Last week George Abbott, the Minister of Education, was traveling around the north coast as part of a three-day tour of schools in Prince Rupert and in Haida Gwaii. On Tuesday, September 20, Abbott was in Prince Rupert meeting with members of the local administration and teachers, as well as touring schools including Conrad Elementary, Roosevelt Park Community, Prince Rupert Middle School and Charles Hays Secondary School.
“I’m very impressed with the exceptional work that’s being undertaken by the administration, the teachers, and the support staff here. It feels to me that there’s a very good, collegial, collaborative culture here in the school district, and that’s attributed to all of the parties that maintain that kind of relationship.” Abbott commented, adding, “I’ve always loved Prince Rupert, this is about my sixth visit to the community. I’ve always enjoyed my time here.”
During Abbott’s tour around Prince Rupert Middle School, the inevitable question of when the building would be replaced was mentioned a few times. PRMS, which was previously Prince Rupert Secondary School, was built in 1960 and has experienced a number of issues with the structure over the years. The Prince Rupert Northern View later sat down with the Minister to discuss the possibility of a new building to replace PRMS.
“We ask school districts to make a decision themselves about where they think each school should rank in terms of priority in the district. I do believe the replacement of PRMS is pretty high for the school district and has been for quite some time. [The Ministry of Education] takes those higher priorities and weigh them against schools requiring remediation in fifty-nine other districts, as well as schools requiring investment for growth in other districts. When it hits the top of the pile is dependent on the facilities index, the urgency of remediation,” said Abbott, mentioning how the building envelope-project at Charles Hays Secondary School moved up the list very quickly.
“Whether that will happen to PRMS or not, is difficult to predict.” He said.
Abbott then went into further detail on the subject explaining that when the Ministry of Education is looking at how it will give out funding to schools, there are three different things they consider. The first being how quickly enrollment is increasing, some districts such as Surrey and Langley increase by a couple hundred students every year, while enrollment numbers in Prince Rupert have gone from 2,421 students in September of 2009 to 2,245 students at the end of last school year.
The second aspect the Ministry looks at is where schools are placed by the facilities index.
“We look at the physical condition of a school and based on engineering and construction standards and give it a score. Prince Rupert Middle School is an example of an older school that is having some issues. It’s certainly sound right now, but it is an older school that will require replacement at some point.” Explained Abbott, adding, “The third thing we look at is seismic. Does the school in the long term, or short-term requirement a seismic upgrade? And if a seismic upgrade is going to be done we have to consider the cost of the upgrade in comparison to the cost of building a completely new school and see what makes the most sense.”
Additionally, during his visit Abbott mentioned how satisfied he is with teachers efforts and hopes that the district continues to keep focusing on building foundation skills in reading, writing and numeracy for kindergarten to grade four students.
Abbott also talked about ongoing labour negotiations with teachers in the province, saying that financially it was a bad time, and an unpleasant experience for everyone involved.
Abbott was appointed Minister of Education in March of 2011, and previously was the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, Minister of Community, Minister of Health, Minister of Sustainable Resource Management and Aboriginal and Women’s Services.