Black & White & Grey All Over

As the American presidential campaign reaches its climax, I’m always amazed how the political pundits in the U.S. do their best to polarize the Republican and Democratic candidates for President.  Before this campaign began, many political observers would tell you that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have historically handled major issues like the economy and health care reform pretty similarly.  In order to try to give the voting public a clear choice, the media and the campaign organizers themselves do their best to make the issues black and white, and it has nothing to do with the skin colour of the two candidates themselves.

One article I read this last weekend described it perfectly:   

“The respective campaigns will keep emphasizing the sometimes-manufactured differences to make it easier to formulate attacks, and the news media will rightly point out opposing approaches, but look through the rhetoric. For all their efforts to convince you otherwise — at debates and on the campaign trail — they agree on more than you might first imagine.” (Bangor Daily News, October 4, 2012)

Before you panic and stop reading because this has absolutely nothing to do with School District No. 27, allow me to continue.

When the Board of Education released their Initial Options Report two weeks ago, the polarization began immediately.  In fact, those who have been around this District for any length of time were ready before the report was released.  Issues became black and white overnight, and battle lines were drawn.

All of this is to be expected and is not necessarily a bad thing.  First, parents love their kids and are going to do everything they can to advocate for the school system they believe will give their children the best chance at success and will also ensure their safety at school.  Second, people generally love their neighborhood schools – schools which offer the type of community feeling that is missing in a culture that so often puts the individual ahead of the common good.

I don’t mind the debate.  Actually, I love the debate.  I wish we had far more debates when it comes to public education.  Unless we have some controversy, we rarely have a good old-fashioned evidence-based debate.  Apathy usually rules the day, until somebody does something to really tick us off.

I must also point out that we have heard from between twenty and thirty members of the public so far.  These are the ones who have chosen to speak at a microphone in front of fairly large crowds in both Williams Lake and 100 Mile House.  We have also gotten to gauge the reaction of the audience, primarily measuring responses based on applause or lack of it and the odd head nodding or shaking.  It’s not much to go on, but there has been enough said to know what some of the general public might be thinking.

For a moment, let’s set aside the discussion regarding schools that are up for possible closure.  As one Trustee said last week at one of the public consultation meetings, “I’d be disappointed if parents weren’t fighting to keep their neighborhood schools open.”

For the south part of the District, what to do with Grade 8 students will certainly be a big decision for the Board.  If you are a parent in favour of keeping Grade 8 students in elementary, you may argue that you get to keep your kids “young and innocent” for one more year.  You may point out that it keeps our elementary school numbers healthier.  If you are in favour of keeping the status quo, moving to a Grade 7-9 middle school, or moving to a Grade 8-12 PSO, you may argue for more elective choices, more specialty teachers, and a chance for all of the pubescent adolescents to be schooled in one location.  All fair arguments, to be sure.

For the north part of the District, Grade 7’s are the topic du jour

This debate is the one that has caught my attention for some of the wrong reasons. 

I must first say that there are very good arguments for keeping Grade 7’s in elementary school.  There are also very good arguments for Grade 7’s being part of a middle school concept.  Finally, there are indeed very good arguments to include Grade 7’s into a 7-12 one-school two-campus model.  As one parent so aptly pointed out last week, it wouldn’t take you long to google any of the above and find both supporting research and school districts who have just switched to the idea you most prefer.  You’d also quickly find evidence from districts who just switched away from the idea you least prefer.   

That being said, in order for some members of the public to make their point that Grade 7’s should not be placed in a school with Grade 12’s, our Williams Lake high schools came under fire.  Speakers cited bullying, smoking, drugs, alcohol, and sex.  Again, these are legitimate arguments and things that the Board needs to consider as they make decisions, but please don’t take these arguments too far. 

At one point last week, a student who certainly has a future in public speaking proudly announced to the crowd that “more than 50% of the students in Grade 12 are not good role models”.  The audience applauded loudly.

I respectfully disagree.

Do we have issues of bullying, smoking, drugs, alcohol, and sex in our schools?


Are our secondary schools the bastions of depravity that some described last week?


Are these school issues, societal issues, or family issues?

All three.

Will these issues be better or worse based on grade configurations?

This is where there is a whole lot of grey in a debate that some would like to make black or white. 

After hearing what some members of the public had to say, Williams Lake Secondary decided to find out if the age spread between grades is truly having all of the negative impacts referred to.   

Late last week, Principal Silvia Dubray and Counselor Mike Levitt used a ten point written survey with their Grade 8’s and came up with some very interesting data. 

The survey revealed 3 students out of 94 surveyed who had been bullied since their arrival at WLSS this year. In two cases the age difference of the aggressor was one year. In the third case the aggressor was the same age.

