Ecole Davis Road’s Parent Advisory Council gave their final presentation to council last Monday in one final effort to save the school before Thursday’s decision day.
A special meeting, hosted by School District 68, will take place Thursday Feb. 6 and the school board is set to announce its decision with regard to school reconfiguration in the Town of Ladysmith.
Despite pleas from the Ladysmith Working Group and Davis Road PAC to keep the school open, SD68 has been leaning towards its Senior Staff Option which closes Davis Road in June.
Aaron Stone and Cheryl Onciul were present at Monday’s council meeting to explain why they believe Option C, created by the working group, is the best option for Ladysmith.
“We think we’ve gave them the opportunity to come out smelling like roses,” said Stone who was also part of the working group. “We need to do what’s best for all the kids and [with regards to the working group] we’ve tried to take our Davis Road PAC hats off. But it’s just not viable to close a school in the most vibrant area of Ladysmith. You have to look at the realities and if people say they’re not going to go to North Oyster, then they’re not going to go.”
Option C keeps Davis Road open, turning the school into a single track French Immersion school, with the remaining English track students moving to either Ladysmith Primary or Ladysmith Intermediate.
Davis Road is currently over capacity and Option C would close the under capacity North Oyster Elementary.
Ladysmith council has repeatedly given its support to Option C.
“I think some people fail to see beyond the label that you carry,” said Stone, who was referring to the fact that Davis Road has the worst facilities in the district according to SD68’s facilities condition index (FCI).
North Oyster has the best facilities in the Ladysmith area.
“The FCI has been a stumbling block to us but the deferred maintenance cost is the lowest in the zone of $4,197 per student compared to Ladysmith Primary for example where it’s $6,655,” said Stone. “It would take a maximum of three years to transition the English track students over to Ladysmith Primary and Ladysmith Intermediate, leaving us with 139 French Immersion students at Davis Road with room to grow, giving the program the best potential to succeed.
“Superintendent Dave Hutchinson (SD68) has said overcrowding is a problem at Ecole Davis Road. But Option C allows for reduction of student population. We’re attracting students from outside of the area as well as Chemainus. That’s a funding and community plus for Ladysmith.”
The school board’s preferred student population for French Immersion is 176.
SD68 also wants to move Grade 7 students to Ladysmith Secondary, a move both the working group and council have been against.
“Moving the Grade 7’s to LSS would put the high school over capacity as it’s currently 96% full,” said Stone. “There’s a lot of questions there.”
Stone and Onciul’s presentation to council was one that Davis Road PAC had attempted to give to SD68 at the regular school board meeting on Jan. 29 in Nanaimo — but that was turned down.
“The school district has never responded to any of our submissions,” said Onciul. “Not even a thank-you. We weren’t given the option to present this presentation.”
Stone fears that closing Davis Road will see students seek education outside of Ladysmith, losing that community feel the working group has been vouching for.
“Sixty per cent of St. Joseph’s School (a Catholic elementary school in Chemainus) live in Ladysmith and many parents have indicated they would take advantage of the busing there,” he said. “Option C keeps an elementary school in the south end of Ladysmith and parents need choice within their community. Where would they go if they had a bullying issue?
“We have to keep trying to attract young families to Ladysmith. The geographic location is a huge benefit to Ecole Davis Road. In the last 10 years, Davis Road’s catchment area has increased by 16% and North Oyster’s has gone down by 10%. We now have some of the best teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, not just in French Immersion but throughout the school. This is all discussion we’ve tried to have repeatedly with the school board for 10 months.”
The Senior Staff Option would keep North Oyster open for now, but close it in June 2015.
“From a financial, educational and community viewpoint, I can’t see how that option makes sense,” concluded Stone.
Coun. Gord Horth highlighted the passion shown by Stone and the remainder of the working group throughout the “stressful” process.
“I think they’ve (SD68) heard that passion. It’s been disheartening. We as council have put our best foot forward and we’ll continue to do that,” said Horth.
Mayor Rob Hutchins finished up by saying to Stone, Onciul and the rest of the council table that “hopefully we’ll be celebrating on Thursday night.”