New high school will cater to teens’ interests, lifestyles

It won’t have textbooks or classrooms, but a new independent high school will open this fall on Fort Street — with a daily start time of 9:45 a.m. because teens need their sleep.

The Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry has received interim certification from the Ministry of Education, meaning that founder Jeff Hopkins can hire some of the more than 400 teachers who have applied to be on staff. Teachers will be busy co-creating personal learning plans with more than 35 students already enrolled — no more standing in front of same-age students in regimented instruction periods.

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“We’re geared to go,” said Hopkins, a former superintendent of the Gulf Islands school district who is now upgrading the former Bible school at the Victoria Truth Centre. “We were aiming for 40 to 50 students, so we’re on track for that. I can’t wait to start.” Enrolment can go as high as 75, and students can be accepted right up to September.

Among those who will attend and pay $7,000-per-year tuition is Emma Bates. At 13, she’s been home-schooled since Grade 2 but is ready for more structure, more interaction with other teens and more than her mother, Jane Barnes, can give her.

“A lot of schools are very strict with the same curriculum, but this is way more personalized,” said Emma, who will defray her tuition cost by selling crafts on her website, adventuresincrafting.com.

Barnes said she and Emma are “super excited” to be part of a school that she believes could change how future generations are educated.

At PSII, the students will determine their own focus while gaining competence in subjects from math to history, sociology and geography in a setting “dedicated to helping young people to know the world in deep, connected and authentic ways,” Hopkins said on his website.

So far, enrolment is about 60 per cent female, with the heaviest concentration of students in grades 10 and 11.

Students have come from schools all over the Saanich Peninsula, with some moving from the Lower Mainland and even South Africa.

Tristan Charlesworth, 17, and currently in Grade 11, is adjusting to the idea of leaving his friends and the packed hallways and classrooms at Esquimalt High. He has a science and math bent and likes the idea that he’ll be able to pursue “more of what I want to learn rather than what the school system is telling me to learn.”

Meanwhile, Hopkins is busy with nuts and bolts — literally — arranging for an electrical realignment and replacement of the toilets, sinks and faucets and plenty of painting to brighten things up at the new premises. He holds a five-year lease on the building at 1201 Fort St., which boasts a dozen bedroom-sized rooms for quiet work areas, conferences and other activities.

“It just needs to be updated from 1963 to 2013, because not much has changed in there since then,” said Hopkins, who was once a painter. He gave up his $120,000-plus-per-year job and had to take a substantial line of credit on his home to start PSII.

The biggest task is transforming the small gym into a combined study space and café, but overall costs should come in under $50,000. The only glitch in getting things going thus far has been running afoul of Victoria’s sign bylaw for the cube-shaped design he had in mind. “I have to cut back on the creativity,” he said.

Ministry inspectors will return to the school in October to assess whether it’s eligible for 35 per cent of the per-pupil grant given to Victoria public high schools.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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