A spokesman for an international robotics competition has weighed in to the debate over Vancouver schools, urging trustees to spare Gladstone Secondary and its internationally recognized robotics program.
In an e-mail to Vancouver School Board trustees last week, Karthik Kanagasabapathy – global competition manager at Vex Robotics, a division of Texas-based Innovation First International – said Gladstone's program has been winning praise for nearly a decade and called it one of the strongest of its kind in the world.
"The cessation of this program due to the closing of this school would be damaging on multiple levels," Mr. Kanagasabapathy said in an Sept. 17 e-mail to the VSB trustees.
"I urge [you] to please consider your decision and allow this world-renowned program to continue without interruption."
Gladstone is among 11 schools the Vancouver School Board says it may close under a long-range facilities plan that was announced earlier this year. A 12th school, Britannia Secondary was recently taken off the list. The potential closings are controversial and are being driven largely by the need to provide seismic upgrading to schools that need it.
Until recently, seismic upgrading for Vancouver schools was tied to a district-wide 95 per cent capacity utilization target, which was part of a 2014 deal between the province and the school board related to seismic funding.
Last Wednesday, however, Education Minister Mike Bernier scrapped the targets, saying they had resulted in confusion and that getting rid of them would reflect what the province was already doing – weighing seismic upgrades on a case-by-case basis.
That change by the provincial government has some calling for the board to rethink its plans.
"It [the district's long-range facilities plan] needs a big rethink – and it needs to focus on the children in the catchment of a specific school," Morgane Oger, chair of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, said on Tuesday.
The board's approach focuses on financial costs of seismic upgrades, but ignores or underestimates other costs, such as students' having to travel a greater distance to get to school or the potential disruption of a program with roots in a specific school, Ms. Oger said.
That includes Gladstone's robotics program.
"Each year they are one of the top competitors at the World Championships – they are always in the running," Mr. Kanagasabapathy said of the Gladstone team. "They are always one of the top contenders."
The Robotics Education and Competition Foundation runs robotics competitions globally, with more than 12,000 teams from 33 countries.
The competition is designed to encourage teams to work together and includes a draft in which teams can pick partners.
"The group from Gladstone … have this great culture of sharing and helping," Mr. Kanagasabathy said. "They've established this continuity and history, where the older kids on the team teach the culture of what goes on at Gladstone and that just extends year after year."
On Monday, trustees passed a motion to consider closing Dr. A.R. Lord Elementary, one of the 11 schools on the list, only if students were not moved to a school with a higher-risk seismic rating.
The board plans to decide in December whether any schools will close, with the earliest closings to take effect by June 30, 2017.