Whistler and Pemberton secondary school officials are forging ahead with plans to offer French immersion to Grade 8 students beginning this fall — in Pemberton’s case, in spite of the fact that only about half the optimum number of students are expected to enroll.
Despite some hesitation from a couple of trustees, the Sea to Sky School District board on Wednesday (March 13) voted unanimously to approve the requests from Pemberton Secondary School Principal Nolan Cox and Whistler Secondary School Principal Bev Oakley to proceed with registration for French immersion for the 2013-14 school year.
Speaking to the board during its meeting in Squamish, the two principals said many similarities exist between the two. In both cases, parents of those attending French immersion in Grades 5 through 7 have voiced an interest in seeing the program extended to their respective high schools. Both also recently convened meetings and sought expressions of interest in extending French immersion into Grade 8 and beyond.
In Pemberton, where grade-school French immersion was launched at Signal Hill Elementary only three years ago, the parents of all 13 students eligible to move into a Grade 8 program have voiced an interest in doing that this fall, Cox said.
While those numbers will force school officials to look for “creative solutions,” such as blended classes and distance learning for the 2013-14 school year, the projection is that 20 and 24 students, respectively, will seek to enroll for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, Cox said.
“It’s projected that that program will extend to Grade 9 in 2014 given the level of interest shown for next year,” he said.
Ministry of Education guidelines call for 27 students to enroll to justify the hiring of one full-time equivalent (FTE) teacher. With 13 students, Cox has projected the program will require .429 FTE. Grade 8 and 9 French immersion students normally do 50 per cent of their work in English and 50 per cent in French.
“This is going to require creative planning and flexibility to make it work, but we are very interested in having this start in the fall,” Cox said.
Whistler Secondary officials expected 33 Whistler students to be eligible this fall — 24 from the French immersion program at Spring Creek Community School and nine from the French-language École la Passerelle — along with 33 for 2014-15 and 41 for 2015-16, Oakley said.
The parents of students eligible for the fall of 2013 recently returned 33 formal expressions of interest to WSS — 30 from Whistler and three from Pemberton, Oakley said.
District Superintendent Lisa McCullough said that if Whistler offered the program this coming fall and Pemberton did not, Pemberton might well lose all 13 of its eligible students to Whistler.
Squamish trustee Andrea Beaubien said that in either case, there’s a chance that some students who enroll in the program for 2013-14 might not re-enroll for Grade 9, prompting the need for officials to re-evaluate.
However, Pemberton trustee Pat Mackenzie said, “Once your students start leaving to go somewhere else to school, something is lost there. I’m for taking a chance on this.”
Board chair Rick Price agreed.
“I see your concern,” he told Beaubien, “but I also see that [Cox] has thought carefully about this and is willing to take the tough decisions to make it work.”
Formal registration for the WSS program starts on April 22 at 8:30 a.m., while PSS officials plan to begin accepting applications on April 19 at 9 a.m.
District hierarchy changing
A change in the District 48 hierarchy is in the offing, partly as a result of the pending retirement of two high-ranking district officials.
John Hetherington, Sea to Sky District secretary-treasurer, is retiring this May, while assistant superintendent Ian Kent plans to retire in December. As a result of Hetherington’s impending departure, the board has decided to move from a dual leadership model — with the superintendent and secretary-treasurer on equal footing at the top — to a CEO model with the secretary-treasurer reporting to the superintendent.
Price said B.C.’s other 59 school districts all run on the CEO model. Over the next few weeks district faculty and staff will be consulted for their thoughts on how best to share duties and responsibilities under the new model. Officials hope to have at last a formal draft of the new structure and job descriptions before the board starts whittling down its list of candidates for the positions, he said.
The board voted unanimously to adopt a 2013-14 school calendar that includes a two-week spring break beginning with the week of March 17, 2014.
The process of drawing up the calendar took several months and included consultation with faculty and support staff as well as a parent survey that included questions on whether a one- or two-week spring break was preferred and whether the break should be in March or tied to Easter in April. In the survey, a slight majority of Whistler and Pemberton parents voiced support for the two-week option despite the fact that parents working in the hospitality industry have difficulty getting away in March.
The Ministry of Education has granted districts the authority to adopt school calendars for up to three consecutive school years beginning with the 2014-15 calendar. District 48 officials have said they plan to start the process in the fall of 2013 to give all involved a chance to provide input.