By Josh Howald
Students seeking alternative learning will now have one less alternative.
The end of the 2013/14 school year will also be the end of operations at the Bervie Campus of Kincardine District Secondary School. Principal Randall DeKraker confirmed the Bervie site would be closed on Monday morning in a telephone interview with The Independent.
"It was a very, very difficult decision," said DeKraker. "It's tough. I know it has been a very successful program over the years, and it has helped a lot of kids with different learning skills graduate."
The Bervie Campus of KDSS was first opened 11 years ago, based around a masonry program started by former KDSS shop teacher Paul Douglas. The program has been tweaked several times over the years, and there are currently 18 students enrolled at the Bervie campus, which offers an alternative skills program for students.
KDSS has been quite successful in graduating at-risk students from the Bervie Campus. Even Mayor Larry Kraemer has said on several occasions that he supports the Bervie Campus. His own son was a student there, and he has said some of his best employees (at Kin-Farm Tire) are also graduates of the program.
DeKraker blamed the closure on declining enrolment. Because student enrolment is down, KDSS will lose at least three full-time staff members. The Bluewater District School Board predicts enrolment will decline for at least two more school years. It has, in the past, however, admitted its predictions are not an exact science. The Bervie Campus was on the chopping block in 2011, but survived after enrolment did not, in fact, decrease. DeKraker said he would never shut the door completely on a return to Bervie, but it won't be next year. The lease has not been renewed.
Staff has been made aware of the decision, but as of Monday morning students and parents had yet to be officially notified of the closure, though rumours have been making the rounds. DeKraker said students would be notified today (Wednesday) by letter. Greg Shipp, a tech teacher who took over the Bervie program from Douglas, will return to KDSS' main campus in Kincardine to teach.
As for the students?
"We will certainly welcome them back here, and do our best to accommodate them," said DeKraker. "It's going to be tough, and that is a good question. It is going to be difficult to meet all of the needs, but I think there is an understanding among staff that we may have to get creative and try some different things to help all of our students graduate."
DeKraker is bracing for the inevitable backlash that comes with an unpopular decision.
"I anticipate (some upset people). Unfortunately, that is reality. A small enrolment makes it harder and harder to build a timetable that meets the need of all students. If we were larger, say if we had 2,000 students, we would have a lot more flexibility."
DeKraker understands that while this isn't great news for the school or community, he reminded people that KDSS will continue to provide quality education in a positive environment for local youngsters.
"We're still going to do a great job," he said. "I know this is a negative story, but I want to stress that we still have a very dedicated staff that is still going to be here."
Well, not quite all. DeKraker didn't have the exact staffing figures on hand Monday morning, but cuts will include teachers Christine Newton, Dan Weigand and Roz Hurst. John Hannivan will retire at the end of the school year, which saves an additional job cut.