When Silver Creek Elementary School narrowly escaped closure last May, school trustees told parents to grow the school’s student population in order to keep the rural school viable in the future.
And parents were successful – adding 17 new students to the school’s population this year.
But the parents are left feeling their efforts have been negated by the school district, which is now forcing the transfer of Silver Creek’s six Grade 6 and 7 students to Shuswap Middle School.
“They were the ones who encouraged us to have the school grow, and we worked hard to up those numbers, and now the school district says, ‘Sorry, there’s not enough money for another teacher.’ We can’t grow the school if they keep forcing our kids out,” says parent advisory council member Kristie Clark. She is especially upset because, after working to increase enrolment, her son is one of the students being forced elsewhere.
“My son was so excited because he feels so comfortable at Silver Creek and then on the second day we hear this news. He was in tears,” says Clark.
Due to class-size limits, another teacher would be required to cover the 53 students wanting to attend Silver Creek. Citing the low numbers of students who would be in that teacher’s class and the need to balance the school district budget, the school district has instead opted to transfer the older students out. This leaves one teacher for the kindergarten-Grade 1 class and another to teach the Grade 2/3/4/5 class.
“The real issue in making these difficult decisions is providing equity of service to students around the district,” says school superintendent Glenn Borthistle. “If we were to add a third division to Silver Creek, the ratio of teacher to student would be far less than at other schools.”
Borthistle notes this is a process that happens each year once actual student numbers are known. A student from North Canoe has also been required to transfer to another Salmon Arm school due to class size limits, while some classes in Highland Park and Grindrod Elementary are full. Silver Creek has also prevented the enrolment of one Grade 3 student at the school due to the class-size limit.
Increased numbers at Shuswap Middle School were already requiring another teacher to be added, and the Silver Creek students could be accommodated there.
Some Silver Creek parents are not willing to give up and move their kids without a fight. They have appealed to MLA Greg Kyllo for assistance.
“We understand where the district is coming from, but it is not fair,” says Clark. “This situation speaks to the underfunding of education in this province. We need to go higher, the community of Salmon Arm, the Shuswap, the Okanagan, all of B.C. We all need to rally against the government to provide the support our kids need.”
At least one parent has also already filed a formal appeal with the school board against the forced transfer. This means the issue will be brought before the board for a final determination.
The Observer attempted to speak with school trustees about the issue; however, none would comment, citing the pending appeal process. A hearing on the issue will be held within the next two weeks.
Silver Creek parents point out that Silver Creek Elementary is one of the smaller rural schools in the province that specifically receives funding to deal with these types of situations.
School District #83 receives $157,500 directly from the province for Silver Creek Elementary to help supplement the costs of small schools. This funding, however, is not allocated directly to the school but becomes part of the school district’s general operational budget.
Noah Ralston, who spearheaded the drive to convert Silver Creek Elementary to a Montessori model and increase its enrolment, also says the removal of two grades is not a normal forced transfer, calling it a “grade reconfiguration in disguise.”
As per school district policy, he says this grade reconfiguration should require 60 days’ notice to parents and public consultation.
In the meantime, the school board has commissioned a report on the viability of a Montessori program in the district, although not necessarily at Silver Creek, and is also going to look at the option of converting Silver Creek into a K-8 school.
While some parents are concerned that the low numbers at Silver Creek Elementary will once again put the school on the chopping block for the 2016-2017 school year, Borthistle says the increased numbers in the lower grades bode well for its future.
“At this time there is no motion from the board or recommendation to staff to talk about closing the school,” says Borthistle.