The North Okanagan-Shuswap School District has initiated a process to close Armstrong Elementary School.

The North Okanagan-Shuswap School District has initiated a process to close Armstrong Elementary School.

Parents fighting to keep school open

School Dristrict board voted Tuesday to initiate a 60-day consultation process that could lead to the closure of AES

Parents vow to keep the doors of Armstrong Elementary School open.

The North Okanagan-Shuswap School Dristrict board voted Tuesday to initiate a 60-day consultation process that could lead to the closure of AES after this school year.

“It’s very emotional in Armstrong,” said parent Kim Weston.

A parents committee has been formed and the goal is to use the consultation process to challenge the district’s student count for the community.

“They’ve underestimated enrolment numbers for the long-term,” said Weston.

“When you close any school in Armstrong, the other schools won’t have much room for growth.”

If AES closes, there would be kindergarten to Grade 7 at Len Wood and Highland Park schools, with Pleasant Valley Secondary converting to a Grade 8 to 12 configuration.

Weston also questions why a further review of schools in Enderby and Grindrod are underway when that scenario isn’t unfolding in Armstrong.

“Armstrong has no time to look at enrolment or to change the catchment areas. There’s no time to look at French immersion (it’s in Vernon now),” she said. “We need to counter with options and hope they will reconsider.”

A 1,700-name petition demanding AES stay open is also back in circulation.

The vote to proceed with the closure consultation process was 6-3 in favour with trustees Kelly Rowe, Bob Fowler and Debbie Evans opposed.

“If we close a school, what will that look like down the road when Armstrong’s population increases?” said Rowe, who represents Armstrong-Spallumcheen.

While the district is facing a $1.3 million shortfall, Rowe says revenue sources should be sought, including possibly charging a fee for busing.

“We need to look outside of the box. Other communities, including Vernon, are successful with attracting international students,” she said.

Board chairperson Bobbi Johnson reminded trustees that while they are elected in their own areas, they need to consider the needs of students across the district.

“We need to make decisions for the good of every single child in the district. I don’t want to see the loss of learning resource teachers, of speech pathologists, of CEAs (certified education assistants), counsellors or literacy teachers,” she said.

“I don’t want us to have no money to help kids who are having problems and need help with learning. We have had to close schools before and those kids all survived and we worked to make sure those kids were doing well. Closing a school does not mean we drop kids. We still work to give those kids the best education we can.”

At the meeting Tuesday, a parent from Armstrong asked the school district to provide information on administrative costs.

“I’d like to be shown what has been cut from administration before we take away schools from our children,” she said to loud cheers.

The school district has been the subject of criticism for cutting in many other areas including maintenance and school support services, but not making reductions in administration.

Johnson pledged to compile this information and post it on the school district’s website.

As it was last year, Silver Creek Elementary is also again being considered for a shutdown.

“To close that school would have a detrimental result on that community,” said Rowe. “We have to find cuts, but I do not want to see it closed.”

The vote to move forward with the Silver Creek closure consultation was 5-4 with Rowe, Evans, Fowler and Chris Coers opposed.

Coers expressed concern about the accuracy of school capacity data, saying schools use space differently than in the past and closures of these two schools might be short-sighted.

“If we are looking to close schools I think we need to be looking at every single other place we can cut in the process and take a look at it,” she said. “That being said, if we do nothing, where will we find the $1.3 million? I’m conflicted.”

 

After the consultation period, a final board vote on school closures will be made at the end of April or early May.

– with files from Tracy Hughes, Black Press