Ongoing Advocacy for Sunnyside’s Award-Winning Band Program

Last night there was a school board meeting, and the Sunnyside Elementary band played for the board of trustees, superintendents, and attendees. It was an opportunity to remind everyone what we stand to lose next year. Interestingly, the most vocal supporters of the band are Semiahmoo Secondary parents and students, who have a longer view of the benefits they’ve seen from having succeeded in the intensive Sunnyside band program. At least one student stood and spoke eloquently about the benefits of music education, and several parents stayed late to speak and ask questions.

Depending on who you talk to, you’ll hear different stories about the status of the well-known award-winning concert and jazz band programs at Sunnyside Elementary in Surrey, BC.  Some people say it’s gone, others say it’s just fine. The school newsletter states that band will continue. But band students are sad that they’re losing their teacher. So what’s happening? Despite the enormous amount of advocacy shown by Sunnyside parents and ex-parents, there’s still a lack of understanding about what Sunnyside is to lose.

While the newsletter statement is technically correct, it makes it sound as if the band can magically play beautiful music with only a small fraction of the rehearsal time the students currently have. Sunnyside is a public school, and the only reason it can support the efforts of budding musicians is because for decades, Sunnyside Elementary has thrown all its support behind the scores of hours of practice every week required. If our band director doesn’t have a home base, how can the trumpets, clarinets, saxophones, trombones, flutes, drummers, and percussionists all get sectional rehearsals in addition to full band practices? Band requirements in Surrey are 2 days each week, for grade 7 students. Even this small amount of band practice was almost cut a few years ago. If Sunnyside is brought to “normal” levels of band practice, it will be unrecognizable.

I think there are two reasons the Secondary students and parents are our best advocates. First, the Semiahmoo Secondary parents and students have seen the benefits of Sunnyside’s music program first-hand. The students are mature and communicate well, having grown up in an excellent education system. They know how much their experience in the elementary years of the Sunnyside concert and jazz band program have helped them in their transition to high school. They also have relied more and more on music to help them as they struggle through teenage years, to deal with the stress that comes with difficult exams and college entrance applications. Many elementary parents and students haven’t seen those benefits of music first-hand yet.

Second, the parents in the Secondary schools have been in the school system a lot longer, and they’ve seen how to get things done. They know that one of the ways to advocate for their children is to actively bring important issues to the attention of numerous people such as the Ministry, MLAs, City Councillors, School Trustees, Superintendents and Principals. I am impressed at the dedication and perseverance of these parents. They gather information, speak with the key players, and they’re great at spreading the word. They help other parents who aren’t as confident writing or speaking find ways to show their support.

One of my friends said that there was a large group of special needs parents at the school board meeting last night, and they were very organized with their questions, and they know what is needed. They are a great example of how to help the school system be successful with a broad array of children. We all have children who need our advocacy, and who will benefit from an education system that challenges and supports them. If you haven’t written in yet, and you want to, don’t be shy, let them know!

(Thank you to Delanne Young for comments and suggestions on this post!)

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Sunnyside Elementary’s growing pains

May 25, 2017 update: We still haven’t found a way to keep the band program. As it stands, there will, of course, be a band program, for Grade 7, twice a week, 50min each. And there will be a music teacher who visits all the K-4 (K-3 Montessori) classrooms. But no-one I’ve heard from is able to tell me how to keep the music we’ve seen for the past decade at Sunnyside. The current band program spends at least 14hrs per week on sectionals for trumpets, saxophones, flutes, drums, clarinets, etc…plus jazz band practices and concert band practices. Early morning, after school, lunch times…it would be such a shame to lose this one-of-a-kind program.

Thank you to all the parents who’ve written the school district! Keep writing, and if you haven’t written, take a minute or two to write in! I still have hope that someone will find a solution. Here’s the contact info you’ll want: https://www.surreyschools.ca/departments/SECT/Trustees/contacttheboard/Pages/default.aspx

Original post: As Sunnyside Elementary in Surrey, BC braces for next year’s influx of students, growing pains are being strongly felt by its award-winning music program. For years, Sunnyside Elementary has won top honours for its stunning band program.

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This elementary band program competes with secondary school bands, because it is too advanced for most elementary schools. Secondary students regularly come to Sunnyside to play with the Jazz Band.

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But next year, the state-of-the-art, specially-designed band room in the newly built school might be converted to classroom space.

