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Geoff Johnson: Wolf will knock at schoolhouse door

Working on a timeline of Never, the B.C. government continues to prolong and delay resolution of its issues with the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation by seeking the answers it wants to hear from some judge somewhere.

Working on a timeline of Never, the B.C. government continues to prolong and delay resolution of its issues with the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation by seeking the answers it wants to hear from some judge somewhere.

On the other side of the table, the BCTF, now that it has been handed the game ball twice by Justice Susan Griffin, seems unsure about which end of the field is the goal line.

In the meantime, in the rest of the world, entrepreneurs continue energetically to explore alternatives to schools.

The Los Angeles Public Library, as an example, is teaming up with a private online learning company to offer diplomas to high-school dropouts.

Library director John Szabo says he believes the program announced last week is the first in the U.S.

Szabo says it’s the latest step in the transformation of public libraries and public education in the digital age as they move to establish themselves beyond being a repository of books to a full educational institution.

The library hopes to grant high school diplomas to 150 adults in the first year at a cost to the library of $150,000 — that’s $1,000 per graduate, significantly less than the cost of running adult-education classes in a school district.

Szabo believes this is the first time a public library will be offering an accredited high-school diploma. Adult students will take courses online but will meet at the library for assistance and to interact with fellow learners.

Library staff will be trained to help adult learners.

Smart Horizons Career Online Education, a subsidiary of Cengage, offers the 18-credit, career-based high-school diploma programs designed to prepare students for entrance into the workplace. Smart Horizons bills itself as the world’s first accredited online school district.

Once enrolled in the Career Online High School, each learner is paired with an academic coach and an individual career plan. The coach offers ongoing guidance and encouragement, evaluates performance and connects the student with the resources needed to demonstrate mastery of each concept and course.

The program is accredited by the AdvancED Accreditation Commission, a private, nonprofit agency.

Cengage Learning, Smart Horizon’s “mother” company, advertises itself as a leading provider of teaching, learning and research solutions for the academic, professional and library markets worldwide. With annual revenues of approximately $2 billion, the company has 5,500 employees with operations in more than 20 countries around the world.

What all this means is that private enterprise has identified a need, engaged sophisticated technology, found accessible community outlets and moved ahead with an educational “product,” which it is able to provide at a reasonable price.

Greater Victoria Public Library director of communications Alyssa Polinsky is aware of the Los Angeles program. While adult grad programs in B.C. are usually handled by school districts, other education options are provided locally by the library.

“We’ve been doing some work in the area of assisting people with job-seeking skills,” she said, adding: “Helping job-seekers prepare employment resumes is one area on which we focus.”

Polinsky also pointed to the library’s constructive relationship with both the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre, a nonprofit, and the Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria. “The library is a place people feel open and comfortable coming to.”

The Victoria library provides financial-literacy workshops about personal budgeting and dealing with banks and credit agencies. Always looking for new partnerships to provide these programs, the library is looking to expand these “non-book” services.

In B.C., for people seeking to make up for lost time and finally complete high-school graduation, the traditional school district adult-education programs are still the way to go.

But in the longer term in B.C., both government and the BCTF might need to set aside prolonged legal procrastination and, while there is still time, quickly resolve an 11-year conflict and take notice of possibilities for 21st-century public education being explored elsewhere.

That entrepreneurial wolf might soon be knocking at the schoolhouse door.


Geoff Johnson is a retired superintendent of schools.