Parents of South Park Family School students are disappointed by the Greater Victoria School District’s (SD61) decision to eliminate elementary programs of choice by the 2020/21 school year.
“I don’t know how our program is going to change immediately, because we still have a lot of families who have made the choice to be here,” said South Park Parent Advisory Council (PAC) chair Jenn Sutton. “The amount of parent participation we have in our school, it takes a lot of sacrifice…It’s not to say that the catchment parents coming into South Park won’t value the parent participation model, but we believe that over time it will fade because it’s not something you can force on people.”
And Sutton isn’t entirely sold that the SD61’s decision was based on space.
“We were concerned that some board members were voting on the basis of our program as opposed to the capacity that was available,” she said. “If you want to have a conversation about the value of our educational program, let’s do that, but let’s not do that under the guise of a catchment boundary review.”
On June 26, SD61 released its catchment decisions after months of surveys and consultations dating back to fall 2018. The boundaries – adjusted to alleviate the region’s growing student population – included the elimination of all elementary school programs of choice in the District.
In a media release announcing the new catchments, SD61 board chair Jordan Watters said the district landed on a solution that it felt “best addressed the issue of overcrowding” and accommodated the needs of families across its 47 schools.
But Sutton said the choice programs – which offer adjusted or unique learning environments – are vital for some Greater Victoria students. South Park Family School in particular has a 15 per cent special learning needs designation, she said.
“[Programs of choice] gave families the ability, throughout the district…to seek out programming that actually supported their kids. And a lot of the kids whose families chose South Park for designations would have been home schooled or would have gone into a private system in some way, because they tried the regular public system,” Sutton said, adding again, that the school is built on parent participation.
“It’s a lot of work and the reason that we’re successful with it is that parents have made the active choice to be there.
“[SD61] is doing some work on inclusion and they want… to make sure all classrooms support all children’s needs and that’s really valuable, and I really appreciate the effort…but unfortunately that’s not always the case and so at South Park, families could come in and they could support their kids.”
For the 2018/19 school year, South Park eliminated its waiting list, opting instead for a first-come-first-serve model where parents choose the school’s unique learning style. Sutton says the ‘choice’ is integral.
“The parent participation and the collaboration is what really truly makes the school a community and it just has such an amazing impact on the kids. That’s really what’s at risk and that’s what I think the biggest loss will be.”
Greater Victoria School District 61 did not return requests for comment by the time of publication.