By Frank Bucholtz
The first round of public consultations on a proposal to reconfigure six rural Abbotsford schools is now complete, with plans in the works for a second set of meetings.
The school district is proposing that Grade 6 and 7 students from Barrowtown, Upper Sumas, Aberdeen, Ross, Bradner and Mount Lehman elementaries go to middle schools, beginning in September. All other Grade 6 and 7 students in the school district already attend middle school.
The final decision on reconfiguration will be made by the board of education at its Feb. 23 meeting.
The proposal is driven by both educational and enrolment concerns, according to superintendent Kevin Godden. Students in the two highest grades at the six schools do not receive the full benefit of middle schools, attending only in Grade 8. Godden said middle schools help to prepare students more fully for secondary school, and a three-year transition period is far better than one year.
But the plan has met substantial opposition from parents, who say the Grade 6 and 7 students contribute substantially to school life and help younger siblings. Bradner parents have voiced concern that the move would pose a threat to the annual May Day celebrations, which are organized by parents and prominently feature Grade 6 and 7 students.
The proposal would also alter middle school catchment areas, which has also triggered concern among some parents. A Facebook group dedicated to fighting the changes, Save our K-7 Schools, currently has more than 400 members.
Godden said the district is striving to maximize the use of all its schools. One of the six schools is currently over capacity, one is well under, and the other four are near their capacities. Meanwhile, W.A. Fraser middle school is well above its capacity, while Abbotsford Middle is near capacity and Eugene Reimer middle school is well below its capacity. These enrolment numbers also affect the five secondary schools.
“The board has responsibility for 50 school sites,” Godden said. “They are all intimately connected. Rural schools are not disconnected from the rest of the district. We need to be good stewards of the public purse. We need to be accountable to taxpayers to make sure all the money spent on school facilities is put to good use.”
He noted that, for example, the province will not put money forward to seismically upgrade schools unless they are at 95 per cent or better capacity. While this is not as crucial in Abbotsford as in Vancouver, where there are many older schools with low enrolments, there have been several seismic projects underway in recent years. Yale Secondary is currently being seismically upgraded.
Godden said there has been good participation and thoughtful suggestions in the discussions over the past month. The district is now scheduling follow-up meetings at which parents and community members will be given a summary of all ideas that were brought forward, and which of the alternatives district staff deem as feasible.
Those will be included in a report to the board which trustees will consider as they prepare for the Feb. 23 meeting.