Although he agrees School District 69 trustees are facing a very real financial crunch, a consultant hired by the Town of Qualicum Beach doesn’t think they have to close the local high school.
Speaking at a special council meeting Wednesday, Dr. Doug Player said a study he conducted in conjunction with local community groups opposed to the closure of Kwalikum Secondary School indicates the district has many more options than merely closing the school, a move he said could prove a big mistake for both students and the community.
“In terms of keeping KSS open, the focus group was unanimous about that,” he said. “They also demonstrated there are people willing to work very hard to make that happen. They believe council and the school district need to work collaboratively to find the solutions that best serve the students as well as the community.”
Player said the group, which consisted of 75 members from throughout the community, came up with numerous possible options, one of which was to offer courses that make KSS stand out from other schools.
“To avoid extinction, you must create distinction,” he said. “One way to draw students into KSS is by creating programs that are distinctive and will draw students. The music program at KSS is recognized far and wide and there has been a proposal for a music academy before the board for years. There are academies all over the province, from sports to fine arts, that draw students from beyond the borders.”
Another option, he said, involved allowing other groups to utilize part of the KSS facility, while keeping the core of the school open until the enrolment increases.
“The Family Resource Association is looking for space,” he said. “The chamber’s executive director gave a number of organization possibilities for inclusion in that place to create a neighbourhood learning community.”
Keeping KSS open while closing one of the middle schools was also brought forward as an option.
“There is, proportionately, far more space in the middle schools than in the high schools,” he said. “There are 500 empty spaces in the middle schools. Instead of taking the teenage population out of your community, it would be much easier to look at closing a middle school, while maintaining the high school in the community.”
Player noted that education is one of B.C.’s top exports, a lucrative market that KSS could tap into. However, he said if the high school were to be closed and the students moved to Ballenas, the lucrative international student population at KSS would be likely to move to other communities, rather than the then-crowded BSS. Instead, Player suggested enhancing the international student population at KSS, bumping up student numbers — and the school district budget.
“The international program was seen as a very quick and sustainable way to increasing both the student population and revenue,” he said. “We don’t have any short-term or summer programs for international students, which is very lucrative. There’s very good revenue from it and it uses the school when it is empty in summer.”
The bottom line, he said, is that any decision to close the school prior to fully exploring the wealth of other possibilities would be a mistake. Kwalikum Secondary, he said, could and should be saved.
Commenting on the report, chief administrative officer Mark Brown said town staff are studying the report and mulling their next step.
“Staff is going to look at all the recommendations,” he said. “Some that are in it must be jointly done, some with co-operation with the province and some council can unilaterally take action on. Staff will lookat each of them with that in mind.”
School District 69 board chair Eve Flynn said the Player report was a valuable addition to the district’s ongoing review process — although she had seen much of the information before.
“We heard pretty much most of it already,” she said. “However, the report provides good information for the process. It repeats a lot of information we already have in our system, along with new major projects.”
Flynn noted the district is currently working on many of the issues raised in the report.
“We have a middle school analysis and we have an international programs analysis going and we look forward to staff reports coming back from that,” she said. “The community dialogue task force is meeting now, with chamber representatives, members of our PACs, members of the Mt. Arrowsmith Teachers Association and others.”