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P.I.E. wants to represent kids, community in BC education

A new grassroots education group hopes to fill in the gap between the teachers' union and the government by representing solely the interests of kids in British Columbia.

Partners* in Education (P.I.E.) started as a Facebook group formed by stay-at-home mom Melanie Anderson earlier this year and in just a month has snowballed into a roundtable discussion with parents, educators, trustees, and Jane Thornthwaite, Liberal MLA for North Vancouver-Seymour and parliamentary secretary for student support and parent engagement to the minister of education.

"I feel that there's a huge representational gap in BC ed, and the BCTF pretty much is advocating for their members and for their union, and you have the government that has political constraints, budget constraints," Anderson told The Tyee.

"I don't really see anybody out there advocating for the kids."

Anderson says she appreciates the role of Parent Advisory Councils but hopes P.I.E. can go beyond involving parents in education and bring in extended family, businesses, and the community. She hopes they can spur partnerships among these groups to "fill in the gaps" in the current education system.

"Underfunding, for example, is a really huge issue. There is not possibly the chance that we're going to get all of the money that we need, so we have to figure out practical ways to solve some of the problems," she said, adding partnerships between public schools and private businesses could provide services that have seen funding cut, like special needs education.

Other concerns P.I.E. has include the lack of public respect for teachers, labour stability in education, and what Anderson sees as a drawn out and ineffective teacher disciplinary process.

She says she's already received support for P.I.E. from BC Green Party Leader Jane Sterk, Thornthwaite, and several self-identified BC New Democratic Party and Conservative voters.

Anderson hopes P.I.E.'s first roundtable discussion, featuring Thornthwaite, will result in an action plan for improving these issues in education.

"We are going to present Jane with an action plan after our first roundtable after we hear what people have to say, and she is planning on presenting that to the premier. The premier's office has said that they're going to look at it, they're going to bring Minister McRae into it and see if there's any possibilities of what we can get done," she said.

The roundtable, happening on March 23 in Langley, is already full. Anderson, who has a daughter in Grade 3 and an autistic son in Grade 2, is running P.I.E. on her own without funding.

She hopes to secure funding in the near future to hold more bi-partisan roundtables in the summer that will be open to the public.

"The goal is to have regional roundtables on education," she said.

"I think that healthy schools also need healthy communities, and I want to see more community involvement in education. I want to see people speaking up."

*Correction: initial posting incorrectly referred to Parents In Education. We apologize for the error. Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee. Follow her on Twitter.

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