The province needs to supply enough portables like this one

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so that the band room can remain where it is. With high demand for portables from schools throughout BC, we don’t know if that will happen. The school might try to put the band program in a portable: a band program this size doesn’t fit.

The current music room has enough xylophones for an entire classroom, stored in a special room at the back during band practice and brought out again for class practice.

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It may be that the band program will have to shift to some other school that’s not seeing so much pressure from urbanization. Many students come to Sunnyside knowing the band program is stellar. It’s sad that a school with hundreds more students receives fewer and fewer resources than it did before.

The new Sunnyside Elementary was built for about 420 students in 2014, with beautiful architecture, a large music room, a spacious gymnasium, and large playing fields.

That year, the area around the school was still forested. Surrey and the Province knew that the entire area was slated to be urbanized, with hundreds of townhouses being planned all around the school. They could have built a school for projected numbers, but that’s against policy.

North and West Sunnyside Boundary June 2014
The new Sunnyside Elementary when it was built in 2014
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The forest around Sunnyside has been replaced by hundreds of townhouses

The school now houses over 600 students, with five portables on site.

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The portables have no air conditioning, no running water, and no washrooms. There is one playground the school PAC has been able to fund so far. The school runs on a split bell schedule so that half the school is at recess at a time. New teachers struggle to furnish their classrooms, and observant parents donate badly-needed shelving and extra funds to support basic materials for their children.

The school was built to be expanded; the contractors knew it would be required to house many more students. But expanding the building doesn’t seem to be on the Province’s priority list.

Sunnyside Elementary is an example of the problems faced throughout Surrey. Development is outpacing infrastructure, and new residents rarely know the challenges they will face after they buy their new home. Sunnyside Elementary was built beautifully for 400 students; it may well be forced to house over 700. What will happen to programs like the award-winning jazz band? Instead of benefitting from added resources that could be available in an urban setting, the school will suffer from lack of space and funding, even as new residents flood to hundreds of newly-built homes.

More before/after pictures of development in Grandview Heights

 

Huge developments slashing trees on 168th St and 16th Ave

A few times a week we have to drive by this development. They’ve finished clearcutting the trees; now they’re chipping them into enormous piles of…chippings. I haven’t been able to get pictures, but it’s painful. And it’s happening all over, as urbanization expands eastward along 24th Ave and southward. Thousands of trees get cut down, and in the new developments, there’s little room for new trees to grow. (By the way, where will the children go to school? All the schools are overcrowded. The streets? 16th is sometimes a lineup of cars all the way from Hwy 15 to King George. Amazing.)

I have over 2000 planning documents to input into spreadsheets. I have no time to do it. If you want to volunteer entering data, put in a comment and I’ll be happy to contact you!

Considering the patterns I’ve found lately of developments being allowed to consider only building coverage, not total lot coverage, we can expect these developments to have very little space for new trees to grow. Remember, this is a temperate rainforest. All the increased runoff, with little or no land to absorb it, will be very hard on salmon-bearing streams.

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Application #15-0084-00: OCP amendment from “Suburban” to “Urban”; Partial NCP Amendment from “Suburban Residential (1-2 ups)”, “Suburban Transitional (2-4 upa)”, and “Urban Transitional (up to 8 upa)” to “Low Density Residential (6-10 upa)” as well as to accommodate a modified road pattern and relocation of drainage swales; Rezoning from RA to RF-12; Development Variance Permit to allow subdivision into 104 single family lots and one remainder portion.

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Application #16-0191-00: To permit the development of 25 residential lots.

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Application #14-0282-00: OCP amendment from suburban to commercial; LAP amendment from commercial/business park and habitat preservation area to commercial; rezoning from RA to C-8; subdivision from 9 to 4 lots; development permit for a 22.791 sqm retail and office centre; development variance permit to vary front, rear and sideboard setbacks.

Surrey planning documents online are often incomplete

I’m finally going back to putting information from over 3500 planning reports into an excel worksheet. I’d done this for tree numbers before, but I didn’t include site coverage, owner and developer names, arborist names, zoning changes or addresses.

I’ve spent the last two days combing through a subset of 27 reports from 2014, filling in as much data as I could. The most frustrating thing is figuring out the site coverage — how much of the lot is covered in buildings and pavement. Many developers fill in the blanks on the city-requested information, but others blatantly leave crucial information blank.

Site coverage is an important number; keeping coverage under 60%, a common maximum allowed by the city, allows drainage and keeps road runoff from polluting rivers, in addition to moderating temperatures during heat waves, and leaving room for trees to grow.

