On the evening of May 15, government appointed trustee, Mike McKay, along with Superintendent Joseph Rhodes and Secretary Treasurer Robert Harper, outlined for a packed gymnasium at Cowichan Secondary, the plans for what is being called Restructuring 2013.
This restructuring plan will mean quite a few changes for many schools in School District 79. Here at the lake it means that AB Greenwell and Yount Elementary schools will be closing their doors come this fall. Students who attend AB Greenwell will either attend Palsson Elementary, which will become a kindergarten to Grade 4 model, or Lake Cowichan School (currently Lake Cowichan Secondary) which will become a Grade 4-7 with a Grade 8-12 secondary program.
McKay launched into a long preamble before the presentation emphasizing that he and his staff are aware that teachers, students, and parents cannot continue to live one year to the next never knowing if schools will be open or closed.
“The focus is on the road ahead,” says McKay. “The focus is on making sure that we have the capacity to deliver programs and services to all of our kids, to attract and retain kids in the Cowichan Valley and to make sure that the narrative in Cowichan Valley schools is about the quality of what occurs in those schools, for your children.”
The announcement that caused the biggest kerfuffle was that of a new fee being introduced for those students who ride the school bus. Starting next year parents will have to fork out $200 per year if their child rides the bus. This fee will be reduced for each additional child within a family and could be waved for those families who fall within a low-income bracket.
For Nicole Boucher, principal at LCSS, the challenge of dealing with more students in her halls and classrooms is an exciting prospect. She says that she does not know at this time what her teaching staff will look like come September, but because the high school timetable has already been developed her number one priority is to focus on the Grade 4-7 model.
Through the restructuring it was also decided that LCSS will receive a new playground and sport court which Boucher says may mean that the funds raised by the LCSS PAC for such a project will be offset by board allocated funding.
Boucher and LCSS teachers will be hosting “coffee and chat” events each Friday from 9-9:30 a.m. for the rest of the year.
“This is an open invitation to any parents, current parents and future parents, to come in for coffee, tea, and conversation,” says Boucher. “Right now we want to keep students and parents in the loop.”
Duncan Brown, one of the five trustees fired last year, is concerned that the school closures are just the tip of the iceburg.
“The layoffs will be big. School closures will only make up $1.2 million this year,” he says, adding that another $2.4 million will have to come out of the budget. “The balance will have to come from other services.”
Brown also does not hold out much hope for McKay’s promises to address the flawed funding formula with the ministry.
“It was designed with the intent to do exactly what it is doing,” says Brown. “It’s not like the government didn’t know exactly what it was doing.”
Chris Rolls, president of the Lake Cowichan Teacher’s Association, says there will be layoffs across the district and that they were higher than last year, but she is hopeful that when the recall meetings happen in June a sufficient number of teachers will be hired back to provide programs and services already in place and to accommodate any new students.
Teachers and administration “want to make our schools a place where kids want to be and we’re not going to rely on the district to do that,” says Rolls. “It’s the commitment of teachers and staff that are behind us. The lake staff are all concentrating on how to make this restructuring work.”
Rolls’ biggest concern is with the Grade 4s. She does not want parents to make decisions about which school (Palsson or LCSS) their Grade 4 son or daughter will attend based on fear or uncertainty.
“The best place to get information is from administration.” says Rolls. She encourages all parents to talk to teachers and principals in order to make an informed decision.
The switch to an elementary-secondary school configuration means big changes throughout School District 79.
Following are the recommendations for the Cowichan Lake area 2013-14 school year presented to official trustee Mike McKay and passed during last Wednesday night’s open board meeting at Cowichan Secondary School. See the school district website for more details on these matters.
• Rename Lake Cowichan Secondary School as Lake Cowichan School as of July 1.
• Approve catchment areas for Palsson Elementary and Lake Cowichan School as shown on maps dated May 15.
• Establish a kindergarten to Grade 4 single track English Elementary configuration at Palsson Elementary School; establish a Grade 4 to 7 single track English Elementary program at Lake Cowichan School; establish a Grade 8 to 12 single track English Secondary program at Lake Cowichan School. Will having the Grade 4 to 7 program at LCSS inpact the number exploritories that the Grade 7s currently receive? Will secondary program elective and course options be impacted? Will there really be a playground and sport court ready for students at LCS in Sept.? And, if so, at whose expense?
• Establish a task force to examine ways to retain students in West Zone schools.
• Engage a consultant to update the Project Identification Report for a new elementary school at Lake Cowichan.
Many students in School District 79 will be attending new schools in the fall based on closures and the reconfiguration to a predominant elementary-secondary model.