Opposition rises to Columneetza becoming a middle school

Opposition to Columneetza secondary becoming a middle school is rising from the ranks of teachers and parents.

The majority of Columneetza secondary teachers and parents are opposed to the School District 27 board’s decision to make that school a predominantly grades 7 to 9 campus, according to presentations made during a special open meeting of the School District 27 board Tuesday.

Backed up by several other teachers, Columneetza teachers Dave Corbett and Troy Johnston, and a representative from the Columneetza parent advisory council gave detailed presentations on the reasons for their position.

Earlier this month trustees confirmed their decision to make Williams Lake Secondary and Columneetza secondary schools one school on two campuses with Columneetza primarily a 7-9 campus and WLSS primarily a 10 to 12 campus.

After hearing the presentations from Columneetza representatives in the question period at the end of the meeting Tuesday, the trustees voted to issue a press release outlining the reasons for their decision.

During the meeting the Columneetza teachers noted that 50 people including parents and teachers had held a meeting recently and were in agreement that making Columneetza the junior campus would be counter productive.

Columneetza teacher Nara Riplinger also gave a short presentation. She noted that she didn’t attend the meeting at Columneetza. She said she supported the one school two campus model, but had hoped the trustees would keep both schools as grades 7 to 12 schools, rather than creating junior and senior campuses.

She said she was concerned about the negative impact the transition of moving from a junior campus to a senior campus would have on vulnerable students.

She also enjoyed being able to follow students through their high school careers.

The following are some of the concerns expressed by those opposing Columneetza becoming the predominantly 7 to 9 campus.

• Columneetza was built as a secondary school in 1967 and has a history of being the senior secondary school in Williams Lake.

• Since being replaced after a fire a few years ago the automotive/welding shop at Columneetza is one of the best in the province and is designed for senior trades courses.

• There is a strong programming link between Columneetza and Thompson Rivers University (across the street) and local businesses which promotes and provides trades training opportunities for senior secondary students. TRU has used the Columneetza facilities in the past and there is opportunity to do so in the future. Some Columneetza students also take some courses at TRU.

• Given the demand for skilled tradespeople in B.C. there is a fear that if students had to bus from WLSS to Columneetza for shop classes, enrolment in these trades classes would drop, along with the ability to offer more varied trades courses.

• Some WLSS students now take shop courses at Columneetza but that number is less than five per cent of all the students who take shop courses. The majority are Columneetza students.

• Students seeking to take trades courses will bear the majority of the burden of having to bus between the two schools to take the elective courses they need.

• Many of the students entering the trades are among the most vulnerable students and may opt not to take trades courses if they have to bus between the schools.

• There is also a concern that students will drive their vehicles to Columneetza for their shop classes instead of taking the school bus, which could pose a safety and liability risk for the district.

• There is more parking at Columneetza for students who drive, and having students with cars is an important part of the automotive program.

• The WLSS shop is more suited for middle school students.

• The Columneetza campus has a day-care centre for teen mothers wishing to stay in school.

• Columneetza has a hot lunch program and a mentoring program with neighbouring elementary schools.

• Columneetza has six science labs, while WLSS has four science labs.

• WLSS, with its pod configuration, and gymnasium size, is more suited for a middle school.

• In efforts to alleviate fears that young students would be making excursions downtown during breaks the presentations noted that as a junior campus WLSS could be designated as a closed campus for grades 7 to 9 students where students would not be allowed off school grounds during breaks.

• The school buses stop at the WLSS door.

In the last presentation, Fred Stafford asked the board to be open and transparent about its reasons for choosing WLSS as the 10 to 12 campus and what senior administrators had recommended.