Should official trustee Mike McKay agree, Sicamous will continue to have two schools in operation for the foreseeable future.
A recommendation from school district staff to McKay is to re-organize Parkview Elementary as a K-6 school and move the Grade 7 students to Eagle River Secondary (ERS).
This would keep both school buildings open, rather than a previously considered option, which would have seen Parkview closed completely and Eagle River Secondary turned into a K-12 school. Maintaining the status quo of Parkview as a K-7 school and ERS as an Grade 8 to 12 school was another option, although it doesn’t address the more than half-empty status of both buildings.
McKay will cast his vote for which option he would prefer at the Tuesday, March 14 regular board meeting. While it is most likely he will concur with the staff recommendation to keep both schools open, he will have the final say in the matter and could decide in favour of another choice.
The report notes that the financial situation of the district has changed since the initial move to convert the two schools into a single K-12 facility, as the provincial government announced a grant program to keep rural schools viable, which would include schools in Sicamous.
At a recent public consultation meeting, a number of citizens voiced support for the K-12 option, seeing it as a way of ensuring secondary education in Sicamous would remain in place. This was a major concern to the communtiy at large, as losing a secondary school program was seen as a detiment to the economic growth of the community. It was thought a lack of a secondary school program would discourage new families from moving into the District of Sicamous.
At that time, citizens also recognized there would be a cost saving associated with operating and maintaining one building as a K-12 school rather than two.
Without the same financial pressure on the budget, however, staff indicate the primary issue for education in Sicamous becomes the viability of the secondary school program, which is experiencing declining enrolment and difficulties in providing a wide range of courses and programs at the secondary school level.
By moving the Grade 7 students to ERS, it is thought this would help flesh out the school’s population and enhance a “middle school focus” at that school.
It is also hoped to make some capital improvements to ERS, and also create a task force to look at programs that could be implemented to help attract and retain students in Sicamous, rather than having them opt to travel outside Sicamous for other educational programs. Examples previously suggested include: an outdoor learning focus, trades programs or arts and culture, however none of these have been investigated in any detail.
As well, the costs of renovating ERS to accommodate elementary students was estimated at between $2 million to $4 million, which the school district currently does not have available in its fund for capital improvements.
In addition, keeping both schools open will address the concerns aired by some parents about the safety of young students. Parkview Elementary is located in a more quiet area, near residential neighbourhoods and is also in close proximity to recreational facilities.
It was also hoped that empty spaces at Parkview could be filled by other community programs, possibly a day care facility.