By KORIE MARSHALL

Recognizing differences in providing rural education in School District 57 – both different challenges and different benefits – has sparked an ad hoc committee and more input from residents in the region.

The board of trustees for School District 57 (SD57) hired Stormy Lake Consulting last spring to help develop a strategic vision. Stormy Lake Consulting hosted a number of well-attended visioning sessions throughout the district, including in McBride and Valemount, and a draft of the strategic plan has been presented to the board, says Trustee Trish Bella, and she is excited for the official release, expected soon.

But Bob Harris, Trustee and chair of the board’s ad hoc committee on rural education, says the board also recognized that rural areas like McBride, Valemount and Mackenzie face additional difficulties not seen in urban centres. Last May, the board granted an additional $75,000 to each of these secondary schools because they face additional challenges in providing courses to meet the graduation requirements for students, as well as prerequisites for post-secondary education.

It was one-time funding, says Harris, but the board acknowledged that a more sustainable way to support rural education was required, including a way for the schools and communities to plan over a longer term.

“The ad hoc committee and the [additional meetings] are a result of that acknowledged need,” says Harris. “We are trying to gather input about what is working well (because we do believe that rural schools do have some advantages over their urban cousins), what challenges continue to face rural schools and what unique challenges confront our rural secondary schools.”

The board again hired Stormy Lake Consulting who helped facilitate another round of meetings throughout the district in late November and early December, this time focused on the challenges and benefits – what is working well and what is not – in rural schools and especially rural secondary schools.

Harris says the board also hosted an association forum in late October, expressly about rural education in the north. The forum included attendees from the Central Coast, Prince Rupert, Bulkley Valley, Peace River North, Peace River South, Cariboo-Chilcotin, Quesnel Fort Nelson, Coast Mountains, and Nechako Lakes school districts. It also included a panel discussion with five MLA’s, including Mike Bernier, Minister of Education.

“We have been, from the outset, committed to seeking ways to address the needs and concerns of our rural areas,” says Bob Harris, Trustee for SD 57 and chair of the board’s ad hoc committee on rural education. “Many hours have been spent both formally and informally considering those needs and concerns.”

Harris says it goes back to the lead-up to the election in the fall of 2014 when members of the board were touring the district and had an opportunity to meet with parents, teachers and administrators from all over, says Harris. “It also stems from the fact that many of us who serve on the Board have either been a product and beneficiary of a rural education background or have worked as educators in that environment.”

Harris says the ad hoc committee is scheduled to report to the Management and Finance committee on Jan. 18th, 2016, which will then decide how and when it presents the information and recommendations to the general board.

“Hopefully that will occur early in the new year – perhaps at the January or February Board meeting,” says Harris.

If you missed one of the meetings, or have other comments you’d like to submit, you can send them to Eddie Sheppherd, facilitator with Stormy Lake Consulting, at eddie@stormylakeconsulting.com. Sheppherd says the preferably deadline is Dec. 10th, as he needs time to compile the comments before submitting them to the committee.