The splitting up of the French Immersion cohort at École Kelowna Secondary to address the overcrowding issue at that school is a scenario likely to be played out across the Central Okanagan School District during this decade.
Even if new high schools are built on the Westside and Glenmore to ease the enrolment pressure, students will be moved out of KSS and Mount Boucherie Secondary to occupy the badly needed new classroom space.
Adding to that challenge is the reality that school district staff project all existing secondary schools in the school district will be overcrowded by 2025.
Kevin Kaardal, superintendent/CEO of Okanagan Public Schools, said transitioning students into unfamiliar school settings is something school district staff have programs in place to facilitate such moves.
At least Wednesday’s school board meeting, trustees debated for some three hours over the pros and cons of moving the FI contingent within the Okanagan Mission Secondary catchment area from KSS to what would be a new French Immersion program at OKM, which has the classroom space in the school’s currently under-utilized annex.
Parents with children enrolled in the École Dorothea Walker Elementary and École KLO Middle FI programs voiced their opposition to the proposal, which ultimately resulted in a delay to implement the change from September 2021 to September 2022.
Kaardal acknowledged the trustees faced a difficult decision. “I have a great deal of respect for our trustees and the hard work they do,” he said.
The board has also deferred until June another FI-related decision, to have Westside French Immersion students who attend KSS be moved to a temporary FI program at Mount Boucherie Secondary, with a permanent solution resolved when the new Westside secondary school is built.
At present, the ministry of education has identified the new proposed school as a capital plan priority for the school district, providing funding for site acquisition and school design. The school district hopes the province will commit the funding for construction of the school with an announcement in the spring, in conjunction with the provincial government unveiling its 2021-22 budget.
A new secondary school in the Glenmore area has also been on the school district capital project list for the past eight years but no commitment to that proposal has been given yet by the ministry of education.
But he said the French Immersion program offered at OKM will be set up to mirror what course options are available at KSS, with the biggest challenge likely to fill the teaching positions with accredited French Immersion teachers, a recruiting shortfall that exists throughout the province.
“We deal with transitioning students all the time from elementary to middle school to senior secondary so we know how to do a good job at that and help students feel welcome and comfortable in their new setting,” Kaardal said.
“We have high-quality programs at all our schools are our expectations (for French Immersion) at OKM will be no different.”