Bigger student body, smaller classes putting pressure on school district

Sibling priority among challenges as school district readies for increase of 2,000 students

Piet Langstraat, SD61 Superintendent of Schools. SD61 photo

With the number of students enrolled expected to jump by 2,000 over the next 10 years, the Victoria School District (SD 61) is facing a series of challenging decisions.

Even before the recent Supreme Court decision ordered a return to 2002 class sizes and composition, SD61 knew the schools were beginning to fill up and were taking action, according to SD61 superintendent of schools Piet Langstraat.

In total, SD61 is adding 84 more classes at elementary and middle school levels for September.

With the steady growth of the student body, the pressure was on SD61 to find space even before the reinstatement of class sizes. It created the Student Registration and Transfer committee in October, in an attempt to re-examine enrolment because for the most part, there were few issues when it came to accommodating new students, in or out of catchment.

“We’ve come to a point where we can’t accommodate everyone so we have to come up with a plan,” Langstraat said. “We needed to look at how students get into our schools and what that looks like.”

However, last week’s report for the district’s Operations and Planning committee, which re-ranked new, in-catchment students ahead of the younger siblings if current students (either in or out of catchment), immediately raised concerns of parents.

The report, and its recommendations, are based on a spring survey of parents and high school students regarding student enrolment priorities.

Unless the recommendations are changed (which they can be, Langstraat pointed out), parents such as Andrea Prizeman, who planned to have her two pre-school aged children join their oldest sibling in the French immersion program at Campus View elementary, could have three kids at three different schools.

It’s a scenario that would be logistically impossible, she said.

Langstraat explained that the Registration and Transfer committee looked at current patterns of students, how many go to out-of-catchment schools, how many have siblings enrolled, and looked at other districts as well as examining SD61’s French immersion programming, which has a lottery entry (traditionally the lottery would also give priority to the siblings of students).

“Of course we want to keep families together and also keep kids in their neighbourhood school,” Langstraat said.

The real dilemma, he said, is if catchment students should have access over non catchment.

“It sounds straight forward but there are wrinkles,” Langstraat said. “The main thing is we’re continuing to receive input, and we’re absolutely listening to that input.”

There was a board meeting on Tuesday (May 23), which included a motion to start considering the reopening of former schools (such as Richmond, Uplands and Burnside elementary schools that are currently leased out).

“We certainly see the need to examine the reopening of schools,” Langstraat said.

But the big opportunity for parents to weigh in regarding sibling priority is at the next Operations and Planning committee meeting, June 12.

“That’s an open committee meeting where the public is welcome to speak,” Langstraat said.

If the May 23 motion passes to re-examine opening schools, it will require an entire boundary review.

That would likely happen in the fall in time to take effect for September 2018.

Among the SD61-owned schools that are leased out privately are Richmond, Uplands, Lampson (which is leased to the Francophone board), Sundance, Quadra arts school and Burnside.

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The Victoria School District will consider reopening formerly closed school sites such as Richmond elementary in Saanich. Travis Paterson/News Staff

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