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REPORTING · 29th November 2010
Walter McFarlane
Coast Mountain School District 82 has been discussing the closure of several schools in the district and introducing a middle school concept into the local high schools. They have been meeting through out October and November to ask parents for input on the decision. Tonight is the night of the final Consultation meeting for the closure of Roy Wilcox Elementary School.

Earlier this month, on November 1st, parents met with the school board at Kildala and Mount Elizabeth Secondary Schools to hear a presentation concerning the reconfiguration of the Elementary Schools into K-6 schools and what they would look like. Greg Holton delivered the presentation.

He explained this configuration and the middle school configuration at Mount Elizabeth Secondary School came from discussions during the proposed closure of Kildala Elementary School in 2008.

“Declining population is driving all of the reconfiguration. In this case, the suggestion that came out of the community consultation was to look at better utilizing the space at Mount Elizabeth. Part of that would be to create a graduation program of grade 10, 11, 12, which is a coherent program. A middle school program which consists of Grade 7, 8 and 9,” said Holton.

He explained a middle school would create an easier transition between Elementary School and the Graduation Program. It would also open up more classroom space for early learning programs and daycare.

Holton explained student population projections at the schools for 2012, and how Kildala and Nechako would have 1 less classroom in operation and Roy Wilcox would have 2 less classrooms. He explained the projections were based on the District of Kitimat’s projections for Kitimat’s future and the birth rates.

School District Chair Barry Pankhurst stated these projections were accurate as Brent Spidel, who made the projections, was only out 1 student for 2010.

Holton expressed the issues which they would like feedback on include preparing grade 6 and 7 students for middle school, especially since the first year the middle school is in place, 2012, both grade 6 and 7 will be moving up to the high school. This requires more orientation.

In addition, Grade 5 students would need be prepared to become school leaders. The new school configuration would also alter interschool athletics and the elementary school band programs which revolve around the grade 6 and 7 students. Other considerations went to the staff as well as other issues they may not have thought about yet.

One parent wanted to know whether the School District was going to provide bussing for the students or if students would have to rely on public bussing. The response was that the grade 8-12s were taking public transportation. It was also pointed out that the children with special needs walk to Kildala School and wanted to know if the additional youth would put a strain on the bus for special needs students.

In addition, some families might be looking at a higher cost to get their children to school via public transportation which could cause a strain on their finances.

Another parent was concerned this shift in students would affect the French Emersion program which is taken by the grade 5, 6 and 7 students.

It was stated establishing a middle school was not strictly about cost savings and using spaces more effectively. In addition, a middle school program should create a more effective transition for grade 7 students entering the high school.

The focus of the middle school program will be to provide a supportive environment similar to an elementary school program, but with more program options for the students. They start with 2-3 teachers at the grade 7 level, upgrade to a linear timetable in grade eight and in grade 9, a traditional semester timetable similar to grade 10, 11 and 12.

“The idea here is not simply to move kids around just to save space or to provide space but also to provide them with a better quality of programs designed to support the students’ needs in those adolescent years as they’re moving through school from the elementary years through to the graduate program,” said Holton. “It’s not strictly about the money.”

Pankhurst said there was a lot of stress put on the students when they go to grade 8 because in the elementary schools, they are walking down the hallway as the older students.

One parent suggested putting the Kitimat City High students into the high school while putting the grade 7-9 students into their own building. Pankhurst explained KCH was in the perfect location as the school did not function when they tried to put it into the high school. The parent expressed they did not wish to have their grade 7 student mixing with the high school students. Pankhurst expressed this was a topic for a future meeting and the KCH school worked better as a stand alone school.

Another parent wanted to know about the costs involved. The cost will not be known until they negotiate with the teacher’s union and until after the decision is made. There was also discussion about resources and positions within the schools and how they would be shuffled. There were no further questions so the panel invited the parents to a November 8th meeting at the theatre.

Pankhurst also expressed these transitions were a pretty big issue because a professor from Japan wished to bring his children to Kitimat for education.

At the meeting on November 8th, Spidel talked about separating the middle school from the older youth. Staggered time tables and different noon hours would keep the two apart. There was also discussion about serious renovations to the school itself.

They talked about taking out the current administration rooms in the school and replacing them with classrooms for the middle school. The library would become a learning space for the middle school while the echo hallway courtyard would become the new library The science wing will be increased to 10 classrooms. The main gym will go to the grad program while the small gym would go to the middle school. The only shared space at the high school would be dedicated to shops and the cafeteria. Student flow would be controlled by doors.

A middle school day would be divided into three chunks of time. Grade 7 and 8 would spend 50% of the time with one teacher. Grade nine would spend 66% of the time with two teachers. Teachers working in partnership would share the planning load.

As an example, a teacher who was teaching 7 courses would have to plan for all 7 courses. However, if three teachers planned together, one would plan the math, one would plan the English and one would plan the science reducing their preparation responsibilities but all teach their individual classrooms.

Spidel also explained students would not rotate classes throughout the day. They would remain with their home room.

If the decision is made, the next step would be to form a committee of students, teachers and parents to work out the details as well as bring in experts on middle schools and visit communities who have already implemented a middle school program to look how they have set it up.

Spidel spoke about funding the project. While he hoped the Ministry of Education would pay for it, if the money was not available, they would determine how the space would be utilized to the best of it’s ability. Other costs come from training and similar capital costs for the high school renovation.

With the presentation over, parents had an opportunity to express their concerns about this transitions. The school board will be looking at the issues on December 1st and will be making a decision on December 8th.