Tonight I gave a presentation to the Wetaskiwin Regional Public School Board as it has announced its intention to close Rosebrier, the local K-9 school here in the field. The dynamic of being under constant financial pressure, I think, has caused them to move towards options that are nearsighted, at least for the unique dynamic that is life in this field.
They will have a final vote on April 24th, and until then we will try to give them a picture of what their decisions will mean to people who dwell in fields.
This is included here, for the record.
My name is Randall Friesen and I am the Senior Pastor at the Malmo Mission Covenant Church, a vibrant one hundred and fifteen year old church located four miles south of Rosebrier School that is experiencing a significant growth of young families who are returning to take over the family farms once operated by their parents.
I am also the parent of a past student of Rosebrier, and a friend to numerous current students presently attending.
Finally, I lead a team of parents and community people who work hard to create a quality youth program each Wednesday after school, held at the church, in which fifty plus children come for a time of food, games and activities, and study. A good number of them attend Rosebrier, and I have had opportunity to know them and their families.
I appreciate the opportunity to be heard at this meeting, and It is with respect that I address you here today. It is a respect born out of a sense of understanding of where you find yourselves these days as board members. I too have been an elected representative on a school board where we eventually felt like we had no other option than to close the doors of the college we were given charge of. While today I regret our final decision to close those doors its not been without its educational purposes in my life. The big lesson there, for me, was that dollars and cents rarely end up increasing after the institution is closed. Oh, estimations are made and projections laid out, but the bottom line is rarely as optimistic as predicted. The costs associated with closure and trying to convince families to remain in the school system are not as easily projected as they seem to be before the closure.
The other lesson for me was that many people with varying agendas can make the dollars say whatever they want them to say, depending on what they want to see accomplished.
I wish to challenge your current direction regarding Rosebrier by inviting you to view the larger picture of the education of our children. I know that working in an ongoing context of financial shortages begins to take its toll on boards and administrative staff. While we would all like a full, robust, and creative educational process for our children, it just seems that finances rule our educational systems more and more these days. I remind you that there are more things to consider than the almighty dollar.
I believe the reason for the large turnout at the Rosebrier community meeting was simply because the school represents a Community dynamic that sees the school as central to the life of the community. That is to say, Rosebrier isn't just a school out there in a field. It's a place of gathering and supporting. A place where christmas concerts happen and where families go to skate. It's a place where people from the surrounding farms gather to raise money for good causes and they visit and talk over pie and coffee. It's where you go to help out with your kids' classes because they need you and because it's in your neighbourhood.
As such, Rosebrier is the only community building in that area, and as such it is a place that people have identified strongly with, even if their children have long since graduated from there. It provides a focus where there is not much else besides fields.
People are willing to step up at times like these to show their children how to be people of character. People who serve and participate in community and step up when things get a bit difficult. People who contribute cash over pie and coffee. People who are a part of the greater whole, the broader community.
Rosebrier is a focal point of the community that surrounds it, and the educational process for kids doesn't just happen in the classrooms, it also happens in the context of community.
As I’m sure you would agree, the education of children requires more than teachers and structures. It requires a community commitment as well. Things like character are more caught than they are taught, and a healthy participating community helps that educational process take hold in a young person's life.
The Community is a viable, solid partner in seeing these values instilled in their young people. You see, these community people are deeply invested, not just in a building, but in the idea that educating children demands more than classrooms 40 kilometers away.
They are invested in the fuller educational lives of their children; teaching them the values of service and community and stepping up when needed. They are teaching their children that it's worth fighting for something of great value when it may be taken away.
Those are not things that can be easily taught in a classroom, but they are indeed lessons that the generations need to learn, and we need places like the Rosebrier Community where such values are being taught so as to raise up good citizens of Alberta and Canada.
The threat of the loss of Rosebrier means the loss of the solid partner you have in the community investing itself in the next generations. With Rosebrier gone, so also would the presence of a “Rosebrier Community" be gone.
This is simply not the same result that you would have with the closure of a city school.
And what of the dreams and desires of our First Nations families? Yes I appreciate some of the delicate political maneuvering that happens, but beyond all that political necessity are simple families. Grandmas and grandpas, moms and dads with kids who need an education and for whatever reason, have identified Rosebrier as a place where that can happen.
Yes, I've met some of them, and heard pieces of their stories. Some of the most humble people in difficult circumstances are trying to make a difference in the lives of their children, and for them Rosebrier represents hope. Their simple dream is to provide their children with an education outside of the daily pressures of Hobbema; pressures that sometimes make their way into Wetaskiwin schools as well.
Not only is it a help to them that the school is located where it is, but the class sizes are helpful too. In a larger school the quieter kids get lost, and all children find greater opportunity for reaching their potential in smaller classrooms.
Yes, it's a bigger choice for the First Nations families because of the distance, but they are willing to make it work because they see value in it for their children. They have dreams for their children, and they've identified Rosebrier as a place where their children have a chance to chase those dreams.
We can continue to have a part in helping those families raise kids who will make a difference in their world.
While I choose to believe that you are on this board because you care that our children receive a quality, well rounded education, I fear that the profit and losses column rules the agenda these days. Your insistence, in email and public responses, to only value the number of children who were registered at Rosebrier on a certain day in September, because of the money that can be drawn against their name, rather than to value the higher number of young hearts and minds present after that day in September, is a harsh reminder to us that you are in the business of managing money, not building people.
Your responsibility as board members is greater than just being keepers of the purse. Because of your willingness to be involved in leadership, (Which I appreciate,) you hold a moral and community wide responsibility for the educational development of our children, and if the powers that be above you create unmanageable conditions for you to operate financially, then I challenge you to consider creative responses that will allow communities like Rosebrier to continue to participate in their children's education, growth and dreams.
Thank you for your time and consideration.