Students in Summerland would be best served by a middle school model, parents and teachers told trustees at a public hearing.
The hearing, at Giant’s Head School on Dec. 3, was the eighth in a series of public input sessions on proposed changes to cope with low enrolment throughout the school district.
Linda Van Alphen, chair of the school board, said school closures are necessary to cope with low enrolment and limited funding.
If no changes are made, she said other cuts must be made, likely to staffing and programming.
“We’re in a position where it’s critical,” she said.
One of the nine changes under consideration is to close Giant’s Head School and move the students to the Summerland Middle School building downtown.
The middle school building would then house students from Kindergarten to Grade 7, while students from Grades 8 to 12 would be at Summerland Secondary School.
At present, Giant’s Head School and Trout Creek School house students from Kindergarten to Grade 5, while the middle school houses students from Grades 6 to 8 and Summerland Secondary School accommodates Grades 9 to 12.
While Giant’s Head School is full, the middle school and high school are below capacity.
At present, there are 465 open seats in Summerland schools, Van Alphen said.
Tina Martin said the school closure would affect more students than any other closure under consideration.
“We already have the largest elementary school in the district,” she said.
“It doesn’t make sense that our whole community school system would be reconfigured.”
Erin Toews, a parent, said there are concerns with the option to close Giant’s Head School.
She said her biggest concern is the physical limitation of the middle school building.
“The school certainly feels full already,” she said.
Tina Martin and a group of parents made a joint presentation, urging the school board to keep the middle school model, since it addresses the unique needs of students in Grades 6 to 8.
Jon Broadbent, a teacher at Summerland Middle School, questioned the potential savings from the closure of Giant’s Head School.
“The numbers don’t add up,” he said.
He urged trustees to submit a deficit budget as a way to send a message to the province to provide more funding to the school district.
Trustee Ginny Manning said the board members have met with provincial government representatives to address funding concerns.
“We’re all working to get equitable, sustainable funding,” she said. “Our enrolment is declining, but costs are increasing.”A deficit budget for the school district is not an option she said.
“It is against the law, it is against the school act and we would be fired.”
Christy Thiessen said the option to reconfigure Summerland’s schools would result in inequalities within the school district.
“Penticton will continue to have a middle school model; Summerland will not,” she said.
Advocates of the middle school model said students at the middle school have the opportunity to take exploratory courses which would not be offered under the proposed reconfiguration.
Wendy Hyer, superintendent of the school district, said the future of exploratory courses will depend on the staff at the schools.
“There are different things to do to teach applied skills in schools,” she said. “It’s not about the building; its about the instructors.”
Kirby Sands, a teacher at Summerland Secondary School, said enrolment has declined significantly during the 15 years he has taught at the high school. However, he said the school board should look at the future of McNicoll Park Middle School in Penticton, which is around 50 per cent of its capacity.
“The Summerland option is not your best option,” he said.
Jennifer Martin said the present system of schools in Summerland should be preserved.
Neighbourhood schools best meet the needs of elementary students she said.
She added that the transportation needs of the students must also be considered. Giant’s Head School is in a residential area while Summerland Middle School is close to the downtown area.
Others at the hearing raised concerns about the limited playground space at Summerland Middle School and the costs of retrofits to the building in order to accommodate elementary students.
Trustees said the board has not yet made its decision on how to address declining enrolment numbers.
“We’re looking at everything coming to us,” Van Alphen said.
The board has been holding a series of 11 public hearings. In addition, written submissions from the public will be received until Jan. 10.
Trustees will make their decision on Jan. 20.
Van Alphen said she has been involved with Giant’s Head School for the past 25 years, as a volunteer when her children were students there and more recently as a school trustee.
She said enrolment in the school district is 5,661, but the schools have capacity for significantly more students.
“Our assets are starving our educational system” she said.