The number of elementary school students in Squamish is getting close to out-numbering the available classroom spaces in the community's six schools for kids up to the age of 13.
So the School District 48 board of trustees is investigating whether the community supports the idea of converting Don Ross Secondary School (DRSS) into a middle school for students in Grades 7, 8 and 9 to alleviate the crowding. The school currently holds Grade 8 and 9 students from throughout the community while senior students in Squamish attend Howe Sound Secondary.
Peter Jory, the school district's director of technology, met with affected students and parents this week to share information about the possible change. He met with Grade 6 students in their schools then shared a presentation with anyone interested in the issue at a big meeting at DRSS on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
"It's an unusual configuration," Jory said of the current situation at Don Ross. "The whole idea of what middle years learning could look like, including Grade 7, has been on people's minds for the last couple of years. It's risen to the surface recently because we have an increase in enrollment in our bottom end and our demographic reports are showing that we're going to have more students entering the system than we had before."
One way to deal with the space expected in coming years at the elementary level in Squamish and is to turn Don Ross into a middle school.
In anticipation of a possible move to a middle school model, Jory said consultation has already taken place with teachers.
According to Jory, there is no ideal configuration of grades but he noted there is research out there indicating there are many benefits to the middle school format.
"We are talking about a specific set of needs for students of that age group, emerging adolescents," said Jory.
Those impacted by a reconfiguration of the schools in Squamish or who are interested in sharing thoughts on the change are being asked to fill out a survey that will close on Nov. 5.
The results of the survey and all the other work on this issue done by the school district staff will be presented to the board of school trustees at a public board meeting on Nov. 13 in Squamish. The school trustees will make a decision and Jory said that decision could come on Nov. 13 or the trustees could request more information and push the decision out to a future meeting.
Parent Colin McCarthy attended the meeting at DRSS with interest as his son, Isaac, is a Grade 6 student in the French immersion program. He said the staff at DRSS seemed enthusiastic about the potential change.
"I attended this school and it was a version of middle school with Grades 8, 9 and 10," said McCarthy. "I can see the advantages and with this staff and the facilities I think it's a really good idea."
He has only one concern, and it's a concern shared by other parents with students currently in French immersion at the elementary school level. McCarthy said there could be a reduction in the amount of French instruction his son will get next year if the Grade 7 students move to DRSS.
That issue was identified as one requiring further discussion, and an information meeting about French immersion issues in Squamish is set for Monday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at Squamish Elementary.