The students were asked if, since their arrival at WLSS, has a Grade 12 pressured them to – smoke?  do drugs?  have sex?  drink?

Not one Grade 8 student has been pressured by a Grade 12 to partake in any of the above.

The best part of this story is that members of the WLSS “Go To Team” (22 Grade 12 role models, I might add) addressed the three bullying cases, and they are trained to do so. 

Many parents will have a story as a counterpoint to the survey data listed above.  Some will do their best to make the Board’s impending decisions as black or white, good or bad.

As we continue this public consultation, I encourage you to continue to be thoughtful.  The Board needs to hear what you have to say.

You may agree on more than you might first imagine.

I invite feedback and comments to any of my blog entries.  As the administrator of the blog, I approve all comments before they hit the public domain.  While I do not mind comments that disagree with my point of view, I will not post comments that I deem to be inappropriate, those which are personal attacks, or those which refer to specific personnel.  I also will not post comments from anonymous or nicknamed sources.  While one of my goals for this blog is open a dialogue, it needs to be a safe environment for everyone involved.  Thanks for considering this before making a comment. – Mark

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18 thoughts on “Black & White & Grey All Over

  1. Sharon Baptiste

    If we are keeping both high schools open why can’t they be grade 7-9 in one and 10-12 in the other?

    • Heather Philpotts

      Was very upset with comments in the paper by a councillor who said the only thing he has heard serious opposition to is the grade 7 -12 reconfiguration. Anyone who attended meetings and even read newspaper articles realizes that there is very serious opposition to closing two elementary schools that offer students very good progressive education options. Also upset by the fact that the Board continues to say no decisions have been made yet BUT …. then a rash of reasons supporting the initial options report and no reference to good reasons for opposition to it.

    • Peter Philpotts

      Dr. Mr. Thiessen
      Just a thought about the proposed changes to our school restructuring including the closure of three of our Williams Lake elementary facilities. With a provincial election coming next May, which is prior to the start of the 2013 school year, could we wait until after the election before making any changes. The candidates for all parties will be offering all kinds of solutions to the education, health, seniors, economics, etc problems and they will be throwing all kinds of tax payer money that they don’t have at all of them. We need to listen to their promises and then hold the winning party to account if they do not deliver. It is not uncommon in todays world to postpone these very important and critical decisions until we have heard everyone’s say. We can be sure that all the politicians will have a say and one of them will have to support their promises when they are elected. Five months is not a very long time to wait when considering the importance of such a decision.

  2. Heather Philpotts

    I would like to suggest that you post the frequently asked questions and their answers regarding the inital options report in the newspaper along with an invitation to the general public to respond. This would provide some information to the general public in a format that is easy to access. The ideal would be to post the entire initial options report in the newspaper. Unless I have missed something I don’t believe this has been done.

  3. Lara Roorda

    Can you please let us know if the data compiled at the table meetings from Columneetza has been summarized for the Trustees and when/if/where it will be available to parents and the general public. Also, Mark it would be great to have a Blog update regarding how you feel the consultation process is proceeding. My personal feeling is that much of the parental “angst” being felt right now is frustration resulting from feelings of helplessness. This helpless feeling is due to the fact that the information necessary to understand board decisions that have been made and similarly to create/present viable options as alternatives is just too difficult to come by. The fact sheet on the internet is definitely a step in the right direction but many questions are still left unanswered. Is it an option to post the estimated $$ analysis that the board must have completed to see which options would get us out of this financial deficit we find ourselves in? Or is this information available if asked for?

    • Heather Philpotts

      I agree with Lara that it is difficult to obtain information. I have sent questions via the feedback line and received no response. I have also attended a meeting where the answers to questions from the public were evasive at best. If the Board really wants input from the public it should not be so difficult to obtain the information required to provide that input.

  4. Barrie Bolton

    Very thoughtful, and well presented concerns on the topic of new allignments. As a semi-retired teacher, parent, post secondary educator, and community member of many years, I know that a final decision will be to benefit the young people as much as possible. Let us also not forget a main driver behind the new alligments is financial, not primarily educational. We do what we must to be good stewards, but let us make sure the young people get the greatest possible benefit possible. The vast majority of students will make good use of the education we provide for them.

  5. Kylie Philpotts

    I have spent the last week reading the research presented by the board and provided on the website. Very interesting. I encourage everyone to take the time to read it carefully. The statistical information is a little dry and difficult, but it provides insight into the thought process here in the district. However, it is almost completely irrelevant to the students, families, and communities in School District 27. When I first read the article by Byrnes and Ruby, I was confused as to why the district would use this particular item to base their options on. The more people I spoke to, the more I realized that I was not alone in my confusion. Take the time to read the research presented to the public on the website. Please.

