Blitz on learning

B.C. Education Minister Don McRae visits Cranbrook, including overcrowded high school.

Education Minister Don McRae (standing at rear

Education Minister Don McRae (standing at rear

Wearing a Good Ol’ Goats t-shirt everywhere he went, B.C.’s Education Minister Don McRae visited Cranbrook on Thursday, April 11.

The MLA for Comox Valley first met with School District 5 Trustees on Wednesday evening, April 10,  to talk about the replacement of Cranbrook’s Mount Baker Secondary School.

Built in 1949, Mount Baker is slated to be replaced by a Neighbourhood Learning Centre focused on theatre and the arts – as soon as capital funding is approved by the provincial government.

“Mount Baker was identified four years ago as being over capacity with deteriorating conditions, and SD5 therefore made it our number one replacement priority for the whole district,” said Chris Johns, chair of the SD5 Mount Baker Replacement Committee.

“Frankly, we’ve done more work and more public consultation on this NLC initiative than any other district in the province, including those districts who’ve been approved. We have key partnerships with the City of Cranbrook, Key City Theatre and our MLA Bill Bennett. We just need a commitment from government to go ahead.”

On Thursday morning, Minister McRae then got to see the overcrowded school during lessons for the 980 kids.

Grade 12 students Danika Nicolagsen and Catherine Cameron gave Minister McRae a tour of the school, starting in the choir room. Local band The Good Ol’ Goats were having a band practise, and music teacher Evan Bueckert gave Minister McRae a Goats t-shirt, which he immediately put on while listening to the Goats perform.

During the rest of the tour, Minister McRae visited Aboriginal Education, Spanish, art, physical education and electronics classrooms, among others.

At the conclusion of the tour, Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett reminded McRae that, while the school might be full of programs for students, the facility is letting the students down.

“Such great things are happening in this school, but it’s the building,” Bennett said.

SD5 Superintendent Bendina Miller applauded the school’s teaching staff.

“Despite the age of the building, there is world-class education happening here,” she said.

Principal Jason Tichauer said the tour was an accurate representation of the school.

“You saw Baker as Baker,” he said. “We do great things here every day, so we don’t need to put on a show.”

Minister McRae said he recognizes the need to replace Mount Baker.

“We can’t forget about areas outside the lower mainland,” he said. “This is a high priority for us and Bill doesn’t let us forget about that in Victoria.”

Next on McRae’s agenda was a visit to the Bank of Montreal on Cranbrook’s Baker Street to remind parents about a $1,200 grant the province offers for every child born since 2007.

Through the B.C. Training and Education Savings Grant, parents can register their child for a Registered Education Savings Plan at any financial institution, and when the child turns six the government will contribute $1,200.

“We want all British Columbia families with children under the age of seven to know how easy it is to access the $1,200 B.C. Training and Education Savings Grant. If parents already have an RESP for their child set up, they’ve already taken the most important step to get the grant. If they haven’t set up an RESP to get the grant, then the time to do so is now.”

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Finally, MLA Bennett took Minister McRae to the Cranbrook Rotary Club, where he talked about the government’s goal to reach a 10-year agreement with public school teachers.

“I’m looking forward to making sure the education system is celebrated, it is refined, it is improved – we have to do that – but in the end, the students get a quality education so they can benefit themselves, their families, stay in communities like Cranbrook and, if they choose to go out and see the world, they’ll have more base to work on than they have ever had in the past,” said Minister McRae.