The acceptance of a report examining the conversion of Eagle River Secondary School into a kindergarten to Grade 12 school is setting the stage for changes to education in Sicamous and the potential closure of Parkview Elementary.
The report, which recommends the conversion take place in September 2017, was produced for the school district by a committee made up of principals, teachers, administrators and parents.
The document looked at three elements – whether K-12 was a sound educational option, what would need to be done to the school to adapt it for younger students, including a Strong Start program for preschoolers, and what the potential cost savings would be.
Val Edgell, principal at ERS, told the board many on the committee were skeptical of the educational value to a K-12 school, but ended up discovering that K-12 models were very successful.
The committee visited schools in Ashcroft, Clinton, New Denver and Kaslo, as well as one in Manitoba, where Edgell was visiting.
“What we ended up finding was extremely positive,” Edgell told the school board at a meeting Tuesday. “Let’s be blunt, we weren’t exactly expecting to hear such positive things, but even when we asked students what were the negatives, they didn’t feel ripped off. The only thing they could say was that they had to watch their language around the little ones – and is that really a bad thing?”
The committee research showed K-12 students had fewer discipline issues, a positive impact on academic performance at all levels, a positive effect on attitude and behaviour and a positive effect on student persistence including graduation rates.
“By the end of the process, we almost started to wonder why every school in the province is not K-12,” said Sicamous teacher Shawn Bird.
To accommodate the change, the committee recommended the addition of two classrooms, an additional set of washrooms and the closing in of an alcove space. The vision was to put the kindergarten and Strong Start students in one wing with their own entrance and washrooms, and then introduce the middle and higher grades into the remainder of the “school square.”
While the committee initially looked at where to install doors to seal off areas of the school for different age groups, the message from the other K-12 schools was the opposite.
“They actually were looking for more opportunities for interaction between the ages, in fact the more interaction, the better it seemed to be for the school community,” Edgell told the board.
In addition, there were significant cost savings to the K-12 plan. There would be operational savings of $230,000 each year from the closure of Parkview Elementary, while the consolidation of services would also offer cost reductions.
The school district’s long-term facilities plan for Sicamous indicated the two schools could be amalgamated into one building with space left over.
“At a time like this,” said trustee Larissa Lutjen, “it is exciting to have the possibility of building something even better than was there before.”
Trustees voted unanimously to accept the report, but did not set a date for moving forward. Board chair Bobbi Johnson said the feeling was the trustees had enough on their plates for the near future with the public consultations on proposed school closures in Armstrong and Silver Creek. She suggested public consultation on the Sicamous proposal would likely start in September 2016 with a view to possible implementation in September 2017.