30 local parents gathered at Palsson Elementary School last Thursday (March 5) to express their concerns with the school’s shrinking number of classrooms, which has left grade four students with an uncertain place at Palsson.
As both Palsson and Lake Cowichan School (LCS) direct grade four classrooms, parents were given the option of which school to send their children to at the beginning of the year. With enrollment dwindling, and Palsson’s grade four class at risk of being cut, parents may not have the same luxury next year, leaving many concerned.
Chris Rolls, president of the Lake Cowichan Teachers’ Federation, said that while each student’s situation is unique, she’s seen many children benefit from the leadership role that comes with being in the oldest grade in school, as well as others who were ready to move on to an “intermediate environment” by grade four. She also brought up that in the past parents had the option of choosing from multiple elementary schools in the Cowichan Lake area, and that giving parents an option between Palsson and LCS is the best option in terms of education.
While enrolment in Lake Cowichan has been declining, the number of classrooms at LCS have been increasing, going from a grade eight to 12 secondary school to its current role as a four to 12 school.
At last week’s meeting, school district 79 assistant superintendent Sheryl Koers shared with parents just how much local enrolment has fallen.
While both schools in Lake Cowichan have a combined capacity of 770 students, only 501 are currently enrolled. That number is projected to continue dropping, with the 2022-23 school year expected to see only 400 students. LCS alone has a capacity of 500 students, with only 373, including 16 international students, currently attending.
The drop in enrolment can be partly attributed to young families moving in order to find work. While the mill and forestry industry was booming in Lake Cowichan, so was the education sector – with two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school in town, as well as elementary schools in nearby Youbou and Honeymoon Bay. Councillor Tim McGonigle expressed concern that without a functioning elementary school, Lake Cowichan could only become less attractive to prospective residents with young families.
“Without an enticing primary school we are looking at people moving out, we are looking at not retaining young families or attracting young families,” McGonigle said at the meeting. “We don’t want to be a retirement community with no primary school, no high school and shipping what students are left here to other facilities in the Cowichan Valley.”
It has yet to be determined what Palsson Elementary will look like next year. Candace Spilsbury, chairperson on SD 79’s Board of Education, said that the district will begin a “discussion and investigation” of the current situation on March 24, taking into consideration the opinions gathered from parents, and announce their conclusion on April 4.