  6. Laurie

    I agree that for the most part grade 12 students are mature young adults that are great role models for young grade 8 students. This is why I believe that grade 8 should not be part of elementary school as is proposed for the south end of the district. 13 year olds finishing grade 7 are ready to move on and grow and learn more independently. I think grade 8-12 is a reasonable configuration for the entire district. I strongly disagree with Williams Lake being grade7-12 and 100 Mile being 9-12. Students deserve the same opportunities regardless of where they live!!
    As adults 2 year age gap isn’t significant at all, but as a young teen 2 years is a lifetime!

  7. Kylie Philpotts

    As both a parent and a teacher here in the district, the only thing that really makes me question the validity of the grade 8 survey results is the fact that we are only in October. Students in grade 8 are simply still trying not to get lost in the school, meet new friends, and work hard to remember their locker combinations. I believe that various surveys, designed to meet the specific questions of each grade, and completed throughout the year, would provide far more insight into the social and emotional world of our high school students.

    • Rae Perry

      Good point, Kylie. I wonder what the results would be if the school surveyed the grade 9’s about their experiences as grade 8’s?

  8. Thank you Mark for sharing your thoughtful comments about the grade 8 survey that took place in our school! My class of students that afternoon were involved in both the Go To Team and taking photos of the Go To Team speaking to the grade 8 classes. Many of the photos from that afternoon show happy and positive exchanges. I think there may always be isolated incidents of negative interactions or behaviour, but during school hours we have teams of positive kids working very energetically to make a difference. An additional 30 students from WLSS (grades 8 through 12) will meet to discuss leadership and student motivation at a full day workshop this week.

    I’m so glad you are sharing that information with our community. For more information on student events, clubs, and happenings at WLSS, please check us out at:

  9. Rae Perry

    It is refreshing to see WLSS taking positive steps to gather more information on this very ‘grey’ subject, rather than just presenting all the reasons why the plan won’t work. Perhaps, as Tina suggested, a grade 6 survey would be helpful as well?

  10. Melinda MacKinnon

    Thank-you for your insight Mark. I think it is natural for everyone to turn to emotions when this is such “close-to-the-heart” issue. I also agree that there are both pros and cons to the 7-12 option and also that there is evidence to support which ever way you lean in this debate. I think it is also important to try and listen to the board and hear their rationale.

    What disturbs me (as a teacher, parent, and member of the community) is the negative brush that our senior grades have been painted with. I have yet to see any Grade 12/Grade 8 interaction and I truly believe that our senior students have some wonderful role modelling to offer to younger grades, including everything from sports excellence, to mentoring, the Go-to-Team as you mentioned, student council, leadership, etc. There are some wonderful things going on at both highschools and I think exposing Grade 7’s to this would only benefit them. Yes, there are some negative incidences as well (bullying, drugs etc), but this will happen at any school, in any configuration and I do truly believe that it is in the minority.

    Although there remains issues with the 7-12 configuration, it will allow students to accelerate their learning if they have the ability, it will allow students who might be struggling to remain with their peer group while still picking up the courses they need and will also allow for a greater exposure and opportunity for a wider array of classes and options for all grades. It will also allow Grade 7’s to “experience” the high school setting without being thrown wholeheartedly in, like what happens at the Grade 8 level. Also, it is important to recognize that something must be done and this configuration is working in other districts across the province.

    I empathize with the position that the “elected” board and yourself are in. You need to make an educationally and financially sound decision, and unfortunately within that will be someone, whether it is a community member, a parent or a teacher, who is not satisfied with whatever the board decides.

  11. Tina Benedet

    Thank you Mark for your very insightful words on a very difficult topic. As a parent who is still undecided, it is good to acknowledge the pro’s and con’s for every option. I am curious what the current Grade 6’s think and why they think it. I know some are excited about the possibility of heading to high school earlier than expected but is it for the things that we feel are important – less transitions, more course options, etc. or is it for other things such as – being part of the older school, cool to be in high school, etc.
    I look forward to the meetings on October 25 and hearing what others have to say. Good Luck in the final decision making process.

  12. Cindy Outhouse

    Mark, I thought it was great how the Admin at WLSS did the 10 point survey with the grade 8’s, and how quickly they did it. I think it shows a desire to reveal the truth. The facts are more convincing to me than any emotional outcry.

    • Trudy

      Lets concentrate on what is really at stake here and that is our children’s education… I would rather see better teaching ratios for the kids and more academic classes than worry whether our kids have hockey or trades classes!! Why do we have Tru in our commmunity – I feel Tru is where your child would enroll, if they had an interest, after they have been giving all the tools of education to make their own decision of what they want to pursue in life as a career! I might be old fashioned but I feel we need to bring back the basics of education and focus on improving them. After all our kids are the future of our City..

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