Mt. Slesse principal Dan Heisler speaks during Tuesday night's meeting at Yarrow elementary.

Parents concerned with proposed changes to school catchment

Enrollment is down at Mt. Slesse middle school simply because there are not enough students in the catchment area, said school officials, not because it's a bad school.

Enrollment is down at Mt. Slesse middle school simply because there are not enough students in the catchment area, said school officials, not because it’s a bad school.

Some parents, however, aren’t convinced.

An information meeting was held Tuesday evening at Yarrow elementary to discuss the district’s proposal to change school boundaries for middle school students living in Yarrow.

Instead of going to Vedder middle, they would go to Mt. Slesse middle.

Approximately 40 parents were in attendance, many of whom questioned Mt. Slesse’s academic performance, culture, programs, and availability of sports.

Parent Ingrid Schoolkate expressed concern over rumours of Mt. Slesse being a school known for drugs and bullying.

Parent Jolene Dejager was concerned the recent decreases in enrollment were due to poor academic performance.

Superintendent Corinne McCabe said neither were true.

It wasn’t too long ago that Mt. Slesse was “bursting at the seams,” said McCabe.

Student growth was expected to continue with the developments of Garrison Crossing and Webster’s Landing, which resulted in G.W. Graham middle secondary school being built to accommodate the growth pressures.

“The reason enrollment is down is not because students don’t want to go to Slesse or because the school has poor results,” said McCabe. “It’s because we built G.W. Graham anticipating further growth in this area, and that development has been slower to come to fruition.”

The boundary change is meant to balance the populations at both Vedder middle and Mt. Slesse, and to ensure Mt. Slesse stays viable, said McCabe.

Currently Vedder middle has 652 students with a capacity for 600 plus portable space, while Mt. Slesse has 501 students and a capacity for 650. Next year, its enrollment is expected to drop to 472 students. But with Yarrow, it would increase to 509 students.

Principal Dan Heisler said Mt. Slesse is a perfect fit for Yarrow students, as it’s the only middle school in Chilliwack that incorporates a pod system where the student population is divided into three smaller communities, making it easier for Grade 7 students, especially those coming from smaller elementary schools like Yarrow, to transition into middle school.

Several parents, however, were concerned with the timing of the decision, and requested the district hold off for another year.

But because Mt. Slesse’s enrollment is expected to continue declining, teachers would likely be moved out of the school, and specialty courses inevitably dropped.

“It’s a change and none of us like change, we understand that,” said McCabe. “But if we don’t prepare now, we’re going to get jammed up.”

Parent Marvin Klassen believed the reasoning for the proposal to be solely financial.

“It was a sales pitch, a really great presentation,” he said following the two-and-a-half-hour meeting. “But in reality, it’s simply a financial issue. What is the benefit for my kids?”

However, while Dejager came into the meeting with a long list of concerns, she left satisfied.

“After seeing how many teachers came out and listening to them talk about how their school is set up, I have switched my way of thinking,” said Dejager. “I believe my concerns were valid, but they answered them well. They eased my mind.”

The proposed boundary change will be voted on at the Feb. 22 board of education meeting. If approved, it would be effective September 2011.

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