For the 10 developers who didn’t provide total site coverage estimates, I simply looked at their landscape design and used photoshop to count how many pixels were buildings or pavement, and how many were landscape.

The developers that didn’t report total site coverage had a reason: they reported an average of 33%, which was usually only the building area. When I added in pavement, I come up with an average of 72% total site coverage.

For example, this townhouse development in Cloverdale reported 40% coverage. From looking at their landscape plan, it’s obvious that it’s more than that. When I count pixels in photoshop, buildings and pavement take up 92% of the site. Their planning report says the limit is 45%. I guess they decided that zoning requirements are really flexible…when the zoning laws say maximum of 45%, it could mean just buildings if you want it to.

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Landscape plan from report 7913-0162-00

Six of these were townhouse developments; the rest were commercial. It makes sense that they wouldn’t want to draw attention to how much impermeable surfaces they were laying down.

But why would the city allow this sort of thing through so often? I don’t understand it.

—– a few hours later—–

What about this one? Report number 7913-0169-00 at 18699 24 Ave. An industrial building reporting 48.6% site coverage, in a zoning area with a maximum allowable site coverage of 60%. I double-checked, since it sounded too good to be true. Of course it wasn’t true. From this picture, I estimate 80% site coverage, even taking into account the apparently planted roof on the northeast of the building. Approved in July 2014.

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Lack of resources for children near new South Surrey elementary school

The snazzy-looking Sunnyside Elementary school building was built at a cost of $14.9 million, to hold up to 450 students.

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Front view of Sunnyside in June 2014 before massive area development

Only two years later it is seriously overcrowded, with over 600 students expected this September. In order to make space for those students, 6-10 portables are being sandwiched in on the small grounds (with one small playground, by the way). The highly-lauded music program there is constantly under threat, salvaged only by the diligent efforts of passionate parents, an astounding music teacher, and students who practice every free moment. Other schools in the area face similar challenges.

Rumour has it that the music program may be moved out to a portable this year. Next month we’ll see whether or not that’s true. The portables contrast starkly with the modern architectural design of the original building.

They have no air conditioning or heat. One of my twitter followers said that was absurd, so I confirmed it with a student who was in the that class. She said the only electricity they had was lights and a broken phone. They wore jackets in winter to keep warm, and boiled when it was hot. It was really crowded, too.

Developers don’t get any money for the portables, I guess, because public buildings are astonishingly fancy.

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Inside of the new Surrey City Hall, cost over $90 million

Developers insist there aren’t enough houses, and they’re right. People are thrilled that they can buy a townhouse here for under $800,000.

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What they’re not thrilled about is how little the city of Surrey has prepared for the children they bring with them. The Sunnyside Parents Facebook Group has a couple posts from parents worried about finding before and after-school care for their children. The latest one said all the childcare spaces near the school are full. I hope she finds something before September!

PARENTS POSTING

Several parents I’ve talked to have read the news (thank you, local newspapers like Peace Arch News and Surrey Now), and they decided to enroll their children in Catholic schools or other private schools instead of Sunnyside. But for the parents who didn’t research the issues around Surrey’s massive urbanization efforts, several unpleasant surprises may await as they get ready for the upcoming school year.

On the positive side, I can say for certain that parents already at the school, and the ever-helpful staff and teachers, will do all they can to help new families feel welcome, and to get the help and information they need.

Meanwhile, please keep writing letters to the provincial and city governments about the problems faced by families moving into these newly-densified areas.

Surrey Crime Rates Q2, 2016

Since my most popular posts are my crime rates, here are the most recent crime rates for Surrey. The population numbers are WAY out of date, since the RCMP only has data from 2013 on their website.  But since that’s all I have to go on, well, that’s what we’ll use.

Looks like South Surrey went up in breaking and entering, not surprising since I’ve heard from several friends here about their houses being broken into. Whalley’s still the worst by far for everything, and remember, this is per capita, so it’s not just total numbers, it’s relative numbers, so Whalley is indeed the worst, by far. Newton did pretty well! Except for total criminal code, and I’m not sure what those were.

Disclaimer: I may have made mistakes. If you notice some, please comment and I’ll fix them.

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Total Violent Crimes
39603_District-maps 2016 Property Crimes
Total Property Crimes
39603_District-maps 2016 Total Breaking Entering
Total Breaking and Entering
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Total CC (=Criminal Code)

People need forests too