Despite the possibility of keeping Sicamous’ Parkview Elementary school open as a K-5, the vast majority of people attending Tuesday’s school consultation meeting were more supportive of creating one K-12 school operating out of Eagle River Secondary.
But the final decision about the configuration of schools in Sicamous will rest with Mike McKay, the appointed official trustee for the school district.
McKay suggested a decision on the issue may be forthcoming as early as the next school board meeting on March 14, but made no promises.
“It is more important to make the right decision than make a fast decision,” he told the crowd of approximately 50 people gathered in the gym at Eagle River Secondary. “There is no perfect answer. Each of the options comes with challenges.”
While the mood of this meeting favoured the K-12 option, McKay is asking for additional input to guide his decision-making. He is asking for members of the public to share their thoughts through a survey located on the School District #83 website at www.sd83.bc.ca.
Previous discussions in Sicamous revolved around the closure of Parkview and conversion of Eagle River Secondary to a K-12 school. Both Eagle River and Parkview are operating at less-than-half capacity and the current student population of Sicamous could fit into one building with space left over.
A number of residents, including members of the district council, expressed their concern over the possible loss of secondary education from the community, which could translate into a negative ripple effect for the community.
A previous task force report into the issue identified that Eagle River Secondary would need at least $2 million in renovations to convert the school into a suitable learning environment for the elementary students. Currently, the school district does not have that money available without selling property or restructuring its budget.
At this meeting, however, a third option was introduced by McKay, which would see Parkview become a K-5 school from the current K-7 and the Grade 6 and 7s moved to Eagle River Secondary. An idea was floated that some early childhood programming or possibly a day care could also move into the empty space at Parkview, although this could not generate revenue for the school district.
Others noted that while recent announcements from the government about funding rural education relieve some of the immediate financial pressures on schools in Sicamous, this situation could change.
“We’ve got two buildings sitting half-empty and, yes, we have some money now because it is an election year, but if we think that we can rely on grants to keep these schools open long term, it would be doing this community a disservice,” said Joan Chafe, a former principal.
A major issue for Sicamous is the viability of its secondary school programs.
With enrolment dwindling, it is becoming increasingly difficult to staff a wide range of educational programs for the students.
This is resulting in a situation where 27 students living in Sicamous are choosing to attend schools in Salmon Arm, where there is a more diverse selection of educational options.
“I prefer the K-12 option because then we can move forward with creating the best programs that we can and keeping K-12 in Sicamous, which is critical,” said Rhona Martin, rural Sicamous and Malakwa director for the Columbia Shuswap Regional District. “If our enrolment keeps dropping, we don’t want to be going through the pain of a school closure again in a couple of years.”
But not everyone was happy with the idea of amalgamating all the students at Eagle River Secondary.
Some parents of young children were concerned about safety, as Parkview is close to residential neighbourhoods, while the secondary school is on Main Street and bordered by both the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 97.
Should McKay opt to move forward with closing Parkview, there would be another required 60-day consultation period on that issue.