School District 69 (Qualicum) is beginning an extensive community dialogue process in October to help the board make decisions around enrolment and budget concerns.
“We want to make sure everyone in the community gets heard, not just the squeaky wheels,” said board chair Eve Flynn.
“Fundamentally, this district, like lots, is experiencing declining enrolment,” said superintendent Jim Ansell who said that leads to extra capacity in the schools that the district and community have to decide how to use.
Ansell admits last year’s Matrix facilities report “caused a bit of a stir, to put it mildly,” but adds that while its recommendations were controversial, the facts are still the facts they have to deal with.
“This district is the last, or second last in the province to look at closing schools,” Flynn pointed out, adding that over 200 schools have been closed in the last 10 years.
She said aside from declining enrolment, education is changing with more students doing classes on-line, through distance education and things like dual credit programs where they attend post secondary classes during high school, which she said are great developments, but they take students out of district schools.
After the now notorious public meeting in October 2010 kicked off a storm of controversy and worry about the future of local schools, mostly Kwalikum Secondary, the board took a step back and is essentially starting again.
The school board later apologized for that first meeting and eventually committed to not making any school facility decisions until the spring of 2012, promising this new dialogue process.
The new process is considered a fresh beginning not based on the Matrix recommendations.
Designed by an independent 11-person planning committee, the dialogue process is modeled on similar ones around the province.
The committee includes four representatives from the District Parent Advisory Council and representatives from the Parksville and Qualicum Beach chambers of commerce, Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association, Canadian Union of Public Employees, a school principal, district trustee liaison and the superintendent.
The community dialogues will be facilitated by noted local facilitator Dr. Neil Smith and they are hoping other people will come forward to help facilitate, which Smith will help train them for and supervise.
The new process is in three phases, starting with the public sessions in October and November to provide background information and gather input on community values around education.
Phase two will delve into the options and look in detail at what sort of trade offs the community would make based on the priorities set out in phase one.
The third phase will reflect the input, get more into the options and present a narrowed list of recommendations to the board.
The phase one sessions will be facilitated in small groups in several locations throughout the district to make it convenient for people to get involved.
Pre-registration is required to ensure there are enough facilitators and space for the small table discussions so everyone can be included, Flynn said.
Register for any session through the school board office at 250-248-4241 or email@example.com.
The exact times and some locations are still to be determined and will be announced soon, but all meetings, with the exception of a November 5 daytime cross-district session, will be in the evening.