Parents opposed to placing Grade 7s in secondary school appeal to board

Parents hope the school district won't send Grade 7 students to George Elliot Secondary School to ease anticipated enrolment pressures.

Concerned parents may know by tonight if their efforts to ward the school district away from introducing Grade 7 students to George Elliot Secondary School to ease anticipated enrolment pressures in Lake Country was successful.

The first step in that process was achieved last Tuesday when the planning and facilities committee adopted a recommendation that student population growth and overcrowding at Davidson Road elementary by managed by revising the existing catchment areas of Davidson, Peter Greer and Oyama Traditional elementary schools.

The school district staff held a public forum to explain the benefits of the Grade 7s being moved to the secondary school, what they called an interim measure until the province provided funding for the ultimate enrolment pressure solution, a new Grade 6 to 8 middle school in Lake Country.

The committee’s recommendation will go before the board of education at either the Nov. 28 or Dec. 12 regular meeting.

While committee chair Moyra Baxter, a school trustee, suggested last week the decision will be made at the Dec. 12 meeting, board chairman Rollie Cachionni, sitting in the audience at last Tuesday’s committee meeting, suggested the board and staff could be ready to deal with the matter at the Nov. 28 meeting.

Speaking last Tuesday on behalf of the four Parent Advisory Committees in Lake Country, Ryan Murdain led the planning and facilities management committee through a powerpoint presentation outlining the reasons why many parents were opposed to Grade 7s being bumped out of elementary school to George Elliot secondary.

Murdain’s presentation took issue with school district staff prognostications of elementary student growth over the next five years and beyond.

Murdain said the major residential development projects that school staff used to project statistical growth are undergoing a slowdown due to the economic downturn of recent years.

“Young families are not represented by the bulk of sales for new homes right now,” Murdain said. “Young families are leaving Lake Country and moving to Alberta because that’s where the money is right now.”

He noted that in Lake Country for the past year, 45 residential building permits have been issued, which isn’t balanced against the more than 2,000 potential new homes being projected in various local developments.

Murdain noted that Lake Country Mayor James Baker has also spoken out against the George Elliot Secondary configuration to accommodate Grade 7 student enrolment.

Murdain said realistic growth for Lake Country in the immediate future should allow for the existing elementary schools, with the installation of portables, to deal with any enrolment pressure.

“We support the middle school plan but with funding for that new school still a question mark, we are left to wonder if this short-term solution of sending the Grade 7s to George Elliot will have no concrete end-date,” Murdain said.

“We fear what starts out as temporary could become permanent.”

He suggested adding the Grade 7s—about 130 students—to the current student population of 840 at George Elliot will put pressure on course availability at all grade levels and for workshop, specialist courses and lab space.

“Other grade resources will suffer we feel due to the extra bodies at the school.”

Murdain was asked if he understood that some parents were in favour of the move, largely because of the course or sports team options it made available to their Grade 7s.

He said that was the case but he felt the majority opinion far outweighed those in support of the move.

He also delivered a petition to the committee signed by many parents who attended the recent information forum, and was asked if parents who signed the petition prior to the forum felt the same way after the school district staff presentation.

Murdain said he doubted that the meeting really had any significance in changing the opinions of those opposed to the idea, and nobody had approached them since to have their name removed from the petition.