Sunday, August 10, 2014

Celebrating the new Norma Rose Point School

            Norma Rose Point (Rose to those who knew her) was a diminutive person who had a big impact on the lives of many people.  I was fortunate to meet Rose late in her life through my work at UBC.  Rose was an education advocate for all people irrespective of creed or colour.  She was an impressive person whose life’s work was focused on educational issues.  That’s a little bit about why her name is so right as the name of the new school in our community.
            Ten years ago the rapid housing development at UBC had created a near educational crisis of overcrowding.  Provincial government regulations made the matter worse by requiring school districts to close all ‘surplus’ school spaces before rebuilding old schools or building new schools.  For a school district like Vancouver this was a serious problem.  Some parts of the district, mostly in the north and east, had large nearly empty schools.  However, areas like the University Town, Yaletown, or the South Fraser had overcrowded old schools unable to meet the needs of our students.  Every time we, as parents and community members, spoke with school officials, UBC Developers, or provincial officials they commiserated with our concerns and then said there was nothing they could do; it was somebody else’s problem.  But that wasn’t good enough and we persisted.
            Getting our new schools – the relocated and rebuilt University Hill Secondary and the new Norma Rose Point School- was a community effort.  There was no one person or single group who can fairly claim reasonability.  At both the elementary and secondary schools the Parents’ Advisory Councils lobbied hard.  We sent delegation after delegation to the school board meetings.  We met with provincial and university officials.  The University Neighbourhoods Association, under the chairmanship of Jim Taylor, set up a Schools Action Committee where community members worked with parents and university staff to push forward the timetable for new schools. 
            Behind the scenes the school board, under the leadership of Patti Bacchus, started to work toward a solution that would allow Vancouver School District to build a new school without shutting down under utilized schools in more impoverished areas of Vancouver. UBC helped out by providing access to the decommissioned National Research Council of Canada building on 16th Avenue. Constant parent and community pressure kept the issue in focus.
            By the time my son graduated from U Hill Secondary in 2009 the secondary school was about 250 students overcapacity at an enrollment of 550. At the same time several hundred elementary students had to be bussed out community to schools several miles distant.  The new 800-student high school was opened in January of 2013 and the new Norma Rose Point School is set to open this September. All together our three area schools should just be able to accommodate all of our community’s students. It took a decade of community engagement, but the end results show that a community committed to positive growth can effect real change and improvements.  Thank you to all the people who, over a decade and more, volunteered and campaigned to make sure we can celebrate the grand opening of the Norma Rose Point School!

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