Ladysmith’s Working Group made a presentation to school parents in limbo last week with regard to the uproar of change proposed by School District 68.
The presentation was given on Tuesday Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. at Ladysmith Secondary School, as numerous disgruntled parents came out to voice their opinions for over two hours. There was also a similar gathering held the night prior.
Dave Hutchinson, superintendent at SD68, was one of the first to speak to the crowd.
“The long term goals of the board is meeting each student’s needs, continued improvement of instruction and enhancing the facilities that support learning opportunities,” he said. “The achievement of our students is not what it should be. Students aren’t graduating when they should be. Most students aren’t doing as well as they should be. We are below the provincial average in terms of our performance.”
Earlier this year, SD68 proposed its 10-Year Enhanced Facilities for Learning Plan “centred on the improvement of student learning.”
Ladysmith’s Working Group was created by the district in order to look at schools specific to the area. It is made up of various PAC members, council members, CVRD representatives, Stz’uminus First Nation representatives, local school principals and school district staff.
The Working Group has come up with two options, Option A and Option B, that differ from the school district’s original intentions.
Both options still include the closure of Ecole Davis Road Elementary and Ladysmith Intermediate at some point in the next couple of years, as well as the transfer of Davis Road’s French Immersion program to North Oyster Elementary.
Under both options, Ladysmith Secondary School will then take on Grade 7 students embracing a 7-12 configuration and Ladysmith Primary will become a K-6 school until a new elementary school is built in the town.
“The ultimate vision is a new elementary school in the Town of Ladysmith, said SD68’s deputy superintendent John Blain at the meeting. “That’s the long-term plan. The school district wants to use the space LSS has (in terms of moving Grade 7 students there).”
The presentation lasted around 45 minutes and was followed by an influx of opinions from local parents in limbo, with those from Davis Road dominating.
Randy Lewis has a daughter in Grade 1 at Davis Road.
“Ecole Davis Road has a strong school spirit,” she said. “There’s 250 students there which fits the school district’s optimal student size for elementary schools (200-400). It has a low rate of bullying and there’s a caring, learning environment with increasing student enrolment. If there’s no buses to North Oyster, no student will go. If there is buses, no parents will be there in the afternoon so that community feel is lost.”
Davis Road’s famous French Immersion plan is an attraction for parents that send their children there, and most are not keen on the program moving to North Oyster, approximately a 12-kilometre drive.
One of Davis Road’s biggest criticisms from school hierarchy is the lack of facilities.
The school has a facilities condition index of 0.4284 — the worst in the district.
Rob Smith has daughter Ava, aged 10, and son Sam, 7, at Davis Road.
“I love the facilities,” he said. “Yes, the lack of facilities has united us together. My son Sam was born deaf and he is succeeding in French Immersion. Moving that to North Oyster is an experiment and a gamble. Close North Oyster. Keep Davis Road open.”
Under the school district’s original plan, North Oyster should’ve closed in June — but it remains open.
It has a facilities condition index of 0.2616, ranked 22nd in the district, which seemingly appeals to SD68.
It is the Ladysmith-area school in the best condition but only 90 students attend there, primarily due to lack of population in the school’s catchment area.
Wade Fotherby, who has numerous kids at Davis Road, had questions for Hutchinson and Blain when he took to the mic.
“Do you think it’s a good idea to cut off a perfectly good arm of the school district? Is there any public support of this 10-year plan as I have not heard any. Why are we implementing a 10-year plan with no evidence it will actually work? It will benefit students 10 years from now but nobody today,” said Fotherby.
Seija Lane’s child is in Grade 3 at Davis Road in the French Immersion program — a setup she is keen to see remain.
“There’s going to be lots of current French Immersion students who won’t commute to North Oyster so there won’t be enough students to sustain it. French Immersion at Davis Road is a success. If moved out of town, it might not survive,” said Lane.
Student enrolment in the Ladysmith zone has declined by over 500 students in the past 10 years but Davis Road is up 142 students primarily due to French Immersion enrolment.
Jen Davidson has daughter Lily Forsyth in Grade 1 at Davis Road and echoed Lane’s thought and does not want to see the south end of town lose it’s elementary school either.
“I won’t be moving to North Oyster. My daughter would go to Davis Road regardless of French Immersion. I’ll put her to the overcrowded Ladysmith Primary in order to keep the community together.”
Blain insisted there is room at LPS, but “it’s tight.”
One North Oyster mom named Nadine, who has two children there, sympathized with the Davis Road parents.
“We at North Oyster have an incredible amount of empathy and sadness for the parents at Davis Road [with the prospect of closure]. We are all in the same fight. We have pride within our school and our PAC raises a lot of money. We’re proud of our building. The decision to close Davis Road did not come from us.”
Jenna Forster has one child at LPS and one at LIS.
“Option A is less disruptive. Option B sees more students moving. French Immersion moving to North Oyster does keep the community together.”
Davis Road PAC member Carrie Segreto wasn’t convinced.
“There are assumptions being made here that French Immersion can just pick up and move to North Oyster. But the French Immersion program is succeeding at Davis Road because it’s in Ladysmith, where there are 800 elementary-school-aged children, as opposed to 300 in the North Oyster area.
“Three years ago, in 2010, there was talk about possibly moving the French Immersion program from Davis Road to North Oyster. The EDR PAC at the time conducted a survey asking families what they would do if the move went ahead. Only 14% said that they would support a move of French Immersion to North Oyster. 86% said that they would switch to English track at EDR or move to a different school or district. Some people refer to Davis Road as a destination school with its French Immersion program. That’s totally not the case. Approximately 85% of the student population at Davis Road are from Ladysmith,” said Segreto who was one of many wearing a “I love Ecole Davis Road” t-shirt.
Tara Hawes is also on the Davis Road PAC.
“The culture and performance at Davis Road is second to none,” she said. “I believe the cart has been put before the horse.”
Smith also raised concerns about the “negative effects” sending Grade 7’s to high school would have and said there is “no evidence” that would work in a positive way. Hutchinson disagrees.
“It would bring new programs and extra staff to LSS. It would bring innovative instruction and the older students can be role models for the younger students,” said the superintendent.
Ken Harper has two kids at LPS.
“Change is hard in every respect. I would choose Option A. If Option B is followed, there would be over capacity.”
Ladysmith Working Group is set to review the feedback and submit a final report to the Board of Education by Dec. 9.
The report will be discussed at a board meeting starting at 6 p.m. on December 18 that is open to the public.
The board will either decide to proceed with the original plan and close North Oyster, accept Option A and close Davis Road next June, close both of the those schools, choose Option B which will see Ladysmith Intermediate closing and trigger a further 60-day consultation process, decide on alternations, or take no action at all.
Ladysmith Working Group stated in a handout at the presentation that “taking no action is not an option. At least one elementary school in the Ladysmith area will need to be closed and no one option can meet all of the criteria.”