Grand Forks parents have mixed feelings on proposed Middle School

Erin Perkins
By Erin Perkins
May 29th, 2012

Discussions for a proposed middle school were nearly as polarized as the deer issue in Grand Forks during the second School District 51 public forum held at Dr. D.A. Perley Elementary School, Wednesday, May 23.

The meeting attracted more than 100 parents, grandparents and teachers who were both for and against the proposed idea of turning Perley Elementary school into a middle school of Grade 6 to 8 students by September 2013. Under this new model, John A. Hutton Elementary School and Christina Lake Elementary School would both have kindergarten to Grade 5 students while Grand Forks Secondary School would be for Grades 9 to 12.

During the public forums, SD51 Board of Education trustees are looking for an open discussion about a middle school. The recorded meeting comments, along with any internet survey comments will be gathered, analyzed by a committee and included in a report that trustees can consider while deciding to continue with the middle school plan or scrap it altogether. If they decide to continue with the plan, a second series of forums will be presented to the public with monetary figures and timelines.

“We want to make sure our kids are equipped for the future,” said board chair, Teresa Rezansoff during the beginning of the meeting.

Rezansoff and SD51 superintendent Michael Strukoff laid down the realities the district will face over the next three years: declining enrollement, a reduction of $230,000 each year in their annual budget, upcoming retirements of key administrators and the need to staff schools efficiently.

“Our goal is to create good-sized classes with financial (responsibility) but to the benefit of student success,” said Strukoff.

“We don’t want this to be a top down decision making process,” said Rezansoff. “It’s about protecting our schools and offering the best educational opportunities … We sincerely want to hear what you have to say and we want to include you.”

“It’s not if we don’t do this we’re sunk,” Rezansoff said. “This decision is based completely on educational merit …If we go on we will face increasing three way (grade) splits and increasing class sizes and less secondary school speciality teachers.”

Parents divided over benefit of middle school format

The comments at the Grand Forks meeting were perhaps a bit skewed due to the presence of many Christina Lake parents who attended to continue on the conversation began at the first public forum the week before.

Christina Lake parents are not in support of the new middle school idea because it would mean Christina Lake Elementary would be 30 students lighter than it is today, making it more possible for the school to be closed. They also don’t like the idea of their children having to be bused in to Grand Forks two years earlier than they do now.

“If this is approved it doesn’t affect Grand Forks like it does Christina Lake,” said one woman. “When you are doing your restructuring will we count?”

Grand Forks parents and grandparents were less concerned about the changes at Perley, and more concerned about what a middle school format would look like for their children. They asked for details about class configuration, academic achievement and how much contact students would have with the older high school students while studying electives at the high school.

“The trustees are elected to represent us,” said one Grand Forks mother. “We have good staff and trustees who care enough to explore other models (of education). Thank you from a parent …This is our biggest deal in our whole town.”

Grandparent Val Rich repeatedly requested the issue go to a referendum.

“For openess and transparency we should vote as a public,” she said.

Another parent said she didn’t want to see a referendum vote because people will vote emotionally.

“We voted for you and all the trustees on the board,” she said to Rezansoff.

The Hutton Elementary School Parent Advisory Council chair said the parents and students of Hutton School are excited about the idea of joining together with Perley.

“We’ve embraced the idea and everyone is excited about the idea and how to make the school welcoming,” she said. “I’m quite excited about it. In my opinion (the students) will get the responsibilities at a younger age.”

Another woman, who has worked 32 years at Perley Elementary school expressed sadness but also some positives to a possible amalgamation of the two sometimes rival elementary schools.

“It will be sad not to have Grade 7s,” she said. “I see this as a wonderful idea. There is a rivalery between the schools, especially Grade 7s. If we have them together they will see each other as peers and they won’t be different schools fighting against each other.”

Teachers cautious

Teachers are feeling cautious about the new middle school proposal, said Norm Sabourin, Boundary District Teachers’ Association president.

“What (the board of education) is suggesting could be a positive but it will not be cheap,” said Sabourin during a phone interview with the Boundary Sentinel. “If the district is willing to make some investment and do it properly it could be successful. Teachers are looking at this as a potentially positive situation.”

He said teachers are most concerned about job loss as a result of the middle school creation. He said that other districts have gone to a middle school model, have been fine for the first year but by the third year the district has made cuts to the funding and programs.

Teachers are also concerned the Perley elementary facilities, as they stand now, aren’t adequate for pre-teens. Sabourin said the bathrooms, gym and classrooms would have to be altered to accomodate the pre-teen population.

“There would be a cost involved (for renovations),” said Sabourin. “We wouldn’t want to see them leave (Perley) as is because as a middle school it could be uncomfortable for those kids.”

Midway also looking at middle school option this week

The final two meetings are over the next two weeks. For the West Boundary communities, go to the Greenwood Elementary School gym on Wednesday, May 30 at 6:30 p.m. or to the West Boundary Elementary School gym in Rock Creek on Tuesday, June 5 at 6:30 p.m.

The Education Board is also proposing a middle school model in Midway, which is what they will be discussing at the West Boundary meetings.

The day after each area meeting, a link to an online survey is posted to allow for further comment on the middle school proposal at www.sd51.bc.ca.

All the comments gathered during the taped meetings and online will be used by the board to determine what their next step will be, said Rezansoff.

To view the Boundary Sentinel’s original article detailing the middle school proposal visit: https://boundarysentinel.com/news/school-board-exploring-middle-school-option-school-calendar-changes-18545.

To view the Boundary Sentinel article about the Christina Lake public forum go to: https://boundarysentinel.com/news/school-consultation-process-opens-difficult-meeting-19182 .