Sicamous will have an opportunity to comment on changes proposed for Parkview Elementary and Eagle River Secondary during a consultation meeting scheduled for 7p.m. on Tuesday

Sicamous will have an opportunity to comment on changes proposed for Parkview Elementary and Eagle River Secondary during a consultation meeting scheduled for 7p.m. on Tuesday

Proposed school closures/changes concerning

Public meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7 at Eagle River Secondary.

  • Mar. 18, 2015 2:00 p.m.

The long-term vision for Sicamous schools has local politicians concerned for the future of their children and their communities.

Sicamous Mayor Terry Rysz, Columbia Shuswap Regional District Electoral Area E director Rhona Martin, and others in attendance at Wednesday’s municipal council meeting took time to express their concerns over School District #83’s long-term facilities plan, and the ramifications it could have. That plan, discussed the previous night at a school board meeting in Salmon Arm, calls for a reconfiguration of Parkview Elementary, making it a kindergarten to Grade 5, with a “significant portion” of the school being closed, and the creation of a Grade 6 to 8 “middle school within a school” program using existing space at Eagle River Secondary. The 10-year plan suggests closing Parkview and converting Eagle River into a K to 12 school.

The only closure proposed for the 2015/16 school year is Silver Creek Elementary.

“It was concerning, a bit disturbing – as we all know, the loss of the school here will not help this community,” commented Rysz. “At the same time, we have to understand what the board is going through because they’re dealing with a $1.8 million shortfall.”

The mayor noted that Sicamous is not alone and that rural communities within School District #83, and throughout the province, are dealing with a similar situation.

“Half of our schools are empty,” said Rysz. “We’ve gone from 8,000 students (over the past decade)… down to 5,500.”

Martin said she understands the challenges SD#83 is facing, but pointed out how Sicamous schools are uniquely challenged, losing students to Salmon Arm because they can’t get the courses they want at Parkview or Eagle River.

(School district spokesperson Alice Hucul later confirmed there are currently 15 students from Sicamous enrolled at Salmon Arm Secondary.)

“This year, at Eagle River, there was not even Home Ec offered. That’s a pretty basic course,” said Martin. “All the children in the Shuswap are equal as far as I’m concerned. But they are not being treated equally.

“You would think children wouldn’t have to go to Salmon Arm to take an accounting course when they’re in the higher levels of a secondary program, but that’s what’s happening. So if the kids can’t get just the basics here, that’s a problem.”

Martin recognized school districts that oversee schools in substantially larger urban centres are also challenged, in some cases not having enough student spaces. She suggested local governments need to collectively approach B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender and suggest an independent audit be conducted to find out what’s wrong.

“Because obviously there’s something wrong,” said Martin. “Our rural schools have been kicked around too much, and we’ve lost too much as communities with the cuts that have taken place, to make sure that some of them in the larger centres can have some of the frills.

“And I guess as rural communities, we have to say enough is enough.”

Martin added how one person at the school board meeting commented, “Don’t waste your money recruiting a doctor because nobody is going to want to come if elementary school students are having to go in between two highways.”

“I never even thought of that…,” said Martin. “So this whole school restructuring thing could have huge impacts that would ripple for a long time.”

Rysz implored Sicamous and Area E residents to attend and voice their opinions at the upcoming school district consultation meeting on Tuesday, April 7 at Eagle River Secondary. Rysz then expressed his own opinion.

“I can’t figure out where the provincial government’s thinking is, or where they’re coming from because, at the end of the day, we close our schools, that is another tool that they’re deleting from our toolbox to bring people to this province,” said Rysz. “Closing a school of any sort in this province is absolutely asinine. So we need public support during these consultations. We need to let our trustees know because you voted for them… we need to give them the message that this should not be happening.”