School District 58 announced its decision to close Coquihalla Middle School Thursday but says it will keep the "middle school philosophy" as it switches to a Grades 8-12 system.
The decision to go with scenario one of the district's reconfiguration alternatives, just one of two options put forward by school trustees and district administration, comes as a result of declining enrolment in the district.
"Unless something new develops, it's going to be our decision on April 18," said district superintendent Bob Peacock before an audience of about 100 people at a public meeting at Merritt Secondary School Thursday night. The decision will be finalized following a vote by trustees at a public board meeting April 18.
"Both models had merit. There was lots of discussion and feedback," said school board chair Gordon Comeau. He went on to say that parents on one side had argued for the need to maintain neighbourhood schools while others stressed keeping the middle school philosophy intact. He noted that a $60,000 savings difference between the two scenarios was not a deciding factor for the board. "The trustees believe that the programs are the critical issues to look at."
The district projects at $350,000 savings from closing CMS, which involves keeping seventh grade students at the city's five elementary schools and sending eighth grade students to MSS in order to adjust to a loss of 138 students in 2012-13. Option two would have closed two elementary schools.
"We do consider the closure of Coquihalla Middle School is our best option," said Peacock, stipulating the condition of teamwork and maintaining the middle school philosophy.
The district will remodel MSS as a "double track" school in the sense of CMS and MSS operating co-operatively in one environment, with Grade 7 CMS teachers integrating into the elementary schools and Grade 8 teachers integrating into MSS. (Peacock says he will meet with teachers soon to discuss their transition options and concerns.)
One aspect of the middle school philosophy that new MSS students can expect this fall would be the smaller number of teachers for Grade 8 students—where teachers are instructing more than just one subject, unlike the typical high school model where students have a different teacher for each subject.
"This process will see a reduction in these teachers; it could be as low as five [teachers]," explains Peacock. Under a high school model, a Grade 8 student might have eight different teachers.
The district also says the change will increase the number of student electives available at MSS but wouldn't specify on which programs would be created. During the meeting, MSS principal Bill Lawrence suggested possibly running Grade 8 students through a series of electives. Currently, there are 15 electives available to Grade 9 students at MSS.
As for the fate of the middle school building itself, nothing has be decided yet, but Peacock says the district does not intend to liquidate it.
"We have been in discussion with groups interested in the building," said Peacock.
Job losses as a result of the configuration will remain about the same as initially projected, with six positions to be lost after adjustments to declining enrolment and another after the reconfiguration.
"I feel the process was solid," said Kylie Cavaliere, the parent of a Grade 6 and a Grade 1 student, following Thursday's meeting. "I feel like all their [students] interests were considered…. As a community member, I'm glad there will only be one vacant building"
CMS teacher Fame Mackney says that although she is disappointed that that any school has to be closed, the board made a "lovely gesture" by consulting with the public when they didn't have to.
"If you close two buildings down, now you've got twice the problems," she says of the alternative to closing CMS.
"I also think it (reconfiguration) adds stability for those kids that are going to be going on to the high school to know that that at least half their teachers from the middle school are going to be going over there, so it makes the transition a little easier for them, too....
"We're all going to have jobs; that's the important thing."