Chi­nook Board votes to close Ash­ley Park School

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The Chi­nook School Di­vi­sion Board of Ed­u­ca­tion voted by an 8-2 mar­gin to close Ash­ley Park School at the end of the 2014-2015 school year.

The clo­sure, ap­proved dur­ing the Board’s Jan. 13 meet­ing, will also pave the way for O.M. Ir­win School and Cen­tral School to tran­si­tion into K to 8 schools. O.M. Ir­win School will be­come a Kinder­garten to Grade 8 school be­gin­ning at the start of the 2015-2016 school year. Cen­tral School will have a more grad­ual tran­si­tion to adding the up­per grades to their cur­rent ele­men­tary school con­fig­u­ra­tion, adding Grade 6 stu­dents in 2014-2015, Grade 7 classes in 2015- 2016, and com­pling the move by adding Grade 8 classes in 2016-2017.

Chi­nook Board chair­per­son Randy Beler ad­mit­ted school clo­sure is a dif­fi­cult topic, but their de­ci­sion was reached af­ter nu­mer­ous board dis­cus­sions and con- sul­ta­tions with the com­mu­nity.

“School clo­sure al­ways does have an im­pact. I mean there’s al­ways some­body that’s go­ing to be ef­fected in a way that they maybe don’t want to be ef­fected.

“The other side of that is we’ve looked at all the in­for­ma­tion, we’ve looked at the ra­tio­nale be­hind it. We’ve looked at ev­ery­thing we’ve could. We’ve talked to nu­mer­ous peo­ple. We’ve had all th­ese con­sul­ta­tions. And at the end of the day the board made the de­ci­sion that this was the best way to go,” Beler said dur­ing a post vote in­ter­view. “This was also a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion for board mem­bers. We don’t take th­ese things likely. There was a lot of dis­cus­sion put into this. We had a re­treat last Novem­ber, two days, and a whole day was ded­i­cated to this topic alone.”

With the open­ing of the new K to 8 Cen­ten­nial School for the start of the 2014-2015 school year, with an ap­prox­i­mate stu­dent pop­u­la­tion of 500, Chi­nook com­pleted a con­sul­ta­tion with the com­mu­nity via a sur­vey and a trio of com­mu­nity meet­ing to re­ceive in­put re­gard­ing the fu­ture of Swift Cur­rent’s three core schools (Cen­tral School, O.M. Ir­win, and Ash­ley Park). Once Cen­ten­nial opens, the pro­jected to­tal en­rol­ment of the three core schools is ex­pected to be 685 stu­dents, while the to­tal func­tional ca­pac­ity of the three schools is 1,200 stu­dents. Ash­ley Park cur­rently has an en­rol­ment of 260 stu­dents, with a func­tional ca­pac­ity of 264. Cen­tral School has 304 stu­dents with a func­tional ca­pac­ity of 336. O.M. Ir­win school has a cur­rent en­rol­ment of 279 stu­dents, with a func­tional ca­pac­ity es­ti­mated at 600 stu­dents.

The most per­sua­sive sur­vey re­sult, an­swered by 208 in­di­vid­u­als, showed strong sup­port for the Board’s op­tion of con­sol­i­dat­ing into fewer school fa­cil­i­ties to en­sure that funds are di­rected to needed main­te­nance and up­grades for the re­main­ing schools. A to­tal of 33.33 per cent of re­spon­dents strongly agreed with the op­tion, another 43.43 per cent agreed with the idea of con­sol­i­da­tion. Only 9.09 per cent dis­agreed and 13.64 per cent of re­spon­dents strongly dis­agreed with con­sol­i­da­tion.

The board’s de­ci­sion also com­pletes a trio of de­ci­sions which have re­shaped the di­rec­tion of Swift Cur­rent’s ele­men­tary and mid­dle schools.

“This is a big de­ci­sion. We’ve re­mod­elled the sys­tem in the City quite a bit. The new school was the first step. Fairview was the sec­ond step. Ad­just­ing the core schools is now the third step. And you can’t do that all in one year. It’s just too much to bite off. So we did it in sort of three phases,” Beler ad­mit­ted.

