Trustees delay decision to have Grade 7s at high school

The Central Okanagan board of education is unable to agree on a long-term solution to overcrowding in elementary schools.

While Lake Country elementary schools are facing an enrolment crisis, the Central Okanagan board of education is unable to agree on a long-term solution.

At a board of education meeting last Wednesday, the school trustees engaged in a lengthy discussion about the issue, but could only agree on delaying a longer term solution for up to another two years.

While the school district administration has led a long campaign to convince school parents and trustees on the merits of introducing Grade 7s into George Elliot Secondary School to alleviate the enrolment stress at the three elementary schools, Lake Country parent advisory councils for those elementary schools have advocated against the idea, questioning the research numbers the school district projects for future enrolment.

At last week’s meeting, school district administrator Hugh Gloster said staff will pursue whatever option the board agrees to, but noted that he is opposed to adding portables to Davidson Road elementary.

That school is facing the most immediate enrolment overcrowding issues, due to a lack of space for the buildings themselves and the facility resources to accommodate the extra students, and that it is board policy not to pull students enrolled out of one school and place them in another.

He noted that all catchment revision or student relocation efforts would be focused on incoming new students to any school.

The resolution brought forward by the planning and facilities committee recommended that portables be placed at the elementary schools with a long-term plan to advocate the ministry of education for funding to build a new middle school; and manage elementary school growth through revision of catchment areas and redirection of students

Board chairman Rollie Cacchioni added an amendment that parents of Grade 6 students be given the option of enrolling their children in Grade 7 at either George Elliot or their elementary school in September 2014.

But the board ultimately defeated all those resolutions, agreeing instead to manage enrolment in the area’s elementary schools for the next year while engaging in more discussion about the potential for Grade 7s to be absorbed at George Elliot.

Holding up a thick binder full of comments from parents on admitting Grade 7s to George Elliot next September, Gloster told the board he doubted public opinion will change much by seeking more parental input.

“We will certainly engage in that process but I think we won’t find a lot of different opinion from what we already have,” said Gloster, noting that many parents put a lot of thought and research into their comments.

“I don’t think that we will find a great deal more support for the school-within-a-school concept while the board is delaying a tough decision for another year.”

He said the school district can probably manage for the next two years as there is classroom space at Peter Greer Elementary, which may come at the cost of moving the existing pre-school somewhere else, but the situation at Davidson Road will reach a crisis point within three years.

“You can say what you want about our research looking long-term, but we know the situation that is coming over the next three years. We know the kids that are out there about to enter the school system. We are not guessing, we can see the whites of their eyes,” Gloster said.

Trustee Moyra Baxter said she feels parents and the school district need more time to flush out the details of how Grade 7s could be adopted into George Elliot and how the middle school concept would work within a secondary school.

“I feel like we are rushing into this and I think it requires a little more careful thought about how all this is going to work,” Baxter said.

Deb Butler, the Lake Country representative on the board, said she is not convinced that the education ministry will see the need for both a middle school and secondary school in her community.

“I think we have to look at this issue in a meaningful way, and the fact is we may never see a middle school here,” Butler said.

Trustee Murli Pendharkar said the board will ultimately have to make a decision that will be unpopular to someone. “It is a tough situation but we have to do something moving forward,” he said.

Trustee Joyce Brinkerhoff suggested the school district consider the prospect of creating a middle school at George Elliot that includes Grades 6, 7 and 8 students, in line with the board’s adopted middle school age policy.

Trustee Julia Fraser echoed concerns voiced by parents of Grade 7s not being ready to be mixed with older students on many different levels, and that if the George Elliot situation proceeds, it will hurt the chance of securing funding for a new middle school because it will be perceived as not being necessary.

“My concern is we might be biting the hand that feeds us,” said Fraser.

However, Cachionni said a new middle school won’t be built in Lake Country as long as the secondary school has potential space for student enrolment expansion.