The group formed to try to save Kwalikum Secondary School from closure used the school’s successes to try and sway the B.C. education minister against shutting it down. Yet, the response was not one they put a lot of faith in.
Minister George Abbott visited School District 69 (Qualicum) last week to meet with the board and staff as well as the Oceanside Communities for Quality Education group. The minister spent a few hours with members of the board including a tour of the Building Learning Together (BLT) facilities at Qualicum Beach Elementary, the Words on Wheels Bus, a middle school and both secondary schools and had a lunch catered by Parksville Alternate Secondary School students.
Over lunch he heard how the PASS catering program teaches skills for future employment or post-secondary training.
He also heard about programs like the District Drug and Alcohol Review Committee (DDARC), under which students are no longer suspended out of school, but participate in a hearing with parents, staff and health care workers to develop a counseling plan.
Board chair Eve Flynn said Abbot was impressed with some of the local programs and suggested they could be emulated in other districts.
They also talked about the district’s career education and dual-credit opportunities for high school students looking to get a head start into the workforce.
Along with showing the success of unique local programs Flynn said they discussed the challenges and opportunities around current planning, enrolment projections and the future of school facilities, but didn’t receive any specific commitments.
The minister was provided with a copy of the board’s plan for further investigation and community dialogue, approved at the end of March.
Lynnette Kershaw, one of four representatives with Oceanside Communities for Quality Education (OCQE) who met separately with the minister was not quite as positive.
“We were thrilled to have met with the minister, don’t get me wrong, it was a great opportunity to show we’re not just some little group of radicals,” she said, but added they didn’t get as much of a response as they’d hoped.
She said the group, formed to find ways to keep schools open, didn’t go in with a list of complaints begging for money, but brought a long list of successes in the district and ideas to increase the value of various schools and programs.
They told him their vision for the future of the district includes increasing the international student program and taking advantage of local expertise by establishing a music academy, an electric shuttle program, an organic gardening program and increasing focus on unique aspects like the shop and band departments at the high schools.
She said they also talked about how this district, though not considered rural, serves rural areas and should get some of the protection rural schools get, to keep children from having to travel hours a day if schools were closed.
They also tried to impress upon him that while projections show continuing declining enrolment, the number of students is only supposed to drop for a few more years before starting a slow recovery and they don’t feel closing schools is the best way to deal with that.
She said it was tricky to condense the group’s eight months of work down to the 38 minutes they ended up getting and as they expected they didn’t get any commitment to help but generally felt they were well received.
Flynn concluded in a press release that, “It’s been over five years since a Minister of Education has visited our district and it was wonderful to have the chance to share many of our innovative initiatives with him.”