Chinook communicates transition plans for Swift Current core schools

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The Chinook School Division has released a map highlighting the Swift Current core school attendance catchments. The full version can be viewed at www.chinooksd.ca.

A group of approximately 100 parents and school staff turned out on Monday to hear a Chinook School Division presentation regarding the transition plans for Swift Current's elementary and middle years schools.

Monday was the first opportunity for parents to directly hear the specifics of the Core School plans, while all city elementary and middle year parents received a letter on Tuesday explaining the details and options for the upcoming school years.

The Chinook School Division Board of Education voted by an 8-2 margin at the January board meeting to close Ashley Park School at the end of the 2014-2015 school year.

With Ecole Centennial School opening this fall, taking in all French Immersion students plus city children living north of the TransCanada Highway, and Fairview School already beginning its transition to a K to 8 school starting midway through next school year, there are considerable logistical plans to be initiated for the Core schools.

The closure of Ashley Park has paved the way for O.M. Irwin School and Central School to transition into K to 8 schools. O.M. Irwin School will become a Kindergarten to Grade 8 school beginning at the start of the 2015-2016 school year. Central School will have a more gradual transition to adding the upper grades to their current elementary school configuration, adding Grade 6 students in 2014-2015, Grade 7 classes in 2015-2016, and competing the move by adding Grade 8 classes in 2016-2017.

"This was our first opportunity to come out to the community and really start to speak about details of the plan moving forward," Chinook School Division Director of Education Liam Choo Foo explained following Monday's 90 minute meeting.

Much of the evening's discussion centred around parents making attendance decisions regarding which core school their children will be attending in the fall. In order to balance the enrolment numbers, the Central School catchment zone was expanded to include the area primarily around the Elmwood Park area south of the Creek. A full version of the Chinook School Division attendance catchment areas can be viewed at http://www.chinooksd.ca/.

"The transition zone is being created to try to balance out the populations moving forward. Central is going to lose almost half of their population to Ecole Centennial because they currently reside north of Highway #1. And so to try and balance out the number of kids at Central School, the board has extended the Central transportation area out beyond what it has normally been," Choo Foo explained.

After communicating all their plans and options, parents in the core area are now being asked to designate which school their children will be attending moving forward.

"What we're really focussed on right now is trying to ensure we have the appropriate staffing levels in place for the students that are going to be at Ashley Park, at Irwin, and at Central."

"I think right now probably our biggest challenge is to get the message out to our community around what the options are, over the next two years, in terms of being able to receive transportation to a school. And then, what's going to happen at the end of those two years, so that parents can make informed decisions around where they choose to send their kids."

In addition to learning more about where students will be attending classes in the fall, the Chinook School Division has also surveyed teachers in regards to their school preferences in the future, and they are now moving forward with planning the physical changes necessary to make all these plans a reality.

Choo Foo admitted waiting until the end of the 2014-2015 school year to close Ashley Park allows them time to properly enact their plans.

"It is going to give the community some time to prepare for the transition. And the experience has been, and most recently in the city we have gone through it with Oman, is that living under the cloud of uncertainly is not a whole lot of fun either. And so now there is a definitive decision made, and all of the school, student, staff transition plans can be enacted over the course of a full year."

"I would say it's a little bit of an unusual transition, but I think the board did some pretty good planning that way in keeping Ashley open the extra year to allow the system opportunity to make the transition around the closure, and also to prepare Central School and Irwin School with the minor renovations necessary to become K to 8 schools. With their populations so low, we will be able to block off areas of the school to do some renos without really interfering with the everyday activity."

Organizations: Central School, Ashley Park School, Ecole Centennial School Fairview School Chinook School Division O.M. Irwin School

Geographic location: Swift Current, Ashley Park, Elmwood Park

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