Recommendations have been made by senior staff of School District 72 (SD72) – and have been accepted by the district’s Board of Trustees – to begin the process that may see the closure of Discovery Passage and Oyster River elementary schools. At the Dec. 8 meeting of the board it was decided that two elementary schools in the district needed to be closed due to various factors, and staff were tasked with producing a report recommending which two they would be in time for consideration at this week’s meeting.
Students currently attending Oyster River Elementary would begin attending Ocean Grove Elementary in September and students attending Discovery Passage would attend Ripple Rock Elementary beginning in September should the closures come to pass on the currently proposed timeline.
The recommendations were accepted by the Board of Trustees at the Jan. 12 public meeting after receiving the report from senior staff outlining the rationale behind the choice of schools.
The Rationale: Enrolment Issues
Oyster River Elementary’s enrolment has seen a steep decrease over the years.
Despite merging the population of Maple elementary into that facility in 2003, the school still sits at only 40 per cent of its capacity. Student enrolment in that catchment has dropped a whopping 81 per cent over the past two decades, and that decrease is projected to continue.
While Discovery Passage Elementary rebounded slightly this past September from its historic low of 56 students just a few years ago and now has 70 students, the 57-year-old facility is still at only 53 per cent capacity.
And they can’t solve the enrolment problems by enforcing catchment areas, due to provincial “school-of-choice” legislation contained in the Schools Act.
“You can’t force neighbourhood kids to attend their neighbourhood school,” Longridge told the board and those assembled to hear the recommendations Tuesday night. “They can choose to go anywhere in the district should there be space and an appropriate program for them to attend.”
The district could change the catchment boundary lines to encourage more enrolment, but people still get choose where they want to send their kids at the end of the day, and around one quarter of the students in the catchment areas for these two schools are already choosing to attend school elsewhere.
Parents or guardians of 28 students in the Oyster River catchment and 23 students in the Discovery Passage catchment area already choose to send their kids elsewhere for school – the majority of which instead attend Ocean Grove or Ripple Rock, respectively.
The Rationale: Financial Issues
Oyster River and Discovery Passage are each in need of over $2-million in repairs, and it’s difficult to acquire government funding for repairs when you can’t demonstrate you’re making the best use of your space, according to Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Patrick.
“They’re going to take a look at the building, they’re going to take a look at the excess capacity,” Patrick told the board, “and they’re going to ask the question, ‘Is it better to spend $2.3 million on this facility or is it better to move the students elsewhere?’ and they will reject a request for funding if they feel there isn’t a sufficient answer there.”
Basically, the district has to demonstrate their current space is being well-utilized before they can ask for money to fix that space, and right now, they aren’t in a position where they can reasonably expect to be able to demonstrate that.
Discovery Passage and Oyster River are also two of the most costly facilities in the district to operate.
Based on the numbers presented in the recommendation, Oyster River costs $13,181 per student to operate each year. Discovery Passage costs $14,115 per student to operate. For comparison, Ripple Rock costs $8,260 per student to operate and Ocean Grove costs $8,807 per student.
Shifting Discovery Passage students to Ripple Rock and the Oyster River students to Ocean Grove – including the increased transportation costs associated with getting the children to and from the schools – is projected to save the district $914,174 in annual operations – money which can then be reallocated to benefit the district as a whole, and possibly keep other facilities from falling into disrepair as quickly as they do by just relying on annual government-issued maintenance revenue.
Possible educational benefits to closures?
Longridge says despite what’s sure to be public consternation about the proposed closures, there are also, “a number of increased learning opportunities and flexibility for students,” that can be achieved by merging these smaller schools together.
“When you have a bit larger school,” he told the board, “it allows for greater flexibility in creating positions in support of learning environments within the classroom and the school as a whole. There are more opportunities to differentiate and personalize instruction through flexible groupings.”
Teachers can be better placed with students who learn best under their style of teaching – and students can be best place in classes with other students who are on the same level – when there are more teachers, students and classrooms to be divided up, Longridge says.
He also told the board and those assembled to hear the recommendations that more teachers and staff in one facility equal more opportunity for collaboration, which also creates a better learning environment for the students.
“The diversity of experience and areas of expertise afforded amongst a larger teaching staff can allow for more professional development opportunities through teacher collaboration, as well as the creation of more diverse learning experiences based on both student and teacher areas of interest,” Longridge told the board. It’s also easier, he said, for teachers and staff to “share the load” when putting on extra-curricular activities when there are more of them in a school.
Discovery Passage Elementary parent and member of that school’s Parent Advisory Council (PAC), Heidi Cuff, was at the public meeting Tuesday and disagrees with the district’s premise that combining these schools will be of educational benefit.
“The part that I find completely enraging is that the school board is attempting to sell this to the community as something that will greatly benefit the children by providing increased learning options with more personalized education,” Cuff says. “I find it hard to believe that my daughter will receive a better, more personalized education in an overcrowded classroom and maxed to capacity school.”
She also disagrees with the district’s assertion that there are more extra-curricular opportunities in a school with a larger population. The smaller a school is, Cuff says, the easier the job is for the PAC doing the fundraising for that facility to put on extra-curricular activities and events.
“The children have more opportunities to go on field trips and take lessons which complement their educational experience (in a smaller school),” Cuff says, “because the financial demands to coordinate these trips and lessons are more feasible.”
Consultation Schedule for proposed closures
Public consultation meetings at Discovery Passage Elementary
January 25, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
March 1, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Public consultation meetings at Oyster River Elementary
Jan. 27, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
March 3, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
An online forum will also be available through the district’s website as of Jan. 25 for the public to submit questions, concerns and feedback.
Written submissions will also be heard at the Feb. 2 and Feb. 23 public board meetings and can be sent to the district by mail at 424 Pinecrest Road, Campbell River, BC, V9W 3P2 (addressed to the Secretary-Treasurer) or sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org