Parents and guardians of students at Victoria’s South Park Family School voiced their concerns before a consultation with the Greater Victoria School District (SD61) Tuesday night.
At least 100 parents came out to share their opposition to proposed changes that would see the school close to Greater Victoria and become catchment only, as part of the district’s ongoing efforts to to accommodate a growing student population in Greater Victoria.
Last night I chatted with some parents/guardians of kids who attend South Park Family School, which offers a unique learning environment for K-5. The school is now at risk of becoming a catchment school rather than a school of choice. #YYJ #VictoriaBC @park_sos pic.twitter.com/uG3VfRmUnB
— Nina Grossman (@NinaGrossman) May 8, 2019
More than a century old and run as a family school for 45 years, South Park promotes an “arts environment” that uses “an alternative education program based on a philosophy of cooperative parent participation” with “play, hands-on experience and a focus on process over product.”
The school also encourages high-level parent involvement, with parents and guardians encouraged to join in the classroom as frequently as they like and even take students on field trips.
“To me as a parent, I like to be involved in my child’s education,” said parent Richard Fleming, who has one child in kindergarten and a three-year-old he is hoping to eventually enroll in the school.
Fleming said he’s taken days off work to spend time with the kids in the classroom.
“Probably every morning in our kindergarten class there will be six to 12 parents in that class, at least spending half an hour [there],” he said.
But under the district’s current proposal, South Park is at risk of losing its “program of choice” status that opens its catchment to the entire school district and provides a lottery enrolment process for parents who have chosen the unique learning style of the school.
And that choice is integral, says South Park Family School Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) chair Jenn Sutton.
She says heavy parent involvement is an active decision and without that choice, the school as they know it will cease to exist.
“You have to keep coming, you have to keep showing up and we rely on the rest of the community to be there when we can’t,” she said. “You have to choose to be here to be able to give that.”
Sutton says the unique learning style of the school “should be celebrated and not terminated.”
Concerned with losing the school’s unique learning experience, more than 145 people rallied in February to create a “Save Our School” campaign.
“Changing our family school from an elementary school of choice to a catchment school is removing the core fabric of what makes this school special to every student, teacher, and parent involved,” Sutton told Black Press in February. “Our school’s philosophy is based on the commitment by a large number of its families to be actively and direct engaged in our school environment.”
Kristil Hammer has children in grade two and four at the school. While the change would be grandfathered in and her children therefore unaffected, she doesn’t want to see the school change.
“This program requires buy-in to continue,” she said, referencing parents from across Greater Victoria who enter the lottery for a spot at the Douglas Street school. “In order to sustain our buy-in, we need a district-wide pool to draw from.”
SD61 is in the third and final phase of its public engagement process on catchment boundaries, which are shifting to accommodate mounting enrolment. The District is meeting directly with the parents, guardians and staff of six schools directly impacted by the proposed changes, including South Park, Cloverdale, Margaret Jenkins, Richmond, Quadra and McKenzie.