District secretary-treasurer Mark Walsh (right) spoke with concerned South Park Family School parents on Wednesday night. (File contributed/ Rich Fleming)

Victoria parents want SD61 to ‘start over’ with catchment planning

Parents felt unheard after the first open house meeting

Parents of students attending schools of choice in Greater Victoria are feeling frustrated after a night of open house discussions with the Greater Victoria School District (SD61) left more questions than answers.

At the end of January, SD61 released its proposed boundary changes to catchments which included repurposing schools of choice to regular stream elementary schools.

On Feb. 6, parents of children at the South Park Family School, Cloverdale Traditional School and Victor School met with School Board trustees in the first of three open houses designed to discuss the proposed changes.

READ MORE: SD61 unveils new proposed catchment areas for Victoria

“We were expecting more of a collaborative consultation, and the ability to ask questions in an open forum,” said Jenn Sutton, South Park Family School Parent Advisory Council (PAC) chair. “Instead, there were poster boards around the perimeter, and sticky notes posted to the boards.”

Sutton said SD61 representatives were stationed around the Spectrum gym to speak with parents one at a time.

“It felt quite isolating, we had to go around to each individual,” Sutton said. “I’m sure they just heard the same thing over and over again.”

ALSO READ: Greater Victoria School Board to consider reopening schools with new boundaries

SD61 is set to vote on the proposal in the spring, but in an email following the first meeting, South Park families are asking the School Board to restart the consultation process.

“We’re very curious about how this decision was made … when did these conversations happen, who was present at the table?” Sutton said. “There’s some serious enrollment pressures in this district, we understand that. Overwhelmingly parents have said ‘yes, we want access to our catchment schools’ … but, there hasn’t been transparency and they’re making some massive decisions on schools of choice, which have massive value.”

As nearly 170 parents filled the gym, more frustration built and eventually someone called for a group discussion to begin instead of the person-to-person discussion, a format which they later promised to bring to the next meeting.

ALSO READ: Greater Victoria teachers want school liaison officers back

“The open houses include informational and multiple interactive display boards to capture families’ input. There are also senior staff members and trustees on hand at all the open houses to answer questions and address any concerns regarding the proposed catchment boundaries,” said Lisa McPhail, communications and community engagement representative for SD61. “Responsive to the feedback received at the first open house, we have included an additional Q&A component to our next open house at Lansdowne Middle School.”

Sutton said that following the promise, many parents who attended the first meeting will follow up at the next one, which takes place on Wednesday, Feb. 13 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Lansdowne Middle School.

“We want to be there, especially if we want to offer some alternative solutions,” Sutton said. ” We need to take into account how it would affect other catchment schools … this is part of a bigger picture.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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