“I’m very com­fort­able with it. The board has made a clear de­ci­sion that they want to go ahead with this process. When you look at the cen­tre of the City, we have prob­a­bly 1,100 stu­dent seats and less than 700 stu­dents. So we would have three build­ings that would prob­a­bly not be uti­lized to their max­i­mum ca­pac­ity. This de­ci­sion should rec­tify that.”

Chi­nook School Di­vi­sion Di­rec­tor of Ed­u­ca­tion Liam Choo Foo high­lighted that the school clo­sure process within the city is not the same as what the board had to fol­low when clos­ing ru­ral schools.

“The process that has to be fol­lowed in terms of the clo­sure of a city school is very dif­fer­ent for what is leg­is­lated for the clo­sure of a ru­ral school,” Choo Foo ex­plained. “Within a city school, the reg­u­la­tions are far more re­laxed. It’s re­ally the in­ten­tion of the board. And so it’s not as pre­scrip­tive in leg­is­la­tion as to what has to be done. It still has to fol­low reg­u­lar, due process types of ac­tiv­i­ties.”

He noted that this clo­sure was also not a de­ci­sion based purely on fi­nan­cial sav­ings.

“I wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily say it was just fi­nances. I think the board had to look an aw­ful lot, and the sur­vey spoke quite loudly about the im­por­tance of en­sur­ing that we had qual­ity pro­gram­ming and equal­ized ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for kids through­out the City, and felt that the op­er­a­tion of two schools in the core was the best way to go about do­ing that for all of the stu­dents in Swift Cur­rent.”

The Board looked closely at the core stu­dent pop­u­la­tion once Cen­ten­nial School opened, with pro­jec­tions es­ti­mat­ing 170 stu­dents would re­main at O.M. Ir­win if the sta­tus quo was main­tained. Choo Foo pointed out there are 265 stu­dents at Ash­ley Park, and the ca­pac­ity of Ir­win School is 600 stu­dents, so they are eas­ily able to ab­sorb the pro­jected en­rol­ment.

Chi­nook will now un­dergo the tran­si­tion from two mid­dle year schools and three ele­men­tary schools into a trio of K to 8 fa­cil­i­ties.

“We’ve al­ways had a great pri­or­ity around pro­vid­ing ex­cel­lent mid­dle years ed­u­ca­tion. And so we are go­ing to be do­ing ev­ery­thing that we can to en­sure that we have a ‘school within a school’ con­cept. So that mid­dle year kids are go­ing to be re­ceiv­ing in­struc­tion that’s ap­pro­pri­ate to their age level. We’re go­ing to have them grouped in sim­i­lar ar­eas of the school. We’re go­ing to have dif­fer­ent sorts of pro­to­cols and pro­ce­dure for those kids so that the Kinder­garten and Grade ones aren’t nec­es­sar­ily dic­tat­ing what the pro­ce­dures for the older kids are go­ing to be,” Choo Foo said.

Their first set of tran­si­tions will oc­cur at the start of the up­com­ing school year when Cen­ten­nial School opens.

“On bud­get on time for Cen­ten­nial School,” Choo Foo said while knock­ing on wood. “And that’s prob­a­bly the cor­ner­stone be­cause that’s num­ber one. Num­ber two then be­comes the de­com­mis­sion­ing of Oman School. Num­ber three would be the com­ple­tion of the ren­o­va­tion at Fairview, that was al­ways in­tended to be com­plete for Christ­mas of next year. So we are go­ing to have some tran­si­tion for the Oman stu­dents who are not able to yet fit at Fairview, and so we’re do­ing some work around that to en­sure that there’s tem­po­rary class- room space avail­able for those kids in that kind of awk­ward pe­riod.”

Mon­day’s board de­ci­sion was not unan­i­mous, as trustees Shane An­drus and Elaine An­der­son both voiced strong op­po­si­tion to the clo­sure. They both sug­gested hold­ing off on the clo­sure vote.

