The French Immersion and international student programs at École Kelowna Senior Secondary are the focus of attempts to address enrolment over-crowding at the school.
The school district wants to redirect students within the Okanagan Mission Secondary (OKM) catchment area bound for the French Immersion (FI) program at Kelowna Secondary School (KSS) to instead attend OKM beginning next September, while also shuffling Westside FI students attending KSS to a temporary relocation of their program at Mount Boucherie Secondary (MBSS) starting in the 2022-23 school year.
The international student enrolment at KSS would also be capped at 75 full-time equivalent students.
Speaking at the planning and facilities committee meeting Wednesday (Dec. 2), Central Okanagan 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, with the additional cost to add FI to the OKM estimated by staff at $150,000 to $200,000.
“The positive aspect, is students within the OKM catchment area now at KSS would be able to attend their neighbourhood high school,” reiterated Ryan Stierman, school district secretary-treasurer/CFO.
Stierman noted consideration was also given to expand FI to the Canyon Falls Middle School but the school doesn’t have the long-term capacity to offer a French Immersion program for École Dorothea Walker Elementary catchment FI students.
While the committee endorsed the OKM recommendation for the school board to consider at its Dec. 9, meeting, the redirecting of FI students to MBSS fell under greater resistance.
Stierman acknowledged the FI program being introduced at an already over-crowded MBSS will mean three to four portables added to the school, 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.
Stierman said school district projections indicate KSS will need to create 80 to 100 FI student spaces by 2024 to accommodate Westside students.
Committee chair Chantelle Desrosiers said she was concerned about the ‘temporary’ nature of committing to an FI program at MBSS when there is yet no solid timeline for a new secondary school on the Westside.
The ministry of education has declared it a capital spending priority to secure a land site and begin the planning process, but a firm commitment on the school being built won’t likely be confirmed until next spring, or later.
“The second part of the puzzle for me is I think it would be irresponsible on our part to make this commitment without (approval) to add more portables from the City of West Kelowna,” she said.
Trustee Rolli Cacchioni addressed the portable addition aspect, saying they are a fact of life for the Central Okanagan School District dating back to 1989, blaming the lack of funding from the province to keep up with periods of enrolment growth.
“Various provincial governments over that time have not stepped up to the plate to support the building of new schools,” he said.
Desrosiers said staff should consult with Westside FI parents on this latest move before any final decision is made, a commitment Stierman said could be completed over the next two weeks.
“There has been consultation done in the past but there is now a whole new generation of parents and children in the program who weren’t there before and they should be heard from,” Desrosiers said.
Trustee Moyra Baxter added she didn’t see the rush in making a decision since the implementation of an FI program for MBSS is being considered for the 2022-23 school year.
She noted past consultation with parents had clearly shown a preference of Westside FI parents to send their kids to a larger more inclusive program at KSS, offering a complete range of course options and the opportunity to share an educational experience with other area FI students.
The committee agreed to bring the MBSS issue up for discussion again at the committee’s Jan. 6, 2021, meeting, and make a recommendation for the school board to consider at its Jan. 13, meeting.