New middle school to open in portables in Lake Country for 2014-15

Portables already in place next to George Elliot in advance of grade 7/8 interm middle school for 2014 school year

The portables beside George Elliot school in Winfield. They will be used for new middle school in 2014-15

An interim middle school will open in portable classrooms in Lake Country in the fall of 2014.

The Central Okanagan School Board has decided to relocate Grade 7 students from Lake Country’s three elementary schools into portable classrooms that have already been moved next to George Elliot High School. That will create what the school board is calling an interim Grade 7-8 middle school program to start the 2014-15 school year.

The move is the latest in an ongoing effort by the school board to deal with an influx of young school kids in Lake Country. Lake Country’s three elementary schools have a combined enrollment that exceeds the capacity of the three schools and some kindergarten kids will enter school this year, outside of their catchment area.

“The bottom line is we don’t have enough room in our elementary schools to handle the enrollment,” said school board trustee Deb Butler, who represents Lake Country. “One way or the other we would have kids in portables. It was a choice as the best way to manage that. We have to put the kids somewhere so the interim plan is to create a middle school within a high school until we get approval to build a new middle school.”

The school board approved the relocation at a meeting late last month and sent a letter home to district parents laying out the plans. The board has also already acquired the portable classrooms and located them at George Elliot, something that set off alarm bells in the community, which had previously heard the district was going to build a new school.

“The portables are the compromise no one wanted,” admitted Butler. “But they are a compromise so we can create a separate space for Grade 7 and 8’s so they have their own space. They will go into the high school for specialty programs but for the most part they will have their own space.”

The board has already acquired enough portables for the interim program after a school burned down in Oliver and the portables were available, free of charge to the school board, as long as they could move them. The board decided to move them directly to George Elliot creating a stir in the community.

“It doesn’t sound like much planning and it’s disappointing when you see the process jumped forward in that way,” said Coun. Penny Gambell of the arrival of the portables in Lake Country. “I am hearing parents are really distressed about the process. The idea of a middle school in a bunch of portables brings up some concerns.”

But Butler said the community has been properly consulted and parents were notified of exactly what was happening by letter. She said the board is doing what they feel is the best for the community and there will be more public consultation over the next 14 months before the portables open.

“We don’t have any intention of moving kids into the portables right away,” she said. “The plan is to build a foundation and put them together in a way that they have have their own space. There are times when business needs to be done and moving these buildings was part of the business that had to be done. We would be crazy to say we don’t want free portables. The best thing we can do is keep the lines of communication open. People need to understand this is a good time to have a voice. I really believe in the middle school. I think this is the right time to happen in Lake Country. One way or another we need another school. But you just can’t snap your fingers and make it happen. You have to go through the process.”

The school board has an interim agreement in place to purchase the land that is currently home to the Aspen Grove Golf Course to locate a future middle school, once the provincial government approves the capital expenditure. That will move the school model in Lake Country to one where elementary schools include Kindergarten to Grade 5 students, the middle school is Grade 6 to 8 and the high school is from Grades 9 to 12.

The sale is currently before the Agriculture Land Commission which would have to approve the use of the land for a school. Butler, a former Parent Advisory Council member in Lake Country, says it’s a different issue than when she had kids going through school and the school board was contemplating closing schools due to a lack of enrollment in Lake Country.

“It’s the opposite fight I had,” she said. “But I had to ask myself ‘are we fighting change for the sake of fighting change or what is the rationale behind this?’ If this was about just moving the grade 7’s to the high school I couldn’t support it. But this is about moving to a middle school and I can support that. It’s important that we don’t lose focus. This is an interim step moving towards a middle school.

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