Local public school officials are opening up early French immersion programming at a second Squamish elementary school, but have decided for logistical reasons not to include next year’s Grade 2 and 3 students in that mix.
In late November, Sea to Sky School District (District 48) officials opened up a one-week registration period for the parents of Squamish students entering kindergarten or Grade 1 during the 2014-’15 school year wishing to be part of the district’s first early French immersion program at Squamish Elementary (SES).
At the time, they left open the prospect of offering the program to incoming grades 2 and 3 students as well, depending on the space and the number of registrations for K-1. They also said that if the numbers warranted it, they would offer K-1 French at both SES and Garibaldi Highlands Elementary (GHE).
On Wednesday (Dec. 11), the District 48 board nixed the idea of taking in the Grade 2 and 3 students next fall because of space and staff concerns, but decided to launch the program for the K-1s at both SES and GHE.
With the parents of 101 students — 59 kindergartens and 42 Grade 1s — having signed up Nov. 25 to 29, district officials began looking at the space they have available, assistant superintendent Jody Langlois told the board.
SES will have just three classrooms for early French next fall, even with all Grade 7 students in Squamish moving to Don Ross Secondary School. The 101 students represents almost five classes, prompting a recommendation to open up a second program at GHE.
The numbers prompted officials to re-open registration for early French immersion at SES. Students who are already registered needn’t do so again, as they will be given priority, Langlois said. However, officials felt that with the program’s expansion to GHE, they needed to open up another opportunity for parents to sign their children up, she said.
“We will be tracking when students have registered for the early French immersion program. Having this information is helpful when we are trying to determine registration in catchment areas so that we can best balance the early French immersion programs at the two sites,” Langlois wrote in an email to The Chief.
“We are not anticipating that we will have wait lists for the programs, but should that occur, having tracked registration will also be of use to us.”
The process of launching early French immersion — and the simultaneous phase-out of late French immersion for students in grades 5, 6 and 7 — has proven challenging from a logistical and staffing point of view, Langlois said.
Adding grades 2 and 3 to the mix next fall “would be problematic. We certainly couldn’t open it and sustain it over time,” Langlois said.
Current late French immersion teachers were interested in helping implement the early French program, but voiced concern about the challenges of opening it up to grades 2 and 3 at the same time, Langlois said.
“They said, ‘It just feels like too much, so can we slow down and just commit to implementation of K-1?’” she said.
Parent surveys have shown that over the next three years there will likely be a “bulge” of larger incoming kindergarten classes for early French immersion, Langlois said.
Kaija Belfry Munroe, president of the Squamish chapter of Canadian Parents for French, said the group understands the challenges the district faces in launching the program. While the Dec. 11 decisions are mostly good news, the families of some youngsters entering grades 2 and 3 next fall will undoubtedly be disappointed, she said.
“Some parents are going to have to make a difficult decision to perhaps get an older child to another school and the younger one to a different school,” she said.
Belfry Munroe said she knows of some parents — especially those living in Garibaldi Highlands and Garibaldi Estates — who were waiting to see whether the program would be offered at GHE before registering their children. But she “would only be guessing” at how many are likely to sign their children up now.
At last week’s meeting, Langlois said officials might have to enforce catchment areas for the two early French immersion programs. That decision is expected to be made in January, after the second registration period, she said.
District officials, though, believe they can implement early French at GHE without pushing L’Ecole les Aiglons — operated by B.C.’s French-language Conseil Scolaire Francophone (District 93) — out of the building, she said.
“We don’t want to displace CSF. We’ve had a good partnership with them,” Langlois said.
Aboriginal completion rate skyrockets
District 48 had the steepest rate of growth in Aboriginal high school completion rates over the most recent four-year period of any school district in B.C.
The 2013 Aboriginal six-year completion rate, 73 per cent, is 14 points higher than the provincial average and 39 percentage points above where it was during the 2009-’10 school year, said Langlois, who provided the board with the annual superintendent’s report on student achievement in the absence of Superintendent Lisa McCullough.
“The numbers are just staggering in four years. The provincial average is 59 per cent and we’re well above that. That is something to be celebrated,” Langlois told the board.
Board chair Rick Price said the rapid rise in the district’s Aboriginal student completion rate is a credit to the hard work of district staff, teachers, teacher assistants and administrators.
Not all of the figures in the report were glowingly positive, Langlois said. The overall six-year high school completion rate improved from 79 to 82 per cent during the four-year period, two points below the provincial average of 84 per cent.
Grade 4 Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) numeracy test results showed that 44 per cent of Aboriginal students are not meeting expectations. “So some areas are showing more room for improvement than others,” Langlois said.
Price named chair for 2014
Price, a second-term Squamish trustee, was named school board chair for 2014, the fifth consecutive year he’ll serve in that capacity. Squamish’s other board member, Andrea Beaubien, was voted in as vice-chair for the second consecutive year. New school board elections are scheduled in November 2014.