South Park Family School parent Rich Fleming, left, speaks to a full gym of parents and teachers who attended the school’s rally at South Park on Monday night. (Submitted)

South Park parents rally after threat of catchment change

New SD61 proposal would end ‘45-years of culture,’ parent says

After 45 years as a family school, parents and teachers at South Park Family School are rallying to protect the school’s unique learning experience.

More than 125 people attended South Park’s Monday night SOS rally, “Save Our School,” to start a campaign that will save South Park’s status as a school of choice. The century old school, across from Beacon Hill Park in James Bay, is one of the first built in Victoria and is at threat of being stripped of its program of choice, which currently means its catchment status is open to the entire school district. A similar situation is underway at Cloverdale Traditional School, which transferred to a school of choice in 2006 and has a loyal parent group that says it’s been a very successful model.

READ MORE: SD61 unveils new proposed catchment areas for Victoria

“Our community built South Park Family School to what it is today,” said parent advisory committee (PAC) chair Jenn Sutton. “Changing our family school from an elementary school of choice to a catchment school is removing the core fabric of what makes this school special to every student, teacher, and parent involved, because our school’s philosophy is based on the commitment by a large number of its families to be actively and direct engaged in our school environment. Our school has been threatened with closures before, and every time our community has rallied to demonstrate the value of our inclusive schooling model.”

With mounting enrolment pressures around the district, the school board proposed that South Park become a regular stream elementary with its own catchment zone. That would spell the end of the “co-operative parent participation” model and a blend of other philosophies that the school uses, Sutton said.

READ MORE: Cloverdale parents look to rally, save school’s culture

It’s a model that should be celebrated and not terminated, she added.

In the South Park model staff, parents and students work together to support a community where the arts and the environment are integral to all aspects of learning, she said, adding it’s that open catchment that invites families seeking what South Park offers.

However, nothing is permanent with the SD61 boundary catchment review, says Jordan Watters, chair of the school trustees.

“No decisions have been made,” Watters said.

It’s not lost on Watters that parents are upset.

“It’s heated,” she acknowledged. “We are going into the consultation process with the intent to have meaningful discussions to inform our decision process. It’s definitely challenging but we’re doing our best.”

It’s the latest significant challenge to South Park families as the district announced the end of late French immersion at Central middle school with little warning last month. Last year was also the final year of the district’s popular nature kindergarten pilot program at South Park.

Parent Kristil Hammer noted South Park has many families who enrol their children there instead of early French immersion, with many assuming they can register for late immersion at Central.

“Children learn in different ways and not every kid is ready to sit in a seat and learn a second language at age four, five and six,” Hammer said.

However, the district voted on Monday night to revisit late French immersion at Central, in particular, noting the interest of in-catchment students.

“With over 125 people showing up today, it shows that our whole school community are not going to let the School District just take away what is magical about this school and our community,” Sutton said.

SD61 will host three open houses for public consultation to discuss the boundary review catchment proposals. The first is on Feb. 6 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Spectrum Community secondary gymnasium. Others follow, Feb. 13 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Lansdowne in the gym and Feb. 16, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the Vic High Andrews gymnasium.

reporter@saanichnews.com


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