Midway Elementary School (MES) will shut its doors for good at the end of the school year, following a unanimous school board vote Tuesday, March. 15. MES students and staff will join their peers at neighbouring Greenwood Elementary School (GES), to be reconfigured as a K-7 school in September.
Each of the Boundary Board of Education’s six elected trustees explained their positions in the lead up to the final vote at their regular meeting, some in great detail. Chair Rose Zitko did not vote at Tuesday’s meeting, as per school board policy.
Parents were told that, for years, the school board had heard concerns about splitting staff and resources between separate schools in Midway and Greenwood for K-3’s and students in Grades 4-7. Senior management at the Boundary’s School District 51 (SD 51) had shared these concerns for years also, according to Superintendent Anna Lautard.
“Rather than the schools getting stronger in my time as a trustee, I’m hearing there’s been more and more challenges,” Trustee Cindy Strukoff said.
While Strukoff was saddened by next year’s loss of MES’s breakfast program, Strong Start, she said she was more concerned to enhance the consistency of support for students at MES and Greenwood Elementary School (GES). The board has long known these students need more and better support than students elsewhere in the district, she said.
Vice Chair Jaime Massey said she’d carefully considered SD 51’s proposed alternatives to closing MES, but found closing MES and merging it with GES was the best way forward. Addressing West Boundary parents’ concerns that their kids have had two very stressful years amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Massey hit on the need to deliver the best learning options sooner, rather than “when it’s convenient for others.”
Trustee Bronwen Bird put forward her deliberations at length. Recent data shows that Midway’s population “is likely to remain stable,” she said, answering affected parents’ concerns that the MES should stay open in case the village grows quickly.
Acknowledging that closing MES would cut around $230,000 in annual funding by the ministry of education, Bird noted that the sum represents just over one per cent of the the district’s budget.
Trustee Mark Danyluk, who lives in Midway, put several questions to Lautard, asking on behalf of parents how the district would prevent the “loss of innocence” in K-3’s who would be attending school with older kids and if she’d been on the job long enough to handle the proposed closure.
Kids would still be kids at the amalgamated school, Lautard said.
“I don’t think families whose kids are going to K-7 school (at West Boundary Elementary would) would say they’re losing their innocence,” she replied. Lautard, who said she’d been a co-principal at MES/GES, admitted there was never a right time to make a hard decision.
Danyluk later said he was convinced closing MES was in the students’ best interests.
“The question of Midway/Greenwood has been coming up every year. This is not a new thing,” he told his fellow trustees.
Reactions by affected parents and Boundary teachers’ union president Norm Saborin were overwhelmingly negative.
Saborin said he doubted if SD 51 could guarantee merging the schools wouldn’t eventually lead to job cuts for teachers and support staff. The loss of $230,000 per year would add up to $1 million in five, he warned.
The West Boundary’s Gail Bryan said the board hadn’t convinced her or “anyone in Midway” that closing MES was the right thing to do.
“In my mind, you guys just wanna close it, move to Greenwood and start a daycare in Midway, or whatever,” she told the board and district administrators.
A mother whose child has trouble walking said she was concerned her young one wouldn’t have as much support in a K-7 school at GES. It would hardly do much good to re-vamp GES’s Strong Start program, given that many Midway families can’t drive to Greenwood in the mornings, she said.
Chair Rose Zitko had said “this is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make” while serving on the board. Having to close the school was “heartbreaking” for her, but there wasn’t time to put it off any longer.
“By delaying this decision, does it meet the needs of our students who need us today?” she asked rhetorically.
Class sizes won’t be any bigger at the re-configured GES than they are at either of the two school this year, according to SD 51 treasurer Miranda Burdock. The “ratio of students to adults” won’t change either, although students will benefit from having a dedicated principal at the school, she and Lautard explained.