Near West Review options laid out

Photo by Kristy Strauss

Overcrowding in Kitchissippi schools has left parents with four options that would determine where they could send their children starting in the 2014-15 school year.

Parents came together at the Fisher Park Public School auditorium on October 24 to hear these options, presented by a working group made up of parents and school board representatives, and to give feedback on each one.

“We’ve done a lot of work as a group and it’s been a tough process,” says Hintonburg resident Stefan Matiation, who’s also a member of the working group.

“I think in the end, the board is committed to making any of these options work.”

The choices presented to parents were divided by Option A, C, C1, and G. There were also boundary changes in each option.

Drawing from Elmdale and Devonshire catchments, Option A would see new junior kindergarten to Grade 6 early French immersion students attend Fisher Park starting in the 2014-15 school year – while retaining its current Grades 7-8 programs. Also as part of this option, Elmdale Public School’s junior kindergarten to Grade 6 English program would be relocated to Connaught Public School and Hilson Public School.

Option C would see a new junior kindergarten to Grade 6 early French immersion program at Connaught Public School – offering a dual track junior kindergarten to Grade 6 English and early French immersion program. Elmdale’s junior kindergarten to Grade 6 early French immersion program would remain, and the Elmdale junior kindergarten to Grade 6 English program would be re-directed to Connaught and Hilson. Option C1 offers the same choice, except students in Grade 6 would be re-directed to Fisher Park Public School for Grades 6-8.

The working group then presented Option G, which includes Elmdale and Devonshire schools offering junior kindergarten to Grade 3 early French immersion and Fisher Park offering Grades 4-8 early French immersion. Elmdale’s junior kindergarten to Grade 6 English programs would be re-directed to Connaught and Hilson, while Fisher Park’s Grade 7 and 8 programs would remain the same.

Matiation said the choices came from the public meetings the working group have been holding since March.

He added that careful thought was put into each choice, and the working group weighed factors such as reasonable boundaries, walkability for students, and ensuring that there would be one extra classroom available in each school.

“We also thought we needed one more factor, which was equity,” Matiation said. “We wanted to make sure there was reasonable access across the near west to all programs, and there was no unbalanced impact on one school, community or program.”

At the meeting, parents also had a chance to voice their concerns about the options.

Shannon Watt had some air quality concerns about Option A – a weakness that the working group also included in their report.

“There was a study out from UBC (University of British Columbia) looking at air pollution . . . and they said we should be careful about putting elementary schools near highways,” Watt said, referring to Fisher Park, which is located beside the Queensway.

Other parents had concerns about the new boundaries, child care options, and the possibility of their older children being separated from a younger sibling.

Civic Hospital resident Amanda Farris, who is a member of the working group, encourages residents to make their voices heard.

“We still don’t have a perfect solution, but we’re  hoping to find one with enough positives,” Farris said, adding that each comment will be taken into account when the group makes its final recommendations to the board.

Jennifer McKenzie, the school board trustee for Somerset/Kitchissippi, said the board will discuss the issue at a December 10 meeting.

“When we started this, we developed our mandate: strive to achieve a set of recommendations that support alleviating the capacity issues of Devonshire and Elmdale,” McKenzie said. “We’ve tried to use that as the basis for some of our decision-making.”

Parents had a chance to submit their comments to the working group until November 1. The group will then submit their recommendations to the board by November 15, and board staff will submit their report. School board trustees will review the recommendations at a December 10 meeting, where members of the public will have one more chance to comment.

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