A decision by the Sea to Sky School District to combine all the Grade 8 and 9 students in the Squamish area in one school will go ahead, but after some feedback from the community the change will be phased in.
Starting in September, Grade 8 and 9 students in Squamish will be combined at Don Ross Secondary, which is now designed as a Middle Years School. Students in Grade 10 will be allowed to continue to go to Don Ross in 2010-2011, but starting in September 2011 all Grade 10, 11 and 12 students will go to Howe Sound Secondary, which is now designated as a Graduation Program School.
By combining the students the school district hopes to be able to offer more programs and more resources, rather than dividing any resources between two schools. As well, they believe there will be benefits from the Middle Years Program, easing students into high school.
Some of the Middle Years initiatives include:
• Reducing the number of different teachers that students have in a semester so teachers, students and parents can know each other better;
• Hiring teachers that focus on young adolescents;
• Offering more exploratory and athletic programs;
• Creating more Teacher Advisory programs to ensure that each student has a connection to the school;
• Offering a more comprehensive education program focusing on integrated subjects, as well as relevant learning with social responsibility and character education.
Currently the graduation rate in the school district is 80 per cent, which is only slightly above the provincial average. The goal of the school district is 100 per cent and they believe that the Middle Years are particularly important for students to ensure that they graduate with their classmates.
Dr. Rick Erickson, superintendent for the school district, said there was very little feedback from the community on the proposed changes. Previously, Don Ross and Howe Sound both offered programs for students in Grades 8 through 10, with Don Ross students going to Howe Sound for Grades 11 and 12. This way the same group of students will be together for five years.
"We had maybe 20 or so emails and maybe two petitions saying that we should hold off... but it's like the school calendar, it's hard to assess where everybody is coming from," said Dr. Erickson. "We had two public meetings and two staff meetings and for the most part there were not too many issues. But we did decide on a two-step approach where we would proceed with Grade 8 and hold Grade 10 back a year at Don Ross."
The biggest issue for students and parents is busing, especially with students now coming from as far away as Britannia Beach and Brackendale.
"Nobody wants to start too early, but luckily there seems to be some interest for a later start time at the school," said Dr. Erickson.