School District 68 superintendent Dave Hutchinson reads out staff recommendations during the board of education meeting held Wednesday

School board defers Ladysmith zone decisions to January

No decisions were made regarding the future of Ladysmith schools during School District 68's Dec. 18 board meeting.

No decisions were made regarding the future of Ladysmith zone schools when the School District 68 board of education held its regular board meeting in Ladysmith last week.

The school board meeting was held Dec. 18 at Ladysmith Secondary School, and about 110 people were on hand to hear the board discuss the options put forward by the Ladysmith Extended Consultation Working Group and the recommendations put forward by Superintendent Dave Hutchinson for school facilities in the Ladysmith zone.

After much discussion, the board tabled all motions related to the Ladysmith zone 10 Year Enhanced Facilities For Learning Plan proposals until the Jan. 29 board meeting.

Several trustees said they felt like they needed more information and had too many unanswered questions about French Immersion enrolment and how many students from Cedar would come to Ladysmith, for example, to make a decision that night.

At the meeting, Superintendent Dave Hutchinson outlined the consultation process that was undertaken in regards to the future of facilities in the Ladysmith zone, including the establishment of the Ladysmith Working Group to review alternatives to the proposed school closures and reconfigurations.  The Working Group included representatives of the Town of Ladysmith, the Cowichan Valley Regional District, Parent Advisory Councils, school administrators, district senior staff and the board of education.

On Wednesday night, trustees discussed Option A and Option C put forward by the Working Group, as well as the recommendation from the superintendent, which is a modification of the district’s original proposal from April.

Hutchinson recommends the following actions:

• Close École Davis Road (EDR) in June 2014 and consolidate the English and French programs as follows: the  K-6 French Immersion program with Ladysmith Intermediate; the EDR English program grades 4-6 students with Ladysmith Intermediate; and the K-3 EDR English program students with Ladysmith Primary.

Transportation will be provided as per Board Transportation Procedure 4400. The district will also apply Board Procedure 4011, The Disposition of Property, with respect to exploring the potential future use of the site.

• Grade 7 students from EDR and Ladysmith Intermediate will move to Ladysmith Secondary in fall 2014 (already approved by the Board). Transportation will be provided as per Board Transportation Procedure 4400.

• The district will undertake a feasibility study with respect to the addition of a Grade 8 French Immersion program at Ladysmith Secondary.

• Close North Oyster Elementary in June 2015. This coincides with the opening of the newly renovated Cedar Elementary School in the fall of 2015, which may be a school of choice for North Oyster families. Provide an opportunity for further consultation around school choice and possible catchment area revisions with the North Oyster community in the fall of 2014. The district will apply Board Procedure 4011, The Disposition of Property, with respect to exploring the potential future use of the site.

• 2015-2016 School Year: undertake a feasibility study with respect to elementary school renovations and/or rebuilds in the Ladysmith zone.

This is quite different from the two options proposed by the Working Group.

Option A includes:

• Close Davis Road in June 2014

• Move Davis Road English track K-3 to Ladysmith Primary

• Move Davis Road English track to 4-6 to Ladysmith Intermediate

• Option for Davis Road English track, LPS and LIS students to go to North Oyster

• Grades 7 to 12 at Ladysmith Secondary

• French Immersion K-7 to North Oyster

• North Oyster to be a K-7 school for French Immersion and English track

• SD68 to evaluate feasibility of offering late French Immersion at North Oyster

• SD68 to evaluate Grade 8 French immersion offered at LSS

• Retain EDR site for possible future use

• Begin planning process for conversion of Ladysmith Primary to K-6 school

Phase 2 – 2015 or 2016

• Close Ladysmith Intermediate requiring a 60-day consultation process

• Renovate/expand LPS to accommodate LIS students

Long term: Build new K-6 school in Ladysmith

And Option C, which has been supported by Ladysmith council and by the EDR Parent Advisory Council, includes:

• Close North Oyster School in June 2014

• Move North Oyster K-3 to Ladysmith Primary (one-time option for Cedar elementary schools)

• Move North Oyster grades 4-7 to Ladysmith Intermediate (one-time option for Cedar elementary schools)

• Grades 8 to 12 at Ladysmith Secondary School

• Move towards transition of English enrollment at Davis Road to LPS/LIS beginning September 2014

• Single Track French Immersion K-7 at Davis Road

• Analyze feasibility of offering late French Immersion at Davis Road

• SD68 to evaluate French Immersion offered at LSS

• Explore uses for North Oyster School site with CVRD and community

• Begin planning and consultation processor expansion/renewal of Ladysmith Primary to a K-7 and new dual track French Immersion school in Ladysmith

Phase 2 – 2014-2017

• If deemed viable, begin Late Immersion (Grade 6) at Davis Road in September 2014 or 2015

• Retain LPS/LIS to serve Ladysmith zone K-3/4-7 English stream

• If deemed viable, French Immersion begins at LSS

• Monitor enrolment trends at LSS to ensure sustainability

Long term: Renovate/expand Ladysmith Primary to renewed K-7 school and build a new K-7 Dual Track French Immersion school on a site in Ladysmith

Hutchinson noted that after reviewing the Working Group recommendations, the senior staff initially felt that Option A had the most merit, but feedback received during the public meetings in late November in Ladysmith encouraged the senior team to take a closer look at the enrolment history of the French Immersion program at EDR and the catchment area enrolment trends at North Oyster.

They concluded the French Immersion program at EDR is “marginally viable,” and after analyzing data and hearing from many EDR parents who said they would not choose to have their children attend French Immersion at North Oyster, senior staff felt the placement of French Immersion at North Oyster was not a viable option, according to Hutchinson.

Hutchinson also noted that the majority of families with K-7 children in the North Oyster catchment area are opting to choose schools outside of the North Oyster catchment area.

“After considering all relevant information carefully, the senior team does not think that it is realistic to advance a recommendation that includes maintaining North Oyster Elementary,” he stated.

Hutchinson listed a number of points the senior team found problematic about Option C, including leaving EDR — “a building which is overcrowded and has the worst facility condition rating in the district” — open; maintaining LSS as a Grade 8-12 school, which contradicts the board’s decision to reconfigure the school as 7-12; the gradual removal of the English stream at EDR, which is not consistent with the district’s optimal school size guidelines; and the consolidation of North Oyster with LIS and LPS, where the senior team believe a conversation should be held with North Oyster families with respect to school choice.

During the Dec. 18 meeting, trustee Nancy Curley brought forward a notice of motion to reconsider the motions approved June 26 that would move Grade 7 students from EDR and LIS to LSS, effective September 2014. She will bring these reconsideration motions forward at the board’s February meeting.