A woman signs a postcard petition calling for a new high school in Grandview Corners.

A woman signs a postcard petition calling for a new high school in Grandview Corners.

Parents turn to Clark for help with overcrowding

Two parents are continuing to fight for an alternative solution to overcrowding at Earl Marriott Secondary, more than a month after changes to the next school year’s class schedule were announced.

The most recent effort by couple Stacey MacDonald and David Brown is a postcard campaign to Premier Christy Clark, requesting that she commits to the building of a new secondary school in Grandview Corners.

Last month, MacDonald brought the postcards to EMS parent-teacher interviews, as well as to Peace Arch Elementary – which is in the EMS catchment area – and the White Rock-South Surrey Baseball Association’s opening-day parade in South Surrey Athletic Park.

“The postcard campaign (is) a way of making people feel they have choices, help people feel like they can make a difference,” she said. “We just want to raise awareness in the community because it opens up doors in talking to people, and we just want to see where people are at.”

The EMS parents advisory council has also said that a new school is the only viable long-term solution to space shortfalls. The PAC sent a letter to the Surrey School District in March stating that the district and provincial government should allocate funding for a new facility.

MacDonald said the commitment of a new school would make the short-term solution of an alternative bell schedule easier to accept.

The issue of extending hours and splitting class schedules was first made public in February when the district announced potential changes at two high schools, EMS and Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary.

EMS’s website announced its new timetable in March, noting the school day will extend to five blocks from four, with junior grades in the first four blocks from 8 a.m. to 2:10 p.m., and most seniors in the final four, from 9:24 a.m. to 3:34 p.m.

For MacDonald and Brown – who in two years will have one child in the senior schedule, another in the junior timetable and a third attending elementary school – the change will require them to accommodate three drop-off and pick-up times.

“It just means chaos for my life,” MacDonald said.

The couple took their concerns to the Surrey school board March 17. MacDonald said they were told that night’s meeting was too full for them to give a presentation, but board members granted them 15 minutes in a private meeting room afterwards.

“It felt like a fairly hostile environment, actually,” MacDonald said. “We thought they would want to work with the parents and we were very surprised by the atmosphere. We still haven’t received a response.”

School district spokesperson Doug Strachan said it’s “unfortunate” the parents feel that way, as the board took the time to hear their concerns.

“They had a very full agenda for that meeting, but took the extra step, and the rare step, of making time outside the meeting to meet personally with the parents,” he said. “As far as a response – keep in mind there was a two-week spring break by the end of that week and a BC School Trustees Association meeting that a number of trustees were at – a response will be coming.”

Strachan said the response has been drafted and is being finalized.

MacDonald said information presented at that meeting was also sent to provincial government officials, eliciting one response “that clearly indicated the presentation was not actually read.”

In the legislature last week, NDP MLAs Harry Bains (Surrey-Newton) and Robin Austin (Skeena) raised the issue of government funding for Surrey schools.

Minister of Education George Abbott responded by saying he had a “good and constructive” meeting with the Surrey Board of Education. The government has invested $230 million in Surrey schools since 2001 and will continue to make those investments, he said.

MacDonald said she is now looking to speak with PACs in the 11 elementaries in the catchment for EMS – 15751 16 Ave. – to raise awareness of the impact the new schedule will have, particularly on safety, after-school activities and family and teacher resources.

“In the community, people have no idea what’s coming down the line to them.”

Despite the challenges, MacDonald said the campaigning process has been positive.

“It’s been a super wonderful growth experience for all of us,” she said. “We have a super community here in White Rock and Surrey, and the parents are so… they’re just great.”

MacDonald encouraged those affected to learn more about the postcard campaign by emailing emsovercrowded@gmail.com

To view the EMS bell schedule, visit www.earlmarriott.com