Parents’ plea to Greater Victoria district: Don’t change our schools — they’re unique

Supporters of three facilities make cases at overflow meeting on catchment options

An overflow crowd bringing together people from South Park Family School, Cloverdale Traditional School and Victor School showed up at the Greater Victoria school district board room Tuesday night, pleading the case for unique programs at their facilities to be maintained.

An ongoing review of school-catchment areas in the district aims to balance enrolment to prepare for growth — a measure that follows an increase of 1,000 students over the past decade — with changes at South Park, Cloverdale and Victor among possible measures to be taken.

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Victor has a program for students with complex special needs, South Park stresses parent participation along with art and the environment, and Cloverdale provides a structured environment that includes student uniforms. Parents from each school took turns speaking to district trustees at the Operations Policy and Planning Committee meeting, with each address punctuated by applause.

Possible outcomes of the district review include discontinuing the programs at South Park and Cloverdale to turn them into catchment schools, with Victor becoming an elementary school and most of its students being relocated. The review process began in November with an online survey that drew 5,100 responses and is continuing with a series of open houses.

“The aim is to have the board, hopefully, make a decision [on the review] for May,” district secretary-treasurer Mark Walsh said at the meeting. “The reason for that is we know there will be individuals looking to potentially transfer and so, if we make that decision in the new school year, then that could create a little bit of chaos in the fall.

“The idea is if you have it by May, you can facilitate transfers for individuals that may want to change to their new catchment if they so desire, and be in advance of September so we know what’s coming.”

The latest possible decision date for the board would be sometime prior to December, to allow for course-registration activity for the following school year. Changes from the review are scheduled to be brought in for September 2020.

Jenn Sutton, who chairs the South Park Parent Advisory Council, told trustees that parents understand the district is dealing with important issues.

“Overcrowding is not OK and we want to see a solution that works for all schools,” she said. “We do not, however, want the solution to be at the expense of any school.

“All district children deserve education that meets their needs and we believe there are alternative proposals that can address overcrowding while maintaining parental choice in elementary-level programming.”

Sutton said she appreciates the school board’s role.

“We ask that in your analysis of educational success and achievement, you also identify and understand the educational aspirations of the community, who seek out the specific programs.”

Sutton said South Park has a profound effect on families.

“Had South Park not been a choice available to them, many of these families would have chosen alternatives such as home schooling, private school or French immersion.”

The Cloverdale Parent Advisory Council has issued a report saying there are options for arranging the school’s catchment area that could keep the current program intact.

“We do not believe that eliminating an established, highly respected, successful program that is in high demand is in the best interests of students in our school district,” the report said.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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