Westside French Immersion (FI) students have been given a short-term reprieve.
Faced with the prospect of transferring or being redirected from the established FI secondary program at École Kelowna Senior Secondary (KSS) to an interim program at already overcrowded Mount Boucherie Secondary (MBSS), a school district committee has nixed recommending that idea to the Central Okanagan Board of Education.
The proposal initially arose out of concerns about over-capacity enrolment at KSS, which has already resulted in École KLO Middle School FI students within the Okanagan Mission Secondary catchment being moved from KSS to OKM, a move opposed by many affected students and parents.
But during a discussion on Westside school catchment changes for English and FI programs at Wednesday’s (Jan. 19) planning and facilities committee meeting, it was apparent with already 21 portables on the MBSS school site and the prospect of adding more for an interim FI program, school trustees had little appetite for recommending the change.
Trustee Chantelle Desrosiers, planning and facilities committee chair, said when the new secondary school opens, there will be a movement of English and FI students to the new school from MBSS and KSS.
“We want to cause the least disruption to families but when the new school opens, we will have to move students from Mount Boucherie…we just want to make sure with these catchment changes we make it known in advance so parents and students will know,” she said.
The new Westside Secondary is expected to host the FI Grade 9-12 program for Westside students when the new school opens.
The catchment and FI changes are complicated by two key factors: the new Westside Secondary, approved in principle by the ministry of education but still without a capital funding commitment, will be built on the repurposed École George Pringle Elementary site, with those elementary students dispersed to other elementary schools; and an imbalance in enrolment between overcrowded Constable Neil Bruce Middle and Ecole Glenrosa Middle schools.
The new secondary will enable the Westside to be carved up into two high school catchment areas, which presently are serviced entirely by MBSS.
The committee also opted to support the establishment of FI programs at Hudson Road and Glenrosa Elementary schools once George Pringle is closed, to enable equitable program access for students across the Westside.
As well, Shannon Lake Elementary students will be shifted from Constable Neil Bruce to Glenrosa Middle School to make the enrolment distribution more equitable between the two schools.
However, for one specific Shannon Lake area that closely neighbours Constable Neil Bruce, parents will have the option to enrol their children in either school of their preference, but will subsequently have to remain in that school’s catchment stream through to secondary school.
“This is going to impact FI students at the outset but we knew this was going to happen with the decision to repurpose George Pringle so we are working from that premise,” said Central Okanagan Public Schools secretary-treasurer Ryan Stierman.
Grade 9 and 10 MBSS students the year prior to the new Westside Secondary being opened will be designated to attend the new school when it opens.
Desrosiers said she strongly believes there should be an FI program on the Westside and there should be a new secondary school.
“It sort of comes full circle to me that by repurposing George Pringle, it would be an amazing opportunity for French Immersion students to finish where they began. There is something wonderful to me about that,” she said.
But she is “vehemently opposed” to creating a short-term interim FI program at MBSS, saying it would mean some students switching schools twice before they graduate.
“That is just creating chaos for no reason…there is an (enrolment) crisis right now at Mount Boucherie and to say there are already 21 portables on that site is kind of horrifying to me,” she said.
Another change will see Webber Road Elementary reopened for classes. The school has been closed since 1999 and the facility is leased to the City of West Kelowna and Okanagan Boys and Girls Club as a community centre.
The school will serve all displaced English students from repurposed George Pringle Elementary.
Three portables and two modulars will be added to allow the school to continue to be utilized for the boys and girls club childcare program and other community programs where possible.
Those and other renovations will cost about $625,135, funded by provincial capital funding and an annual facilities grant.
The school district has also applied for $165,000 in grant funding for a new playground for the school.
Any students currently enrolled in a school and residing in an area with a catchment change shall retain their enrolment priority as “catchment or French Immersion catchment area students who, in the previous year, attended the school.”
The same policy will apply to siblings, an effort by the school district to keep learning cohorts together as schools evolve into the new catchment distributions.
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