School closures difficult for teachers, too

THEY SAID IT: “Once this process starts, there’s no slowing down that train.”
– Dave Harper, District Teachers’ Association President

With the current school closure community consultation process in its final stretch – decisions will be made on the two schools in question March 15 and 16 – Dave Harper, president of the Campbell River Teachers’ Association, says it’s not just students and parents who feel the weight of the situation.

He was a teacher at Rockland Elementary when its closure occurred, and he says the additional stress of uncertainty makes an already difficult job even tougher.

“I can remember what it was like to be working at a school that has this hanging over you, and it’s really difficult for the teachers to keep a calm, caring educational environment for the kids going while in the background everyone’s got it hanging over their heads that ‘this is the end,’” he says.

Added to that stress, Harper says, is the additional uncertainty of not knowing whether programs and offerings teachers are proud of and enjoy providing will continue wherever they end up.

“You’ve got teachers like Eben (Van Renen) at Discovery (Passage) who are doing awesome things like Genius Hour, and part of what facilitates that level of creativity with the kids is that they’re able to go somewhere and make some noise, or even just spread out a bit.

“And that’s just not going to happen at Ripple Rock,” he says. “There simply won’t be the room available.”

The point of the closure, if it goes through, after all, is to relieve the district’s “excess capacity” issue.

And teachers, Harper says – like everyone else in a school community – have essentially two ways to react to a potential closure.

They can accept it and prepare to make the transition to whatever is next go more smoothly, or they can, as Harper says, “go down guns-a-blazing.”

And if he could do it again, he says, he’d choose differently.

Looking back, knowing what he knows now from the experience of going through it, he says he wishes that everyone in the Rockland school community would have accepted it as an inevitability when it was announced, rather than fighting it.

“Once this process starts, there’s no slowing down that train,” he says.

“And all I remember about our last day at Rockland is gathering around the flag and singing O Canada as we brought it down.”

It was depressing, and he wishes it wouldn’t have been.

“I wish we would have gone out on a high,” he says.

He wishes they would have used the closure as a chance to celebrate what they had and recognize that they were moving on to hopefully better things. Instead, they fought the process and then mourned the loss when it happened anyway, which that made that loss even more heartbreaking.

The good news – if there’s ever good news from a school closure – is that should the schools close, there shouldn’t be a loss of teaching positions, and Harper is confident the displaced teachers will land on their feet and settle in comfortably wherever they end up.

“This is the first time in a generation – you’d have to go back to the early 90s – where we’ve had a lot of retirements and we have a lot of new teachers in the system who are taking up what are called ‘temporary postings.’

“The teachers who are going to be surplus from Discovery and Oyster River are going to have no shortage of places they can move to within the district.”

He says it’s likely – though not mandatory or even certain – that most of them will attempt to follow their current students, “if even just for the comfort level of knowing those kids already. I know I felt that way when I went from Rockland to Georgia Park.”

He just hopes that after they settle back in, wherever that ends up being, they have some time to be comfortable.

“However this plays out, what I would hope is that the board do everything in its power to ensure there’s continuity for students and for staff – for people to be able to take a breath, and decompress, and not be having to look over their shoulder wondering, ‘is this school next?’”