Since our SD6 Zone Trustees circulated a two-question survey at the end of the last school year regarding the future location of the Intensive French Program (currently at Windermere Elementary School), a contentious divide has been opened in the valley. This issue has been interpreted as a winners and losers conversation where one school will win the Intensive French Program for a maximum of 30 students. Unfortunately, this has proven to be highly inflammatory and led to a visceral response from parents, caregivers and students. Despite the negative framework however, this action by the Windermere Zone Trustees has the potential to be the most positively productive that has occurred regarding the IF program since its inception.
Active debate and community engagement has revealed the depth of commitment that exists in this community to offering our children province-leading programming in second language education, and the possibility of low enrollment, which may mean the program will not thrive in the high school, has ignited concern community-wide.
The Windermere Zone Trustees have posed that due to low class sizes in upcoming years at WES, the program would benefit from re-location to the larger J.A. Laird School in Invermere. The IF program however, has become integral to the identity and community of WES and this strong support base is evidenced in the fantastic results that students are seeing at DTSS when they continue their French language education. If our school board is truly invested in providing the best second language opportunity for all of the students in our zone, and the support from the parents, staff and students is also present at J.A. Laird (as our Zone Trustees have proposed), then this program should also be offered there. By providing access to enhanced French at both schools, the IF program at DTSS has the opportunity to flourish, and our school zone can offer all of our students a learning asset that will open doors for them into the future.
Our school board administration has posed that if there is to be a move, this program will be discontinued at WES effective next year. Parents have asked the Trustees why it is imperative that this program be moved quickly, without any attempts to find solutions to the barriers to enrolment that have been raised by parents, such as lack of information and poor bussing options; issues that will remain if it moves.
We have asked for the numbers of enrolment that suggest a move of the program at all will be advantageous, or the budget issues that may be driving the seemingly single-minded push to move it.
In reply, parents have been informed that other solutions have not been sought, those numbers have not been gathered and the forecasting has not been done.
This has left many of us wondering how can a case be made that the IF program will be better off elsewhere, and why is there a rush on this decision that so deeply affects so many families who have made significant commitments to this program already? But above all, why are we not seeking solutions that make the program stronger and accessible to more students in our community?
The conversation is well underway and has presented the opportunity for our school district to truly lead in the area of second language education, with all of the attendant learning benefits it provides. I implore our Trustees not to allow this opportunity to pass by engaging in divisive administrative policies and exclusive decision-making.
They now have the opportunity to operate as a robust democracy in which a school administration is held accountable to an elected board, who are responsive to the voices of their constituents. A robust system requires collaboration, communication and engagement from and between all parties. They have before them an engaged constituency, a rare opportunity in a world of increasing apathy toward the democratic process. I hope that our board members will carefully consider the options and commentary that have been presented here, and by others. I encourage them to seek further public engagement and further exploration of the whole issue to ensure that the decisions we have placed in their hands reflect the pursuit of best practice, respectful collaboration, and effective communication.