Dear Diane Turner,
I am writing to you on behalf of the Garibaldi Annex PAC regarding chronic frustrations with the catchment boundaries as well as the confusing, and seemingly inconsistent, policies regarding out-of-boundary students. These issues have caused high levels of frustration to parents in the past and continue today.
Garibaldi Annex is a K to 4 school located in the Superblock bounded by Nanaimo and Renfrew Streets on the East and West respectively, with East Hastings to the North and East 1st Ave. to the South. It currently has three classrooms and the library downstairs with District Learning Services (DLS) occupying office space upstairs since 2014 (that formerly contained classrooms). The catchment boundaries for Garibaldi Annex are the same as Lord Nelson and include roughly half of the Superblock described above.
Unfortunately, the catchment boundaries give poor consideration for household proximity to Garibaldi and fail to adequately consider safe routes to school. For example, there are households only one block East and two blocks North of Garibaldi who are out of boundary even though they are a safe, easy walk away. Families in these locations instead must cross Renfrew which is a major arterial to either attend AR Lord or Begbie – a reality which no doubt increases rates of driving to school rather than walking or biking.
Compounding the catchment issue is an unclear policy for out-of-boundary admissions. There are currently two undated policies on the VSB website which does not help to clarify things. This school year while there are only 15 students in the K-1 class at Garibaldi, four out-of-boundary applicants were denied admission – three of whom live in the Superblock. This has also happened in previous years including one instance when an older sibling was already attending Garibaldi. In this case, the parent persevered through a cumbersome appeal process to ensure her son’s attendance; other parents have given up and gone to other schools with longer commutes. Today, when parents ask the PAC for clarity about out-of-boundary applications we’re unsure what to say as it would seem that according to the online policies that they should be admitted if there is available space.
We believe that the catchment boundaries and confusing out-of-boundary policy has been a significant factor in declining enrollment at Garibaldi. This, in turn, led to the need to convert the upstairs of the school into DLS office space. While an innovative solution, the space does not easily flex to changing circumstances. For example, this year Lord Nelson has such high Kindergarten enrollment numbers that not all overflow students can be accommodated at Garibaldi within the three available classrooms.
We appreciate that school planning in a city with rapidly changing housing affordability and new, higher density development must be highly complex. Yet we believe that there are ways to foster a high-quality school experience while meeting safety, health and other city goals such as those to become the Greenest City. Please give consideration to the following suggestions:
- For the 2016/2017 school year where there is an overflow situation, use Superblock boundaries as criteria for allocating students between Lord Nelson and Garibaldi Annex. Students East of Nanaimo should have priority for Garibaldi while those West should be prioritized for Lord Nelson (unless they have a sibling already attending either school). A random draw means that some students could have longer, more dangerous routes to school. For example, a student from the far SW corner of the catchment would have a 25-minute walk if attending Garibaldi that crosses the major streets of Victoria and Nanaimo. Not only would this approach likely reduce frustration levels by parents not allocated their first school choice but also allow more students the opportunity to walk or bike to school.
- Clarify the out-of-boundary policy for Garibaldi Annex and provide the current, dated policy on the VSB website. If for some reason the policy is different for an Annex school or for Garibaldi in particular we at the PAC would like to understand what these differences are and the rationale behind them.
- Consider reallocation of some of the DLS office space in order to accommodate overflow students from Lord Nelson. There is an upstairs meeting room that could potentially be used for this purpose in the upcoming 2017/2018 school year. It would be ideal if at least some portion of the upstairs could be flex-space to be used either for DLS or classroom capacity as circumstances change each year.
- Revise the boundaries and/or policies for Garibaldi Annex so that all children in the Superblock can more easily attend Garibaldi if they so desire when space is available. This could simply mean giving priority to out-of-boundary but within Superblock households, or a new approach developed. Garibaldi would then become a school that feeds into either AR Lord, Begbie or Lord Nelson according to the current boundaries.
- Update the District’s out-of-boundary policy and provide better clarity to parents about the registration and decision-making process, as well incorporate other important considerations such as earthquake safety, safe routes to school and school proximity. The latter two points would support child health by providing more opportunity to walk or bike to school and also contribute to Greenest City transportation and climate goals.
- In order to conduct facility planning more effectively for Vancouver schools in a complex, changing context with multiple objectives, challenging tradeoffs, risk and uncertainty consider the use of structured decision-making approaches such as those used by BC Hydro and TransLink. I would be happy to provide suitable contacts with expertise in this key skill.
The Garibaldi PAC looks forward to your response to this letter and would welcome a meeting to discuss these matters, particularly regarding clarity for the out-of-boundary policy. Please contact me at either firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text 778-996-2249.
Rosemary Cooper, MES (Planning)
Vice Chair, Garibaldi Annex PAC