The administrative headquarters for the Central Okanagan School District in Kelowna. (File photo)

School board commits to French Immersion for Lake Country

Questions among trustees delay École KSS French Immersion; international student cap decisions

The voices of Lake Country parents wanting a French Immersion (FI) program introduced at the new H.S. Grenda Middle School when it opens next fall were heard by the Central Okanagan Board of Education.

While there are risks attached to the decision, the trustees voted at their Wednesday board meeting to give Lake Country students a chance to attend FI classes in their own community, rather than having to continue attending École Dr. Knox Middle School in Kelowna.

The FI elementary program is currently offered at École Peter Greer Elementary in Lake Country.

The challenge facing school district staff will be to possibly recruit an FI teacher, and through that offer enough of a curriculum, 80 per cent of an FI student’s courses, to achieve a dual Dogwood graduation certificate.

“If it doesn’t reach the FI standard, then it becomes little more than an enriched French program,” said Central Okanagan School District superintendent/CEO Kevin Kaardal.

School board chair Moyra Baxter said after extensive consultation with the Lake Country community, it was clear that parents were willing to see less program options at H.S. Grenda which could be offered at École Dr. Knox at the outset to allow their kids to attend school in their home community.

“If we are going to do all this consultation and not listen to what parents want, then why are we doing all this consultation?” Baxter asked.

Lake Country trustee Amy Geistlinger cited her four reasons for supporting FI being introduced at H.S. Grenda: the overwhelming support of Lake Country from both the French Immersion and non-French Immersion communities; the first year startup cost for the 2021-22 school year of $136,200 as not being excessive or unreasonable within the context of the entire school district budget; the chance for the Lake Country French Immersion program to flourish at both the middle and elementary school levels; and parents being okay with fewer FI elective courses than at École Dr. Knox.

The initial motion before the board was to vote on a staff recommendation to establish a direct shuttle service between Grenda and Ecole Dr. Knox for Lake Country students, which Geistlinger countered with a substitute motion to establish the FI program at H.S. Grenda.

The lone trustee to oppose the FI middle school introduction for Lake Country was Rolli Cacchioni.

While the board of education provided some clarity to Lake Country parents, the same can’t be said for FI parents of students enrolled at École Kelowna Secondary.

In an effort to reduce the enrolment crunch at KSS, the board has been contemplating three options: move FI students attending KSS within the Okanagan Mission Secondary catchment area to that school next September; move Westside students to a temporary FI program at Mount Boucherie Secondary in 2021-22; and place a cap on international students at KSS.

After being debated at two board meetings and a planning facilities committee meeting in the last month, the trustees are still struggling with reaching any decisions, with some trustees requesting more information from staff on the financial implications of the moves.

Resolutions on all three issues were deferred to the next board meeting Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.

Watch for further stories on the French Immersion and international student enrolment changes on the Lake Country Calendar, Kelowna Capital News and West K News websites.