.

“There’s a shortage all over the province,” she says, pointing to the 2016 Supreme Court decision that forced the Education Ministry to fill thousands of new positions. “They had to hire more teachers, but there just wasn’t that many teachers in the province to fill the demand.”

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Independent schools often suffer shortages more so than public schools, where district budgets can make salaries more competitive, she explains. And in Victoria, where the cost of living is high, MacDonald says it was hard to attract educators from out of province.

Elizabeth Buckley opened in 1987 as a school for the deaf and hard of hearing. The philosophy of offering a curriculum that adapted to students, rather than fitting students into a generic mold, remains today.

In 2012, it was the first STEaM school in Canada, borrowing from the science, technology, engineering and math model to incorporate an “a” for arts.

The board of directors made the difficult decision in a vote April 11, announcing the closure the following day.

“We have to maintain the integrity of our program and we just felt that with what’s happening, we didn’t feel we could continue to deliver the same program,” MacDonald says. “It’s completely out of our hands.”

Students at Elizabeth Buckley don’t always demonstrate their learning with written tests, but instead educators give flexibility to choose topics that interest them. This year one student built an entire website, and another studying the Middle Ages built replicas of the period’s architecture in the video game Minecraft.

Teaching children of all abilities side by side is how the school practices true inclusion, MacDonald says.

“I hope in some way we can be like a teabag, and go out into the community and infuse our approach into some other schools; maybe there’s a way this can have some good.”

In an e-mailed statement, Sean Leslie, communications manager for the Ministry of Education, said it “sympathizes with parents and students who are facing this challenging time at Elizabeth Buckley School.”

“We will provide assistance in the transition of affected students to alternative schools as required,” he wrote.

In Victoria, there are 22 other independent schools, none of which are currently at risk of closure.

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

Education