District adds grade at pair of schools

Two North Okanagan-Shuswap schools will open their doors to Grade 8 students in September

Two North Okanagan-Shuswap schools will open their doors to Grade 8 students in September following a narrow 5-4 vote by trustees.

Ranchero Elementary and Silver Creek Elementary will both be reconfigured this September to allow the students to attend their neighbourhood schools rather than attend Shuswap Middle School.

Currently Ranchero operates as a K-7 school, with students going to middle school for their Grade 8 year before moving on to Salmon Arm Secondary. Silver Creek Elementary was designated a K-7 school, but this year the Grade 6 and 7 students were required by the school district to transfer to Shuswap Middle School. This was because, despite some enrolment increases, the number of students in the higher grades was not considered financially viable to add another teacher to the school.

At recent public meetings, some parents voiced support for the K-8 model, noting it would keep their children closer to home and would remove the one-year transition between schools for the Grade 8 students. The move would also save money for the school district, as bus routes from the area to Shuswap Middle School can be eliminated.

The shift to K-8 will likely mean a significant number of split, or multi-grade classrooms, including as many as four or even five grades in one classroom.

Trustees Chris Coers, Bob Fowler, Kelly Rowe, Debbie Evans and Larissa Lutjen voted in favour of the shift, although Lutjen tried to amend the motion so that the shift to K-8 would start in 2017 instead. Her motion to delay was defeated.

Trustees in support of the change said parents were all aware multi-grade classes would be a reality, and did not have issues with that.

“There is no grade configuration that is the magic bullet,” said Lutjen. “There is evidence that K-8 is not a bad model… We have determined it is educationally sound, that’s why we opted for it at Falkland and North Shuswap.”

Coers told the board it was time to make a decision, and the school district could change its mind if it didn’t work well.

“It is only by taking some risk that some of the best rewards can be realized.”

Trustees Michel Saab, Bobbi Johnson, Barry Chafe and Jenn Wilchuk disagreed with the move, saying it would be prudent to wait until the school closure process and catchment area reviews were complete. They were also concerned about the multi-grade classes and the effect on students already attending the middle school, who will now have to switch back to their neighbourhood school or find alternate transportation to SMS.

Saab also said the issue of what educators think is the best model for children was being ignored. He noted the board had spent a lot of time investigating why the middle school model was beneficial for student learning.