West Boundary parents appear to be firmly at odds with the Boundary’s School District 51 (SD 51) following a lengthy and at times fraught consultation at Greenwood Elementary School (GES) Thursday night, March 10.
Caught in the middle was the Boundary Board of Education (school board), whose seven trustees are set to vote Tuesday, March 15, on whether or not to close Midway Elementary School (MES).
SD 51 Superintendent Anna Lautard came to the school board in November 2021, when she said senior management had serious concerns about adult supervision and staff retention between the two schools, which share staff and resources.
Most of the 31 students now at MES live in Greenwood, with some Midway children attending GES, according to SD 51.
Shuttering MES and bringing students and staff to GES would solve the district’s problems while boosting support for students, Lautard suggested.
The school board voted in December to launch a 60-day public consultation process, which wrapped up at GES on Thursday. Affected parents and staff had asked SD 51 at the last consultation in Midway to come back with data supporting the district’s case.
When Thursday’s meeting kicked off, the other side heard that West Boundary students are statistically at higher risk than students anywhere else in the district. Amalgamating the two schools at GES would be the best way to meet area students’ many and complex needs, Superintendent Anna Lautard said.
Summarizing roughly ten years of data, Lautard said two “well respected surveys” showed alarmingly high rates of vulnerability across SD 51, with vulnerability measured in terms of social, emotional and physical health. Thirty-six per cent of recent kindergarteners were found to be vulnerable when they started school at elementaries across the district, according to a survey of early childhood development.
Breaking the stats down further, Lautard said 43 per cent of West Boundary kindergarteners were vulnerable, compared to 34 per cent in the eastern end of the district. The surveys deemed rates of 10 per cent or less to be acceptable, she explained.
The data shows a worsening trend, she said, telling parents, “The research links higher vulnerability rates with a range of later-life challenges including school drop-out, mental health issues and unemployment.”
The district presented two alternatives to closing MES. The district could keep both schools running if Midway children attended K-3 at MES and Greenwood children attended K-7 at GES. This would leave MES with one full-time teacher, with less involvement from the schools’ shared principal, leaving three classes at GES, each split across three grades.
Or, the district could run K-7 in both schools, though this would mean having to hire another full-time teacher.
A working group of parents opposed to the closure had met Wednesday night to go over solutions, few of which came to the floor on Thursday. The group’s spokesperson and retired principal Walt Osellame said he would prefer a fourth option, which would be “to keep the status quo.”
School board trustee Bronwen Bird twice asked Osellame for a concrete solution, to which he said he’d prefer the K-3 option at MES to closing the school. The working group was eager to share its ideas with the board, he said.
Norm Saborin, head of the union that represents Boundary teachers, warned that closing MES could lead to job cuts at GES, where he said there might be a drop in enrollment. Meanwhile, closing MES would shave $233,000 in annual funding by the Ministry of Education, he pointed out.
Saborin’s first point was “irrelevant,” SD 51 treasurer Miranda Burdock shot back, insisting that a significant decline in enrollment would result in the same staff cuts if the decline were spread across either of the schools or one school at GES.
“I just want to clarify that, you’re talking about prioritizing money and revenue over students’ learning and students’ well-being,” Burdock said, pointing out that the district could balance its budget without the $233,000 every year.
Doug McMynn, a key figure within the parents’ working group, repeatedly said the group was ready to share its ideas. In particular, McMynn held out what he called “the Darryl alternative,” named after a former West Boundary principal McMynn said was full of ideas.
When Bird asked to hear them, McMynn said, “I’m not gonna tell you right now, because all you’re doing is closing or opening (MES). You’re not consulting with us. Why don’t you consult with us?”
Bird urged McMynn to share his ideas, telling him the board couldn’t deliver on solutions that were withheld.
McMynn later qualified that he wasn’t in a position to speak for Darryl’s ideas.
When Bird asked him, “Have you told us everything you want us to know?” McMynn said, “No,” and left the microphone so that another person could speak.
Letters sent to SD 51 leading up to an earlier consultation in Midway broadly rejected the district’s proposal to close MES.
Greenwood city council backed the proposal, with Midway’s council coming out firmly against it.
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