Ecole Kelowna Senior Secondary School is facing changes as enrolment is beyond the school's current student capacity. (Contributed)

French Immersion shake-up for Central Okanagan School District

Planning and facilities committee makes recommendations for school board

The French Immersion (FI) program is facing a major reconfiguration in the Central Okanagan School District.

The changes will impact FI students in Lake Country and Westside, and redirect some FI students currently enrolled or earmarked to attend École Kelowna Senior Secondary (KSS) to Okanagan Mission Secondary (OKM) beginning in the 2021-22 school year.

The potential changes were discussed by the planning and facilities committee during a meeting Wednesday (Dec. 2) night, with several recommendations forwarded to the school board for final approval at the Dec. 9 board meeting.

The committee opted to not introduce an FI program in H.S Grenda Middle School when it opens next fall, deciding to provide a shuttle bus service between Grenda and École Dr. Knox Middle School, where Lake Country FI students are currently enrolled.

School district secretary-treasurer/CFO Ryan Stierman said the shuttle service would be cost neutral because student busing fees would cover the costs with an FI enrolment of 30-34 students. The program currently has 23 students attending Dr. Knox from Lake Country.

“It would be a 13.6 kilometre distance ride, about a 15 minute trip, compared to the hour and half option on BC Transit that requires transfers at two transit interchanges,” Stierman said.

Stierman also cited the costs to offer FI at Grenda Middle School would be almost double that of Kelowna students, largely because of a smaller student population to draw students from and the difficulty of hiring qualified French Immersion teachers today. This, he said, would leave the school unable to offer the same level of courses currently provided at École Dr. Knox Middle School.

READ MORE: School board challenges French Immersion expansion on Westside

Lake Country school trustee Amy Geistlinger argued the $237,200 cost to implement the Grenda FI program would create greater enrolment interest for parents in FI because their children would remain in the community rather than being bused to a Kelowna school.

“I would love to see it given a chance to succeed… I think a lot more parents would consider FI if it was offered in Lake Country and there is the opportunity for kids from other catchment areas, such as Rutland, to register which would free up space at KSS and OKM,” Geistlinger said.

She encouraged parents to voice their support for FI being added to Grenda prior to the school board meeting on Dec. 9.

While all trustees participated in the committee meeting, the committee has only three voting trustee members – Chantelle Desrosiers, Rolli Cacchioni and Lee-Ann Teade.

Cacchioni and Teade voted for the charter bus option, while Desrosiers supported the Grenda option. All trustees will vote on the recommendation at the Dec. 9 board meeting.

As for KSS, FI students, school district superintendent/CEO Kevin Kaardal said the school district is confronted by minimizing the impact on students and parents with a school running out of classroom space.

“It’s not a question of whether or not we want to do this…it’s simply a question of space,” Kaardal said.

School district staff reported OKM currently has space for 300 more students, and those students facing transfer would come from within the OKM catchment area.

“The positive aspect, is students within the OKM catchment area now at KSS would be able to attend their neighbourhood high school,” said Stierman.

The committee was unanimous in supporting the OKM recommendation to the board.

Another move to have students currently attending KSS from the Westside redirected to a temporary FI program at Mount Boucherie Secondary School for the 2022-23 school year, starting with Grade 10, was delayed to allow for more consultation with parents and more specific data on the impact of such a move.

Stierman said the FI shuffle would mean additional portables to accommodate an already over-crowded MBSS, noting the ultimate solution remains to build a new secondary school in West Kelowna, with either the new school or MBSS adopting a permanent FI program.

“The problem is we have to deal with the KSS enrolment problem right now as a new school is still four or five years down the road,” he said.

The committee was divided over the introduction of a French Immersion program to MBSS, deferring the staff recommendation to proceed to the Jan. 6 committee meeting, with a recommendation to be forward to the Jan. 13 board meeting.

Also related to KSS, the board debated the merits of a staff recommendation to place a cap of 75 international students to KSS, but that issue was also forwarded to the Dec. 9 board meeting for further discussion without a specific number pending further information from staff.

Watch for more on coverage on the FI changes on the Kelowna Capital News, Lake Country Calendar and West K News websites.

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