Plan to relocate grades 7 and 8 to KDSS met with criticism

Parents concerned about interaction between elementary and high school students
Section: 
News

 

By Barb McKay

 

A plan to relocate grades 7 and 8 students to Kincardine District Secondary School is being met with skepticism by some parents, but the school board says it is the only feasible way to handle ballooning elementary enrollment and make a case for a new school.

 

Approximately 150 parents and a handful of students attended a public information meeting hosted by the Bluewater District School Board (BWDSB) and held at KDSS on Nov. 1 to discuss the plan to relocate grades at Kincardine schools. With elementary enrollment on the rise, some schools have reached or surpassed capacity.

 

“We are here because we have an issue to address, and it’s an issue that has been on the minds of many and that is growth in this area,” said BWDSB Director of Education Alana Murray. “We find ourselves in a position in this community with growth that is faster than we anticipated, and that is really good news.”

 

Bob Cummings, the school board’s superintendent of business, said the board was forced to look at options to deal with increasing elementary enrollment.

 

“There is limited capacity, even with portables, to accommodate elementary pupils,” he said.

 

He said enrollment numbers are expected to continue to be higher than projections, which don’t take into account new development in the municipality. He said adding portables at the schools is limited in terms of effectiveness, space and cost and changing school boundaries would have little effect because students who attend Elgin Market Public School (EMPS) for French Immersion, where enrollment is the highest, are spread out throughout the municipality.

 

The board is proposing to spread the enrollment out by shifting grades 7 and 8 students from EMPS and Huron Heights Public School (HHPS) to KDSS and transferring Grade 3 students from Kincardine Township Tiverton Public School (KTTPS) to Huron Heights.

 

Cummings said the plan to relocate students is a short-term solution for elementary school capacity issues and a new high school is the end goal.

 

“Fuller schools present a stronger case for new investment in this area,” he said.

 

Enrollment projections for the 2019-2020 school year puts KTTPS at 375 students (100 per cent capacity), EMPS at 248 students (112 per cent capacity), HHPS at 335 students (97 per cent capacity) and KDSS at 477 (67 per cent capacity). The board expects those projections are low.

 

By 2022-2023, enrollment projections put KTTPS at 97 per cent capacity, EMPS at 119 per cent capacity, HHPS at 119 per cent capacity and KDSS at 70 per cent capacity.

 

By relocating grades in Kincardine, Cummings said, the enrollment projects would put KTTPS at 80 per cent capacity, EMPS at 100 per cent capacity, HHPS at 85 per cent capacity and KDSS at 89 per cent capacity.

 

Murray said there are 11 empty classrooms at KDSS for grades 7 and 8 students and outdoor space that will be dedicated to those students. The board is proposing to locate the elementary classrooms in a hallway near the library, but haven’t settled on it. The next step in the process is to establish a transition committee made up of teachers, parents and students.

 

“This is something we need to work together at and we are open to listening to what you have to say,” Murray said.

 

Parents, in fact, had plenty to say at the Nov. 1 meeting, and questioned why they weren’t consulted on the plan. Primarily, concerns focused on how much interaction the elementary students would have with high school students. One parent said she was worried that her daughter, entering Grade 7 next year, would be exposed to sexual comments from older students. Other parents expressed concern that their children would be exposed to drugs and alcohol.

 

Superintendent of Education Wendy Kolohon said the board is looking at the layout of the school to determine where best to locate the grades 7 and 8 students and also create a supervision schedule. Some parents questioned how the students could be supervised at every moment during the school day.

 

“Are they going to be walked to the bathroom?” one mother asked.

 

“We would not make deliberate decisions to put your children at risk,” Murray said. “We have years and years and years of experience with multi-panel schools.”

 

Grade 9 student Andrew McKay asked how the washroom situation would be handled and if there are enough washrooms to accommodate both the elementary students and the high school students. KDSS principal Mark Ozorio said there are sets of washrooms located at each end of the school, as well as washrooms in the boys and girls change rooms. He said it is important to consider who will use which washrooms.

 

“We want to make sure our school is a safe and welcoming place,” he said.

 

Parents of senior students at HHPS who are members of the school’s Home and School Association asked if their children would receive the same quality education they have been receiving at their elementary school. Lindsay Desmond said the association has worked hard to raise money to purchase smart boards and other technology for the grades 7 and 8 classrooms. She wanted to know if those students would have the same technology at KDSS.

 

“We want to make sure that the students receive the exact same education that they would receive with the same technology we as parents raised funds for,” Desmond said.

 

Kolohon said the board would investigate whether any of that technology could be brought over. The parents were also encouraged to create a new home and school association at KDSS, but some parents said it was unfair that they were expected to fundraise all over again.

 

Other concerns raised included the provision of special education support, student safety when crossing the street from the school to the playground and continued French Immersion programming. Murray said the board is required to provide special education supports and Kolohon said French Immersion will continue at KDSS.

 

“Mr. Ozorio is a very big advocate for French Immersion and it has grown her because of it,” she said.

 

Murray reiterated that relocation of grades is a short-term plan.

 

“Will it be disruptive? Yes, but in the long-term we hope we will have a nice new school for this community.”

 

Parents questioned how long it would take to build a new school. Cummings said the board has talked to the Municipality of Kincardine and County of Bruce to include land for a future school build in their Official Plans, and there will be land set aside. He said from the time a new school is built to when it constructed would be about five years. Several parents argued that their students are being used as guinea pigs by placing them at the high school and that they will have graduated before a new school opens.

 

Murray said Ozorio helped transition the high school in Hanover to a grades 7 to 12 school and his experience will be beneficial in this transition.

 

Bluewater’s trustee for Kincardine, Jan Johnstone said that staff and students will make this transition work, just as they did when Kincardine went through the accommodation review a few years ago.

 

“I have absolute faith in our community,” she said.

 

A question and answer page has been set up on the BWDSB website, www.bwdsb.on.ca/business/GradesRelocation_Kincardine, and parents, students and others with questions or concerns can make submissions at kinprogramreview@bwdsb.on.ca until Friday (Nov. 9).