Rationale provided for Williams Lake area school closures

The Initial Options Report released by School District 27 Sept. 25 includes some rationale for closing and consolidating schools.

The Initial Options Report released for public consultation by the School District 27 board Sept. 25 includes some background information on reasons the board is proposing to close and re-consolidate schools in the district.

According to the report the proposals were made after extensive review of previous research by the district including the Our Kids Our Future report released in May 2009 that included data collected and reviewed from pubic forums held in the district and other sources of data gathered toward creating an education and operational plan for the district.

The board also developed a new set of guiding principles on which to based their decisions.

The guiding principles include providing excellence in education, choice, and opportunity; clear and transparent communication; sound and efficient fiscal management; and embracing the district’s unique factors including rural and remote schools, geography and cultural diversity.

In the Williams Lake area the proposal is to close Glendale, Wildwood and Kwaleen elementary schools.

The plan also includes restructuring Williams Lake and Columneetza secondary schools from their current status as separate grades 8 to 12 secondary schools into one grade 7 to 12 secondary school on two campuses.

The rationale for creating one grades 7 to 12 secondary school instead of going with the junior/senior secondary model is to minimize school transitions for students.

Previous research indicates that the more school transitions a student experiences the more likely he or she will be to quit school early.

The report notes that Columneetza and WLSS are currently functioning below capacity as separate Grade 8 to 12 schools but neither school is able to accommodate 100 per cent of secondary students.

Creation of a middle school on one campus may also require some physical changes and would restrict the availability of some specialty programs at the secondary level.

Several communities in B.C. use a single secondary school with two separate campuses for similar reasons.

In efforts to align the secondary program with the goals of BC’s Education Plan, which includes more personalized learning options, the school district intends to hire an external facilitator to co-ordinate the restructuring.

Programs would also be designed to better respect the Our Kids, Our Future document, hockey academy, fine arts programming and other currently existing programs.

The model promises to retain or increase the choices and opportunities for all students and that resulting operational changes will provide better certainty for students in the availability of desired courses and programs; more focused content for teaching staff; and a better range of offerings for all students.

The report states the challenge for a Grade 7 to 12 school configuration is at the administration level not at the student or teacher level. It noted that Grade 7 students could be located in one school as a “pod” and could be afforded “explorations” opportunities in specialty spaces.

Raising Grade 7 students in Williams Lake area from elementary to the secondary level will allow the district to create financial efficiencies in the system by consolidating the nine existing schools in the Williams Lake bowl into six elementary schools.

Choosing Glendale, Wildwood and Kwaleen elementary schools for closure is based on an in-depth study of the capacity, current enrollment, catchment area, trends, facility condition, and all other available data.

Operating funds provided by the province for public education is based primarily on student enrollment which has resulted in financial difficulties for the district over the past few years.

Between 1996/97 and 2011/12 school years student enrollment dropped from 8,500 students to about 5,500 students and is projected to continue to drop, given current economic factors.

According to the report the plan also allows for flexibility in the system should economic factors such new mining development come into play.

The report states that declines in enrollment have resulted in challenges to providing a well-balanced education to many students and in most schools being underutilized.

This has forced more multi-grade classrooms, inefficient pupil-teacher ratios and a strain on both the education and on the operation and maintenance budgets.

Additionally, many of the schools are older and have numerous issues in terms of energy efficiency, air quality, and general renovation needs.

The board continues to support the provision of kindergarten to Grade 10 schooling in schools west of the Fraser River but recognizes the need to engage with these communities to discuss school enrollment and configurations in 2013/14.

This could include some form of right-sizing of schools either through mothballing or selective demolition to reduce operating and maintenance costs.

The public is invited to comment on the proposals by writing letters, participating in the district’s on-line dialogue, and by attending public consultation meetings.

The first public consultation meeting for the north end of the district will be held at Williams Lake Secondary School gymnasium starting at 6:30 p.m. this Tuesday, Oct. 2.

An “Out of the Box”  think tank will also be held for the public at the Columneetza gymnasium on Oct. 25 starting at 6:30 p.m.

Public consultation meetings will also be held at Glendale Elementary, Nov. 6 at 6:30 p.m.; Kwaleen Elementary, Nov, 20 at 6:30 p.m.; and Wildwood Elementary, Nov. 29 at 6:30 p.m.

Public consultation meetings are also scheduled for the 100 Mile House area.

Separate consultation meetings are also scheduled with teaching, administrative and support staff.

Written presentations on the Initial Options Report will be accepted by the board at any time throughout the 90-day consultation process, as well as feedback through e-mail using the ThoughtStream process.

Written submissions can be mailed to Think Tank, School District No. 27, 350 N. Second Avenue, Williams Lake, B.C. V2G 1Z9.

On line go to www.sd27.bc.ca

Municipalities, regional district, provincial and community organizations are invited to join the general public in the dialogue. The board asks participants to consider the report, think long term, think collaboration, and address questions such as what are the challenges of the initial options report, what are the benefits, and what could be done differently?