The Joy and Discomfort of Being a Growing School District

RE Mountain Secondary School completed in 2019.

The Langley School District continues to grow by 200 to 400 students each year and there is no sign that this trend will end in the near future. This student growth provides additional funding to the District along with increased opportunities for students and the ability to employ more staff. I certainly prefer this scenario compared to other communities throughout BC where stagnant or decreasing student enrolment leads to layoffs and diminished opportunities for students. In the case of Langley the increase in student enrolment has culminated in the building of two additional elementary schools, a middle school, and a secondary school. These new schools are structurally aligned to the new curriculum and look dramatically different from schools designed 20 to 30 years ago. Furthermore, as the community continues to grow there will be more schools added to meet this change.

However, the increased population growth in the community also contributes to a number of other pressures. Infrastructure has difficulty keeping pace, congestion causes stress, and for some it feels like a loss of community. In fact this growth can also contribute towards friction by creating ‘have’ and ‘have not’ neighbourhoods – new versus older sites. The increased development is rarely uniformly spaced out throughout the community. Questions get asked: Why does the new area seem to get all the attention? What about us? Why can’t we get schools fast enough? Why are some children in portables? Why can’t the district bus more children to reduce congestion and address student safety?

The questions can serve to divide community and can occupy a tremendous amount of staff time to diffuse issues. In addition, a divided community undermines a sense of belonging for our students and serves as a roadblock for us to work together to address issues such as homelessness, substance use, social media dysfunction, and other challenges associated with the skyrocketing costs of living to remain in the lower mainland.

At a conference I recently attended, author Margaret Wheatley stated that “Whatever the problem, community is the answer”. I remain hopeful that the growth Langley is experiencing will not undermine this collective ownership. We cannot let the challenges of urban growth derail the quality of our relationships with each other.

Gord Stewart