Overcrowding consultation draws good results

Christine Wood/Staff Writer / Staff writer
January 25, 2013 01:00 AM

Superintendent of Schools Patrick Bocking speaks to parents about possible plans to address overcrowding at West Sechelt Elementary School Jan. 21.

Erecting portables and changing catchment areas seemed to be the preferred ways to deal with overcrowding at West Sechelt Elementary School (WSES) when School District No. 46 (SD46) staff consulted parents there Jan. 21.

About 50 concerned parents came to the Sechelt capacity discussion meeting Monday night to hear the five options being considered and give their input.

WSES is currently running over its capacity of 197 students with 215 registered. The problem is expected to get worse in the future with 290 students estimated to enrol at the school by 2017.

"By 2020 the school maxes out at about 298 students, which represents 150 per cent of the operating capacity for the school. So there really is a concern here," said Nicholas Weswick, secretary treasurer for SD46, during Monday's consultation meeting.

And the concern isn't just for West Sechelt. Some of the proposed plans to fix the overcrowding issue could impact Kinnikinnick, Halfmoon Bay and Davis Bay elementary schools as well as Chatelech Secondary School.

Superintendent of schools Patrick Bocking explained that after meeting with staff, teachers and parent advisory groups, SD46 pulled together the five most feasible options to present to the community.

Those options are to:

Add portables at West Sechelt.

Change some catchment areas.

Reconfigure all Sechelt area elementary schools as K-6 and send Grade 7 students to Chatelech.

Reconfigure West Sechelt as a K-5 school and send the Grade 6 and 7 students to Kinnikinnick.

Reconfigure West Sechelt as a K-2 school and Kinnikinnick as a 3 to 7 school.

Each option has benefits and drawbacks, but each addresses five things SD46 needs to consider: that it optimizes student learning, is financially sustainable, doesn't involve any school closures, keeps student safety a priority and addresses overcrowding.

When presented at Monday's meeting in West Sechelt, parents had strong feelings and concerns about some of the proposed options.

Many were worried about mixing Grade 7 students, who could be as young as 10, with high school students who could be as old as 20 in Grade 12.

Others noted sending grades 6 and 7 students to Kinnikinnick for just two years wouldn't give them enough time to adjust before they would have to make another adjustment to high school.

Reconfiguring West Sechelt as a K-2 school seemed to be the least favourable option with parents concerned some families with multiple children could see kids split up between three different schools. There was also talk about the detriment to sports teams if elementary schools had multiple grade configurations.

Other opinions were that the catchment area changes could leave some students in the community feeling like outsiders and that the portables would lack running water and bathrooms.

Weswick said there are currently 15 portables available for use in the school district, and the cost to relocate one is about $6,000.

Trustees will ultimately decide which option SD46 will move forward with, but not before they hear more from the public.

Monday's meeting at West Sechelt Elementary was the fourth of its kind for concerned parents at individual schools. A wider regional consultation meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 6:30 p.m. at Chatelech Secondary School.

At that meeting some of the input to date will be presented to the public and one more chance will be given for the community to respond.

The school board is expected to make a decision on how to address overcrowding at West Sechelt Elementary at a board meeting in the spring.

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