Sometimes it seems like the answer to all of our problems in education is so simple: more money, more schools, more teachers. But it’s not that simple, when you look closer. For one thing, our local system doesn’t hold the purse strings, and every community is vying for a bigger piece of the pie. While there’s no denying that more money would help, we also have to do better within the budget we have now. It’s about making different choices, being creative, and thinking ahead.
Here are a few ways that I believe we can be more strategic and innovative:
New partnerships to solve infrastructure gaps
Building new schools takes a long time, and no one is suggesting that we can solve our infrastructure deficits overnight. But we can be doing more than waiting for our neighbourhoods to reach the head of the line and hoping that something gets done in time. We need to be looking for new partnerships and new ideas to meet our infrastructure needs. For example, this could mean looking at public-private partnerships (P3s) and working with the development industry to get schools built faster – after all, developers want schools in new communities as well. But we should be clear: I’m talking about partnerships that benefit both partners, which means that developers or other private partners have a real stake in building quickly and getting the job done right.
Help schools to do more for communities than just teaching
Schools should be more than just classrooms. They can do a lot to bring us together with our neighbours to give our children the best start we can. There are already some great examples of schools becoming “community hubs” that offer a range of supports in partnership with others. Trustees need to be thinking beyond the classroom about how we can support and provide incentives for more schools to become active centres within their communities. I truly believe in measures to help open up school spaces and programming to innovative partnerships with non-profit agencies, childcare facilities, healthcare providers, youth programs, and more.
Commitment to long-term planning
Edmonton’s public education system is complex, and it’s facing higher expectations and tighter budgets than in the past. This means it is not only an opportunity but a responsibility for Trustees to think beyond the issues of the day or the latest round of cuts, and stay focused on what matters for the whole system for years to come. We’ve made some strides in trying to manage the system as a whole, but there is a lot more to be done. Ward H today is a great example. The population is booming, and schools like Ester Starkman and Johnny Bright are already overcrowded. Solving these urgent infrastructure issues is top of mind for many families, and that’s tough enough – but today’s crowded elementary schools become crowded junior and senior high schools before you know it. We have to start planning for this issue now, believe it or not, because we want to have a disciplined way of balancing these infrastructure needs against other priorities.