Complex problems seldom have easy answers, and the challenges facing the Okanagan Skaha School board are extremely complex.
In an effort to cope with declining enrolments and limited funding, school trustees are considering a number of school closure options. One is to close Giant’s Head School, convert the Summerland Middle School building to a Kindergarten to Grade 7 facility and use Summerland Secondary School for students in Grades 8 to 12.
While this addresses the problems of low enrolment, it will affect students. The middle school, opened in January, 2000, was designed to meet the unique needs of students in Grades 6 to 8. Abandoning a middle school model will mean changes for students in these grades.
However, it is painfully obvious that drastic changes are needed. School districts in B.C. are funded by the Ministry of Education, based in part on enrolment figures. The student population in Summerland and Penticton is lower than in previous years.
The median age in Summerland is increasing and while there are some young families here, the number of students has declined.
Discussions about potential school closures and declining enrolment numbers should be seen as the symptom of something far bigger.
If the schools are to operate at or near their capacities, it is essential to attract young families with school-aged children.
This in turn involves discussions about bringing potential employers to the region and providing affordable housing for families with children.
It is not enough to provide lots for residential construction unless working families can afford to buy or rent houses here.
The only way to ensure Summerland’s schools remain open is to ensure there are enough students to justify keeping them open.
This is an extremely complex matter, and it will require some uncomfortable conversations.
There are no easy answers.