The principal of David Stoddart School in Clinton has reversed a decision to cut one of its divisions this fall after parents turned out en masse to oppose the move.
About 25 parents attended a Parents’ Advisory Council meeting Thursday to protest the restructuring of the K-12 school into just four divisions: K-2, Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8 and Grades 9-12. The school currently has five divisions split into K-1, Grades 2-4, Grades 5-7, Grades 8-10 and Grades 11-12.
PAC Chair Jordan Lawrence said DSS principal Carol Pickering had told the group last week that the changes were a result of budget cuts but didn’t specify how many teachers would be let go. Lawrence acknowledged he was surprised, noting 92 students had already enrolled at DSS for this fall, up from 82 this past year.
Three days after the PAC meeting, the school reversed its decision. Pickering did not return calls to the Free Press by press time.
“I’m honestly proud of the parents and caregivers in town,” Lawrence said. “They cared. They cared what was going on at the school, they cared about what was going on with their kids so it just makes me proud. The power of people together is quite strong.”
School District 74 Supt. Teresa Downs said last Friday that she was unaware of any proposed changes to Clinton’s class configurations for this fall. The district doesn’t control school staffing and relies upon projected enrolment numbers provided by the principal to allocate funding.
“The district creates a teacher allocation for each school based on their enrolment formula used with each school across the district,” Downs said. “There has been no downsizing of the teacher allocation for David Stoddart School for the next school year.”
The district will review actual enrolment numbers compared with projected numbers in September and make changes accordingly, she added.
Parents had planned to lobby the school, SD74 and MLA Jackie Tegart before the decision was reversed. Lawrence said he will continue advocating for parents, many of whom were anxious and angry about the proposed changes. His youngest daughter would have been affected, he said, as it would have eliminated the 2-3 class and left her with the Kindergarten students for another year.
“She feels like a babysitter, that it’s her job to make sure those kindergarten kids are being good,” he said. “To go to the other end of the spectrum, there was a Grade 11 student, going into Grade 12, who said (at the meeting) … she feels she won’t get the attention that she and the rest of her Grade 12 classmates deserve.”
Health care assistant Danika Aske, who recently moved to Clinton from North Vancouver, agreed the proposed configuration would not have been beneficial for her children’s learning.
“I feel it may be a bit crowded to have three grades in one classroom and some kids may be left behind as there is so much going on in one class,” Aske said. “They might miss out on an opportunity to learn.”
Lawrence was walking his daughters to school Monday when heard the decision had been reversed. His youngest daughter’s excitement made the “short ordeal” all worth it.
However, he still has questions he would like answered.
“If it’s a budget problem I’d like to see more money brought to not only our school but all of the rural schools so that we get the same education opportunities as they do elsewhere,” Lawrence said, noting a lot of young families are moving to town. “I think you shouldn’t have to live in a city to have education opportunities for your kids.”
Mayor Susan Swan said the village council is also requesting a meeting with Jennifer Whiteside, minister of education and childcare, at the Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention. She agrees with Lawrence that there is an “inequity between the rural and urban school systems that needs to be addressed.
“For a small community it’s hard enough to attract businesses, professional people or even new families if the school is seen as inadequate,” Swan said. “I don’t think it’s the best education for the kids if you have three or four different grades in one classroom.”