Surrey superintendent of schools Jordan Tinney is retiring after nine years with the school district, seven of them in the top job.
He will be greatly missed. He has been a good leader in very challenging times for Surrey schools. Thankfully, he will be on the job until his successor takes over. A steady hand on the tiller in uncertain times is good news.
Of course, the last two years have been consumed by COVID-19 issues. For almost the entire 2020-21 school year, Surrey was leading the province in active, diagnosed COVID cases. This put enormous pressure on schools.
There almost certainly would have been many more cases if the school district had not acted so proactively. As of March 14, Tinney noted that the school district had released 2,077 letters to parents related to exposures, outbreaks and isolation issues. This was an unprecedented level of communication.
In September, as the new school year began, the province said parents would not receive notifications about COVID-19 cases, due to potential “anxiety.” School districts, the B.C. Teachers Federation and many parents’ groups pushed back, and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry relented. The vast majority of parents appreciate being directly informed by the schools, rather than hearing information secondhand or via social media.
Surrey again showed its leadership last week, by announcing a full mask mandate for all students, going further than Henry was prepared to. It should be noted that the Surrey Teachers Association called for such a mandate last winter. After Surrey, Burnaby and Vancouver announced complete mask mandates, Henry followed suit last Friday, announcing a province-wide mask mandate for all students.
Looking beyond COVID-19, Surrey has shown leadership in many other areas. In advocating for new schools, Tinney and the board have rightly put pressure on the province to move more quickly with construction of new schools to meet the ever-growing school population. Most recently, the board approved a capital plan that calls for purchase of eight new school sites, 16 additions to schools and many other improvements. Included in the plan are new secondary schools in Newton and Grandview Heights and a 500-student addition to Fleetwood Park Secondary.
The current provincial government has been more open to spending funds on school construction, but the district is still playing catch-up in many areas. The long lead time required from the moment the need for a new school is identified until it finally opens means that schools approved under the former BC Liberal government, which has now been out of office for more than four years, are still under construction.
This means that many other schools are overcrowded; that portable classrooms are a major part of learning for too many students and that other important parts of students’ overall education are impacted by growth issues.
Tinney is the latest in a long line of outstanding superintendents of schools that Surrey has been fortunate to have. As the largest and fastest-growing district in the province, being in the top job means there is an unbelievable amount of pressure. This community owes Tinney and all school district employees a great deal of thanks for their hard work and leadership.
Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email firstname.lastname@example.org