Parents' and guardians' input is being sought on a move that would see Squamish Grade 7 students moved from elementary schools to Don Ross Secondary School by next fall.
Since 2010, when all Grade 10 students in Squamish were moved to Howe Sound Secondary School, Don Ross (DRSS) has housed only Grades 8 and 9.
The Sea to Sky School District board of trustees has been asked to consider moving Grade 7s from Squamish's six elementary schools to DRSS, partly because the school's 398 students leave it at only two-thirds of its capacity and partly because educators believe having the three “middle years” grades under one roof would work better from an educational point of view.
At a meeting attended by about 150 people at the school on Tuesday (Oct. 22), parents were told that DRSS is one of only a few schools in B.C. that houses only Grades 8 and 9.
The school, though, has a “nominal operating capacity” of 600 students, or 680 if you include the capacity of the gymnasium and facilities for wood shop and home economics, for example, said Rick Hume, district facilities manager.
If Grade 7 is moved to DRSS next year, the school would have about 575 students, Hume said.
Peter Jory, the district's director of instruction for technology and innovation, said that for the past decade or so, school enrolments across B.C. have generally been decreasing. Sea to Sky is one of only four that has grown for the past few years, however, and that growth is expected to continue — particularly in Squamish.
“Our figures are showing that for the next several years, the cohort coming in is going to be bigger than the cohort that's going out,” Jory said.
DRSS Principal Nick Pascuzzi said there are solid educational and philosophical grounds to support such a move. He said most school systems group Grades 7, 8 and 9 together in a transition phase from elementary to high school because students aged 12 to 14 share a lot of social and emotional traits in common.
If the change is adopted, “We would have to spend a lot of time on helping those [incoming Grade 7] students adjust from the elementary to the secondary-school model,” Pascuzzi said.
District Superintendent Lisa McCullough said that from a facilities standpoint, the Grade 7 shift, if adopted, is likely to serve the need for the next seven to 10 years. If the overall Squamish student population continued to grow, it might become necessary to add portables to increase the school's capacity after that period, she said. If the change isn't adopted for the 2014-'15 school year, portables might be needed soon at one or more of Squamish's six elementary schools, she said.
Parents who attended the meeting questioned the proposed move's impact on French immersion. McCullough said the amount of daily French-language instruction would be slightly less in a middle-school scenario than in elementary classes.
Between now and Nov. 5, those with an interest in the topic are being asked to complete a survey. A link to the survey will be emailed out to parents, guardians and others, or paper surveys will be available at the schools. Staff is to present the survey results to the board on Nov. 13 and the board is expected to make a decision in December, Jory said.
Information about the Grade 7 proposal is available at sd48seatosky.org/sd48-grade-7-reconfiguration/