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Academies give public education system a definite private flavour

Editor: I have been reading with interest the recent announcement by the Delta school district that it is adding three more academies to its academic agenda for the 2012/2013 school year.


I have been reading with interest the recent announcement by the Delta school district that it is adding three more academies to its academic agenda for the 2012/2013 school year. I also read the editorial by Optimist editor Ted Murphy enquiring about the value academies afford the school district - at least in the manner in which they are made available in Delta.

I "sort of " share some of the concerns Murphy raised in his piece. My broader concerns about these programs, however, are focused on the effect they (and other issues, granted) are having on the availability of a truly public education - in Delta and anywhere.

I fully understand the funding difficulties school districts face in the current economic climate, but I do not believe that "fee-based" academies are the answer - and I think Murphy's editorial comment makes that point.

The public education system faces enough challenges at present without adding to its difficulties by rendering that system less and less public - by continuing to develop more and more programs within that same system that require students to pay a fee to be able to participate in them.

What we are seeing in the approach the Delta school district is taking in its obsession with academies as a way to address the deficiencies of what is fast becoming the former public system is not public education. Rather it is private education carried and supported and made available on the back of a public system, which is required to subsidize these private activities, rather than the other way around, which we, as Murphy's article can be read to suggest, are led to believe is what is supposed to be happening.

The indelible unfairness in all of this is there are likely always many students, even within the very schools that host these academies, that would benefit equally from opportunities to enroll and participate in the academies by virtue of their interests and abilities, alone.

These students, however, are, in most cases, barred from these opportunities by virtue of the costs they and their families face when they consider enrolling. The consequence is that many of these families never even consider participating in these otherwise likely very worthwhile programs.

I know we always say, as well, that for families that face economic hardship of the kind I am referring to here that they can "approach the principal" or something like this for assistance to address the circumstances that prevent their children from accessing these academy programs. The reality is that families do not identify or humble themselves in this way.

The further reality, therefore, is these suggested ways to provide assistance to families in these kinds of circumstances do not really exist. They simply serve as convenient fantasies.

They help assuage any feelings of guilt we may encounter as we continue to heap advantage on advantage on a more and more select few, versus continuing to endeavour to ensure equity of opportunity in what is supposed to be a public system. How unimaginative.

Our so-called public education system is becoming more and more a private system that functions on the back of a so-called public system where the many fund these restricted access (by the fees required to enroll in them) programs through the taxes they pay, and yet the programs are simply inaccessible to them.

The many include the vast majority of families enrolled in the system that are unable to afford the ever-growing number of select fee-based opportunities that seem to sprout like weeds.

This is very definitely not public education and the efforts of the district to try to continue what the district professes to be a public program are misguided, misleading and unimaginative - and definitely not brave.

I always thought education - public education - was supposed to be where opportunities were available to everybody to become "all that they can be." Not in this case.

Fee-based academies turn what was supposed to be a public education system into a system that continues to acquire more and more characteristics of a privileged private school educational milieu.

My suggestion is the Delta school district show its brave face. Trustees should take some risks.

Forget any consideration of what political considerations might lurk in the dark corners of an effort to ensure public education remains truly public.

Make decisions, plan and address difficulties differently than the school district appears to be doing in this instance.

Academies, yes, but absent fees. Ensure that public education becomes once again truly public.

That will require the school district to make different decisions than it seems to be making presently. If we are fixed on having academy-style program choices available to Delta students, there are other ways these programs can be developed and implemented - absent fees.

I submitted much this same letter to each of the trustees of the Delta school board when the three most recent academies were first announced - approximately one month ago.

To date the only response has been to have the letter acknowledged by one of the trustees.

The trustees did, I was advised, discuss the letter at one of their regular meetings. So far, however, the letter has not been acknowledged by the school district, nor has there been any reply to it or comment on it.

Firth Bateman