Election 2014: Candidates offer ideas on better student success

The Progress asked trustee candidates what they would do to improve completion rates in the district.

More than 20 per cent of students who start school in Chilliwack, fail to graduate within the prescribed time. Improvements have been made over the past few years, but Chilliwack’s completion rate remains below the provincial average.

In our ongoing series on election issues, The Progress asked trustee candidates what they would do to improve completion rates in the district.

Here is a synopsis of what candidates who responded to our question had to say. (Their complete responses can be found in the Q&A section under the Election 2014 tab.)

For many candidates, success at the secondary level must begin early. By Grade 7 as many as 40 per cent of students lack sufficient reading skills to succeed, said Heather Maahs. “We can start to improve reading – and the graduation rate – by reinstating the resource program that was geared for students between grades 4 and 6,” she suggested.

Silvia Dyck argued that improved graduation rates must begin in kindergarten. The first four years of school are critical to building a foundation of literacy and numeracy that can be fortified in each succeeding year. Without that foundation, the result is frustration and eventually disengagement, she said.

The problem, said Martha Wiens, is that too many students are not taught the basics early on and are unprepared. “They have been denied the opportunity, to be taught what is  expected as a requirement for high school  completion,” she said.

While reading is critical to success, Walt Krahn agreed, so is student engagement. He suggested each student be assigned an advisor to connect with weekly for support and encouragement. They need opportunities to see their education has relevance, he said.

John-Henry Harter agreed, but said that won’t happen if schools are not properly funded. For success to occur, teachers and their students need the support of education assistants, teacher libraries and counsellors.

“The issue of funding, completion, achievement, class size and composition are interrelated,” he said. “We need to ensure equitable learning conditions for all students to keep them engaged and working towards completion.”

That point was echoed by Barry Neufeld. Mentoring is an important contributor to student success, he said. However, “With the current funding shortage and low morale of teachers, especially at the secondary level, we simply don’t have enough employees to form meaningful individual relationships with students who are getting discouraged.”

Karen Jarvis agreed: “While lack of funding is a chronic problem with student support, the need for relationship building can go a long way,” she said.

Ben Besler said success will come through a more personalized approach. “ I believe that we can encourage more students to graduate by continuing to allow our schools to diversify for more personalized education,” he said.

That’s particularly true for aboriginal students, said Dan Coulter. “If aboriginal students see their culture valued and reflected in their schools, completion rates will surely rise,” he argued.

Paul McManus said that before the district arrives at a solution, it must clearly understand the source of the problem and understand why so many students are leaving school.

Rob Stelmaschuk, meanwhile, had a more practical approach: “Offer the students technical vocational training for the last three years of school, 10-12. This would give them the skills to fit right into the workforce and give them a future and a reason to complete there schooling,” he said.