“I’m very un­com­fort­able with the de­ci­sion to close Ash­ley Park School,” An­der­son said dur­ing de­bate on the mo­tion. “I know from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence that clos­ing a school has se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions, and it is a de­ci­sion that can not be taken lightly. I be­lieve we must have com­pelling rea­sons to close any school, and from my per­spec­tive the rea­sons that are out­lined in this res­o­lu­tion are not com­pelling rea­sons.”

An­der­son sug­gested a two year de­lay in the clo­sure vote, not­ing the board should look at the re­al­ity of the en­rol­ment trends and is­sues only fol­low­ing the open­ing of Cen­ten­nial School.

“Lo­gis­ti­cally, it’s read­ily ap­par­ent that there are go­ing to be sig­nif­i­cant lo­gis­ti­cal is­sues em­a­nat­ing from the tran­si­tion into Cen­ten­nial School. That is un­avoid­able.” she said. “How­ever, the up­heaval that will en­sure as a re­sult of the changes we are propos­ing to­day will be sub­sta­tion, and that is avoid­able and there’s no good rea­son to in­vite it.”

She also high­lighted that the res­o­lu­tion calls for the clos­ing based on of ed­u­ca­tional in­ef­fi­ciency and func­tional ob­so­les­cence of the school fa­cil­ity, but feels that was not a cor­rect des­ig­na­tion for the de­ci­sion.

“In fact I’ve heard time and again that the school (Ash­ley Park) is a cher­ished part of the com­mu­nity and boasts a high stan­dard of ed­u­ca­tion. I don’t think it’s rea­son­able to close a school sim­ply be­cause it’s in close prox­im­ity to another school which is pro­jected to ex­pe­ri­ence low en­rol­ments the next cou­ple of years. Why not wait and see what ac­tu­ally hap­pens? There is no risk in wait­ing. There is no com­pelling rea­son to go ahead.”

Shane An­drus also had a se­ries of key rea­sons for op­pos­ing the mo­tion.

An­drus voiced con­cerns over the lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenge of ac­com­mo­dat­ing the clo­sure and its dis­rup­tion of the stu­dent en­vi­ron­ment. The also ar­gued the change will cre­ate new at­ten­dance bound­aries which would im­pact which schools stu­dents at­tend and change bus­ing bound­aries, also caus­ing some up­heaval.

“At the pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions at Ash­ley Park, the par­ents at that time ex­pressed a high level of sat­is­fac­tion in their ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence at Ash­ley Park, in­clud- ing the ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram but also the build­ing it­self.”

He also ar­gued with the cost ben­e­fit anal­y­sis and was not con­vinced there re­ally is a cost ben­e­fit that would help the Di­vi­sion, or the stu­dents.

“I’d like to rec­om­mend to the board to take a year for sober sec­ond thought be­fore we make any de­ci­sions to de­ter­mine in the year to come where en­rol­ments would ac­tu­ally come to be in the var­i­ous schools. Right now we’re just us­ing our best ed­u­ca­tional guesses.”

Chi­nook will be shar­ing their tran­si­tion plan with par­ents, staff and the com­mu­nity at a pub­lic meet­ing on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. at Ir­win School. In ad­di­tion, at­ten­dance ar­eas will be ad­justed for Ir­win and Cen­tral Schools over the up­com­ing two school years. Fam­i­lies should con­tact their school for de­tails, and a new at­ten­dance area map will soon be avail­able on the Chi­nook School Di­vi­sion web­site.

In ad­di­tion to the changes im­pact­ing city stu­dents, ef­fec­tive the fall of 2015, O.M. Ir­win will be des­ig­nated as the in­let school for el­i­gi­ble Kinder­garten to Grade 8 ru­ral stu­dents be­ing bused to Swift Cur­rent. The di­vi­sion high­lighted that mod­i­fi­ca­tions will be made to the SCCHS and Ir­win School sites to en­hance safe and ef­fi­cient load­ing and un­load­ing of school buses.

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