South Park and Cloverdale parents lobby to keep programs at their schools

Parents from South Park and Cloverdale elementaries are continuing to fight for their schools’ distinct programs as a decision on their future looms next month.

South Park has a “family school” model that emphasizes parent participation, art and the environment, while Cloverdale is a “traditional school” that includes a structured program and student uniforms.

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Both models could be discontinued if the two revert to neighbourhood schools as the result of an ongoing school-catchment review by the Greater Victoria School District.

With the 20,000-student district expected to grow by about 1,800 students over the next decade, the goal is to adjust catchment areas to spread out the student population, so individual schools aren’t too full.

It’s the first such review in the district in 20 years and could be finalized at a school board meeting in June. Any changes would not come into effect until September 2020.

School board vice-chairwoman Ann Whiteaker said she was not surprised by the fervour she heard from South Park and Cloverdale parents at a school board committee meeting this week.

“They have a school community and they feel very strongly about that, so I expect to see a lot of passion and a lot of commitment,” she said. “And they’ve got a lot of good points.”

Jenn Sutton, who chairs the South Park Parent Advisory Council, said at the meeting that it’s important to maintain the family-school program that has existed for 45 years.

“This program has been a leader in innovative practices, and is a model that should be celebrated and replicated in the district,” Sutton said. “We believe the district is hopeful that the structure in place for parents at South Park will support catchment parents to adopt the model, but it’s important to be clear that [changing] the catchment will mean an end to the level of parent participation at the school.

“We are an inclusive school that has an expectation that parents will give their time repeatedly, extensively and creatively,” Sutton said. “We do this because we’ve made a choice to be here.”

She said the program has been especially good for children with “alternate-learning needs.”

Cloverdale parent Starr Munro said she is becoming resigned to the idea that the school will lose its program.

“Through this process, I have begrudgingly come to accept that the options up for consideration for Cloverdale Traditional School are extremely limited,” she said. “Whether I like it or not, whether it feels fair or not, the reality is that the demand for and success of our program is considered of lesser importance at this time and in these circumstances than the importance of relieving the pressures of student overcrowding in nearby schools.”

Munro said despite what happens, the traditional-school model has been “an outstanding success” and enjoyed steady growth.

“We have an exceptionally diverse student population with a large range of complex learning needs,” she said. “Our program of choice is welcoming and inclusive and attractive to immigrant families.”

She said it might be up for debate how much becoming a catchment school will affect Cloverdale, “but we definitely know it will change things.”

The traditional model was introduced at Cloverdale in 2007, after the district considered closing what was then a neighbourhood school. With the traditional model, the school attracted students from throughout the district.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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