By Mike Straus
The planned grade reconfiguration at West Kelowna schools has generated much opposition since it was announced, with parents and school board members alike concerned about the impact of such a fast change.
Concerns about budget, student readiness, school capacity, and school amenities abound, and it appears that there may simply be no such thing as a good solution.
Central Okanagan school board chair Moyra Baxter says that while similar reconfigurations have been rather simple and straightforward in other areas, West Kelowna’s existing overcrowding problem is complicating reconfiguration plans.
“Reconfiguration is something we’ve been working toward for many years,” Baxter says. “We were able to do it fairly quickly in Rutland, and without making too many changes to the schools, because we had the space to do it. But on the Westside, our elementary schools are quite crowded, and we don’t have the space we need at Mount Boucherie. That’s why the staff suggested a staged reconfiguration.”
Baxter says that the school board has had to find approximately 50 new classroom spaces in the school district in order to accommodate increasing enrollment and to comply with the 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision on class size and composition. The space shortage in West Kelowna schools is also partly due to past population growth projections that turned out to be too low.
The planned staged reconfiguration would see area Grade 9 students moved to Mount Boucherie Secondary School and Grade 6 students moved into local middle schools. However, not all schools will be making the change at the same time. Grade 9 students at Constable Neil Bruce will be sent to Mount Boucherie Secondary School, for instance, but Grade 9 students at Glenrosa Middle School will be staying put for the time being.
Baxter says that this reconfiguration plan is necessary in order to prevent overcrowding at local elementary schools and to save taxpayer dollars.
“If we do this right away, we won’t have to put portables on the elementary school properties at this time. Our staff also told us that it would cost an extra $1 million to wait a year before executing this plan.”
However, local parents are concerned that the reconfiguration plan is too rushed, and that budgetary savings are coming at the cost of their children’s education. Local parent Carrie Smith says she’s worried about whether her children will receive all the same opportunities for extracurriculars that she had when she was a student.
“I don’t think anyone was given enough time to prepare for this change. I have two kids—one in Grade 5 and one in Grade 8—and I worry about them being out in a portable because portables don’t have lockers. Plus, the portables will take space away from the sports programs and segregate the students away from the rest of the school population, which isn’t ideal for making a transition. The school board could have taken a year to revamp some of these portables and make them more suitable for students of this age.”
Smith says that West Kelowna needs another secondary school, as Mount Boucherie is already at capacity, and reconfiguration doesn’t address that problem.
Parent Sara Neukomm agrees that the school board hasn’t adequately planned for when Mount Boucherie exceeds capacity.
“Imposing this grade reconfiguration for September 2018 starts the clock ticking on Mount Boucherie,” Neukomm says. “If the school board’s enrollment projections are off by just 10 per cent, then in five years we’ll have big problems. If Boucherie hits capacity the district will have to send new students elsewhere, but there’s nowhere else to send them.”
Neukomm says she’s also concerned for local special needs children, who may need more time to adjust to the grade reconfiguration.
“I’m not a specialist, but I know that change is a big deal for children on the autism spectrum. A parent on the George Pringle Elementary PAC said their goal is to make sure the kids coming in are fed. I worry about those kids getting lost in the system when they head off to middle school a year earlier than expected, with no plan in place to make sure their needs are met.”
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