May 25th, 2024

Parent groups have issues with boundary changes


By Tim Kalinowski on January 26, 2021.

Herald photo by Ian Martens Students, staff and parents make their way in front of the entrance to École Nicholas Sheran Monday at the end of the school day. @IMartensHerald

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

Some parent groups are saying proposed boundary changes in the Lethbridge School Division are rushed, lack good planning, and will have substantially cut parents out of the consultation process if passed by the school board on Feb.23.

“I think it’s because they knew it would be an unpopular decision,” says Nichole Eva, who is representing a group of parents of French immersion students from Nicholas Sheran School who would be displaced by the proposed boundary changes. “They kind of put it back on us: ‘What else should we do?’ I don’t know. Maybe they should have planned this better and not move back again after just four years.”

Eva is alluding to the fact Agnes Davidson School French immersion students on the westside were moved by the school division to Nicholas Sheran after broad consultation with the public at the start of the 2017-2018 year after Coalbanks Elementary opened.

Eva says the sudden reversal of the decision is less a reflection of the overpopulation problem on the westside the division cited last week when making the sudden announcement, and more a reflection of a lack of foresight and poor planning.

“This program has only been open on the westside for four years, and at that time we could all see the westside was growing,” she says. “You think they could have foreseen this.”

Eva hopes more parents and citizens will speak up to call the board into account for its questionable decision-making. Her group is also circulating a petition for parents to sign on this issue. She knows many parents on the westside would like to continue French immersion closer to home, and not have to send kids on the bus an hour away to attend Agnes Davidson School.

“A lot of us have said we don’t really like this,” she says, “and we might just pull our kids out of French. And we still live on the westside; so our kids are still going to be going to these westside schools. What are you going to do then? It doesn’t help the overpopulation. If the westside schools are overcrowded, and many of the Nicholas Sheran (former French immersion) kids are going to stay on the westside it’s not really going to help.”

Eva says ideally the school board would allow all current French immersion students enrolled at Nicholas Sheran School to finish out their elementary education there, and phase in the transition as those students leave and move on to middle school. Or alternatively French immersion students at Nicholas Sheran might be moved into a westside middle school where space isn’t so much an issue to maintain a French immersion program on the westside.

A parent group at Agnes Davidson School is voicing similar concerns to those at Nicholas Sheran. If the proposed boundary changes go forward, students in the English program at the school will be forced to change schools to either Lakeview or the new Dr. Robert Plaxton School this fall.

“It was a huge shock to find out about this,” confesses Agnes Davidson School parent group spokesperson Caitlin Krogman. “We live in a very established community where there isn’t much room for growth. And so a lot of us have bought houses within our community to have a school that is right there in our area where we can walk to. We would not be going to this school anymore. We would have to be going to a school (Lakeview) that is now about 2.2 km away from us. Too close for busing, but far enough away we have to cross a major road in Mayor Magrath Drive. It is something that is very inconvenient when we live around the school right now.”

Krogman says her group would much prefer that all those students currently at Agnes Davidson in both the English and French streams stay, and for the school division to move all those potential French immersion kids coming in from Nicholas Sheran School to Lakeview School as those students move over to Robert Plaxton. Then the division could set up another bilingual program at Lakeview.

“I feel for the school board,” she says. “I feel they have a huge problem to tackle, but we are trying to be very solution-based. We want to work with the school board and not against them because we feel they have a huge task. We want to make it so it doesn’t disrupt as many families as it does currently.”

Lethbridge School Division board chair Christine Light, when asked by The Herald about these parents’ concerns, says there are three catalysts to the boundary review and one further factor as to why the school division is looking to make the proposed boundary changes. The three catalysts include a massive overpopulation of elementary students on the westside, the opportunity to assist with some of that overpopulation presented by the opening of Robert Plaxton on the southside, and the need to adjust boundaries on the northside to create better equity in class sizes and programming there. The other factor, says Light, is the province not coming through on a new school for the westside as hoped in its school capital spending plans announced last spring.

“I know many parents I have spoken to have felt a little blindsided by the decision with this announcement,” Light admits, “but I think it is really important for parents in the community to understand that this is a proposal after two years of research we are presenting. We do have the feedback loop on the division website, and so far we have received over 500 (items) of feedback that have been submitted. We do know parents are engaging. We do know parents are giving us feedback through that loop. I know we are gathering really great information and great ideas from parents. We are asking parents to submit ideas, and to submit proposals if they are not satisfied with what has been proposed.”

Light says all of the trustees on the school board are taking any comments coming in through the division’s website into account as they prepare to make a decision on Feb. 23. She also recognizes change is very hard for parents when they become used to doing something a certain way, but the board is thinking about the needs of the entire division, recognizing some parents will be impacted more than others if the boundary changes go through as proposed.

“We know there are some families that are more impacted than others, but the division is looking for what is best for students in the grand picture,” she confirms. “So I encourage parents to continue to reach out, and continue to write into the (website) feedback loop, contact their school administrator for any boundary concerns, to contact their school liaison trustee to be part of the conversation. Because we are listening, and do value what our parents share with us.”

Light does feel the time between the announcement of the proposed boundary changes last week and the final decision on Feb. 23 is enough time for public engagement on these matters, but former Palliser School Division board trustee Craig Whitehead, who now lives in Lethbridge and plans to run in this fall’s school board election, says the current public engagement process does seem rushed when compared to what his and other school boards have normally have done in the past. The last time he helped enact a boundary change, he says, they held an open house before the changes were made, took feedback, and then held another open house after. The trustees also deferred the final decision until after the school board elections were complete to allow the public to have a further say on the matter before enacting the changes.

While some of the Lethbridge School Division’s current truncated process can be explained by COVID restrictions, Whitehead says it does not, in his opinion, explain all of it.

“Overall, I think they need to wait until the government gives permission for large gatherings, and take the time to discuss, present and listen to people,” he says; “and hope to have those face to face discussions. When you are only giving about 18 days for information, and then you are making a decision in February for September– it seems a little rushed to me.”

“Also it is an election year, and so you have both an election and a pandemic going on. Why not take your time and wait until you can have good discussion and good dialogue, and open houses at each school that is being affected? And then make your decision after the election.”

To view the Nicholas Sheran Parent Action Committee petition opposing the current proposed boundary change visit https://www.change.org/p/lethbridge-school-division-more-consultation-on-lethbridge-school-division-boundaries?recruiter=41028188&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

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justalocalguy

EXCELLENT Formatting on this article. SO easy to read. Maybe you guys should think about ditching WordPress, good god.