Trustee candidates on improving completion rates

School District 33: The Progress asked trustee candidates what they would do to improve completion rates in the district:

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 what they had to say:

Ben Besler:

One of the greatest challenges I see facing the Chilliwack School District, is how we can increase our district’s completion rate. I believe that we can encourage more students to graduate by continuing to allow our schools to diversify for more personalized education. If we do this, I believe students will find greater purpose in their education, find greater fulfillment as their own personal interests are being developed; and remain in the education system. This will achieve a longer student enrollment and will greatly increase our completion rate. It is my hope and dream; to see every student who has enrolled in our district, make it to graduation!


Martha Wiens:

We  have to  find  the  solution  to correct the   problem  first.

The problem  comes  with   the  students who have not reached the  learning  outcomes, before they reach  high school.

They are not  ready for  this  final  stage ,  ( high school.)

They have not learned the  basic   math,  english and other  subjects,  etc

How do  they  learn to follow basic  instruction  required  for  completion  successfully?

They have  been denied  the opportunity,  to be  taught  what is  expected  as a requirement for high school  completion.

We must  track students  in  Middle School  to be prepared for  the secondary instruction.


Rob Stelmaschuk:

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.


Dan Coulter:

Completion rates cannot be talked about without mentioning aboriginal completion rates. We are doing many great things in the district around aboriginal education. As part of the Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee I have been witness to the cultural programs, the mainstreaming of aboriginal culture, and the indigenization of curriculum. AD Rundle had a great initiative where all grade nines participated in learning aboriginal culture. We need to continue these efforts, include them in our new Strategic Plan, and consult the local aboriginal community on how we can improve them. If aboriginal students see their culture valued and reflected in their schools, completion rates will surely rise.


Heather Maahs:

We have to find out where students are failing. Thirty to forty percent of students don’t have adequate reading skills when they reach grade seven. Seventy to eighty percent of students at the Education Centre don’t have adequate reading skills. We can start to improve reading – and the graduation rate – by reinstating the resource program that was geared for students between grades four and six.

First you learn to read then you read to learn. Reading skills are imperative.


Barry Neufeld:

Chilliwack SD, is working hard to improve completion rates. We are intervening much earlier with children assessed to be at risk of “dropping out.” We are working to ease the transitions (when kids get lost):  from elementary to middle school and from middle school to secondary school. We are offering flexibility like apprenticeship programs to connect with students who want hands on experience, and we offer aboriginal language and cultural programs and stay-in-school youth workers to encourage Aboriginal students who are losing interest. We encourage school “drop-ins”: Those young adults who return after dropping out for a year or more. But one factor known to improve retention is cultivating one-to-one relationships with a caring school staff person.  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.


Walt Krahn:

Although our Graduation rates have increased, there is additional work necessary to support all students.

The teaching of reading should be the priority at the primary level, as well as the focus throughout the system, as we set the stage for student success. I believe that every teacher should be a teacher of reading.  Students will feel successful when they are able to read to learn.

Student engagement or involvement in their school (academics, sports, music, arts, and technology) is vital to keeping students in school. We need to have opportunities for all students to be actively involved in their learning; working with peers, or in teams and connecting school to the real world through project-based learning. Providing opportunities for Apprenticeship, Work Experience and various academies will connect academic skills with life situations and make school relevant.  Support from families through sharing the important value of education to the student’s future, will also serve to encourage students to graduate.

Each student should be assigned an advisor or significant adult to connect on a weekly basis for support and encouragement.  Students need to feel connected and hopeful about their future!  I am very hopeful that our Graduation rates will continue to improve.


Karen Jarvis:

While lack of funding is a chronic problem with student support, the need for relationship building can go a long way. When, staff, students and parents feel validated with their concerns and goals, we will have a better likelihood of increasing graduation rates.


Silvia Dyck:

This is our daily work!

Improving graduation rates starts in kindergarten.  Quality teaching, which includes continuous professional development focused on student learning, high expectations for every student, student engagement, parental and community support, and a caring climate provides an overview of what it takes.

K-3 is a critical foundation for students and they need to be at grade level for literacy and numeracy in order to move forward to cap and gown.  Intervention strategies need to continue.   Success in each grade is critical as a foundation with “gaps” will lead to discouraged and disengaged students who leave early.  Sadly there are also social and societal issues that hamper student graduation which is beyond our ability to assist, but we are always ready with alternate plans for our students.

Finally high school instruction moving to personalized learning using cross-curricular projects may engage students more effectively.


Paul McManus:

The district website shows our current completion rate is 78%, up from 69% back in 2008/09. While the trend is positive, the 78% number is frightening.

Before we can develop a plan to improve completion rates, we need to determine why 22% are not completing their schooling.  Were they skill-deficient and gave up?  Were there substance abuse issues?  Mental health issues?  Or just a poor attitude, apathy, and they just didn’t want to be there?  Or something else altogether?

We need to look at what programs, if any, we have in place to deal with these circumstances, and assess their effectiveness.  Are the district staff that are handling these situations getting the support they need?  Are the interventions happening early enough and in a timely manner?

These questions need to be answered so we can determine what adjustments and improvements can be made to existing programs and support systems.


John-Henry Harter:

To improve completion rates for students we need to engage students in their own learning. This is difficult to do with not enough funding for teachers and EA’s. We need to deal with the lack of full funding for non-enrolling teachers, such as learning assistance teachers, counsellors, as well as librarians, to ensure students get the resources and assistance they need to achieve their potential. The issue of funding, completion, achievement, class size and composition are interrelated. We need to ensure equitable learning conditions for all students to keep them engaged and working towards completion. My focus is on building strong community schools that foster critical thinking and nurturing the skills that allow for a wide variety of options in life and lead towards a better completion rate. While this not easy, as it needs a well-funded public system, I believe my advocacy from 2005-2011 shows my commitment to this goal.