Ladysmith Extended Consultation Working Group has constructed and submitted a third option to School District 68 with regards to school reconfiguration.
The most notable point of the new Option C is that Davis Road Elementary will remain open.
The move by the working group comes following two public meetings earlier in the month at which saw numerous Davis Road parents come out and voice their concerns over the possibility of their school closing.
“Option C speaks to the theme and shows a genuine willingness that we’ve looked at the public feedback,” said Aaron Stone, an active participant of the working group. “Sure there’s strengths and weaknesses but there’s a much lower risk in terms of enrollment and erosion compared to Options A and B. It provides the best long term view for the Ladysmith zone. Davis Road presented a good argument.”
The working group, which also includes Ladysmith Mayor Rob Hutchins and Davis Road principal Doug English, has been looking at options specific to the Ladysmith area after SD68 announced its intentions to shake things up.
Option C sees North Oyster Elementary close in June 2014 and the students there move to either Ladysmith Primary or Ladysmith Intermediate.
The French Immersion program remains at Davis Road under Option C.
Under Options A and B, Davis Road would have closed at some point over the next couple of years and French Immersion would have been moved to North Oyster.
“A lot of the public feedback from the meetings, not just from Davis Road parents, shows how important that school is to the Ladysmith zone. It is a school that continues to grow and Option C
recognizes the value of that,” said Stone.
Davis Road, at the south end of Ladysmith, currently has 250 students at a capacity of 112.
Under Options A and B, parents who wished their children to remain in French Immersion would have to drive 20 kilometres one way to North Oyster.
North Oyster has only 90 students with a capacity of 275.
But Davis Road has been noted to have the worst school facilities in the entire district whilst North Oyster holds the best in the Ladysmith area — but Stone thinks that’s a “red herring” and doesn’t believe the location issue was taken seriously with the first two options.
“There’s lots of risks with Options A and B. The Davis Road community is centred around after school time with the parents there. To do a 40 kilometre round trip to North Oyster is a bigger cost of transportation and if they (SD68) put buses on, that disconnects the families as there would be nobody there to pick the kids up.”
Stone and other Davis Road parents also believe there would be no guarantees people would follow French Immersion to North Oyster anyway.
“Many children and families would choose to stay with their friends [and switch to English track] in the Ladysmith schools (Primary or Intermediate) rather than follow French Immersion. The view was that the sensibilities of the French Immersion parents would lend themselves to a more rural zone, but the public feedback says that’s not the case.
“I have great affinity for the facilities and people at North Oyster and have envisioned what a renewed school there would look like, but that’s being optimistic. Option C ticks all the boxes for the school board.”
Despite outlining the need to work with and enhance the better facilities in the district, SD68 also feels the best number in terms of student enrollment to an elementary school, in order to bring about success in learning, is between 200 and 400.
Davis Road, Ladysmith Primary and Ladysmith Intermediate all currently have between 200 and 250 students on-site.
Another part of Option C, one Stone believes to be vital, is the retention of a K-7 and 8-12 model for Ladysmith, despite SD68 favouring a move for Grade 7 students to Ladysmith Secondary.
“The rest of the district is that model and there’s lots of benefits to it. It’s tried and tested and it works. We also have the luxury of Cedar Secondary students going to Ladysmith Secondary (with Cedar closing) so that doesn’t make grade 7’s necessary for utilization.”
Mayor Hutchins is supportive of that model too.
“Council hasn’t changed its position since our June resolution which called for continuation for grades eight to 12 at Ladysmith Secondary and asked the school board to work towards a new K-7 elementary school at the south end of town, south of Holland Creek, as well one in the cnetral/north area,” said the mayor. “We’re not supportive of a single elementary school. Our sustainability document envisions walkable neighbourhoods [with schools]. We also value the opportunity to have French Immersion in our community.”
Stone says he is proud of the work done by the working group in creating the three options for the school board’s consideration.
“We’ve done a good job. We’ve spoken every word we’ve been allowed to speak. We’ve been balanced and incorporated public feedback. This takes the pressure off but unfortunately it puts a lot of weight on the trustees now.”
Stone has sympathy for the trustees and insists they should not be treated as villains as “they want what’s best for education.”
“Trustees care about education. I don’t condone the closing of any school. It’s not acceptable but there’s a bigger ball of wax here as our education system is underfunded (by the government). Alberta’s schools get double the funding what we get in British Columbia. If we had that we wouldn’t be closing schools, we’d be doing maintenance and enhancing them.
Without good schools, young families will choose to go elsewhere.”
This Thursday SD68 will announce its official decision on school reconfiguration.