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Burnaby School District creates a long-term facility plan

Plus, diversity, anti-racism, reconciliation and child care are priorities in new strategic plan

Burnaby School District released a report highlighting its strategic plan and achievements of the past four years. Since the board formulated its last strategic plan in 2019, the world has experienced a pandemic, wars, inflation, and economic crises no one could have predicted four years ago. With the discovery of unmarked graves in residential schools, reconciliation became a top priority, along with diversity and inclusion. The Beacon spoke with chairman of the school board, Bill Brassington, who discussed the new long-term facility plan, staff shortages, and anti-racism in Burnaby schools.

Burnaby School Board members. Photo: Burnaby School District

Truth and Reconciliation 

Since 2019, Brassington said the school board’s priorities have evolved, bringing reconciliation to the forefront of the board’s new policies and plan. He said the items at the top of the list are reconciliation, sustainability, and accessibility work. “Having been in the position for five years, time goes so fast, and there’s so much that you want to do and get done, as you finish one thing you uncover the next,” he said.

The school board has started engaging with the Indigenous community and connecting with elders, artists, and Indigenous parents and students. Recently, the school board unveiled a carved post created by an Indigenous artist for Truth and Reconciliation Day.

Staff with the new Coast Salish post in front of the school district offices. Photo: Burnaby School District

“Indigenous peoples can see themselves and their cultures represented and celebrated in front of these colonial institutions. And we work with artists and leaders, but more action needs to be taken, but we can’t take that action unless we engage with them,” Brassington said.

Accessibility, inclusion, and diversity

In the past four years, the board has adopted new policies regarding diversity, accessibility, and inclusion in the Burnaby school system. Brassington told The Beacon that the board consulted with parents, students, teachers, and the general public through a third party to discover more about racism in schools and how it affects students. By using a third party, the board hoped to capture the truth and eliminate any power imbalance that may be present if a teacher had asked racialized students to write about their experiences of racism.

The project was an eye-opening experience for school board staff. “I have a binder that has 13,000 unfiltered comments from students, staff, parents, grandparents, family members, caretakers. I’ll tell you it’s heartbreaking some of the stuff that’s in there,” said Brassington. ”One comment was, ‘When I look in the mirror, I just want to change the color of my skin.’ Every time I say that, it makes me emotional because I just can’t imagine feeling that way. And I’m the father of two racialized children in a multi-racial family.” He added that anti-racism needs to be ingrained in school policy and not just part of the vague concept of diversity and inclusion.

Child care, new schools, and future challenges

As with other industries in Canada, the Burnaby School District is currently experiencing a staff shortage. Brassington mentioned that, while his role involves strategy and policy, staff shortages are challenging for the entire sector. With Burnaby’s population growth and the expected increase in demand for schools and education, Brassington said one of the main challenges is attracting and keeping talent. He added that Burnaby’s high living costs exacerbate the problem. “It’s great to have an item on a budget line where we say we can hire a group of people. Now we have to find them and attract them and keep them, and there are so many different levers at play there, like housing affordability and affordability in general,” he said.

Expanding child care spaces is another challenge the school district faces at present. When child care moved to the Ministry of Education in 2022, the Burnaby School District became responsible for providing child care in the city. At the beginning, the school district provided spaces within its existing schools; however, with increasing demand, there is an increased need for dedicated child care projects. The board put forward a motion to council to expand child care in Burnaby.

The challenge remains that Burnaby needs more schools to meet the increasing demand. “We just did a long-term facility plan based on community engagement and the numbers our staff put together,” said Brassington., “We had a joint session last year with the city council; we had a limited ability and land to move forward. That’s how the Brentwood school came about. They allowed us to purchase the land. It’s on a considerably smaller footprint than a traditional school.”

You can read more about the Burnaby School District’s strategic plan here.


This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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