After months of consultations, brainstorming, number-crunching and soul-searching, numerous members of the Louis Riel School Division community are now dealing with the implications of a restructured future.
Based on projected enrolment information, and significant overcrowding and unsustainable growth at two of south St. Vital’s French immersion schools — École Julie-Riel and École St. Germain — division administrators presented the school board with a series of recommendations to tackle the situation and provide long-term solutions at a board meeting on Jan. 7.
The outcome will see the English program George McDowell School reconfigured as a Grades 6 to 8 single-track French immersion middle years school, and École Julie-Riel and École St. Germain reconfigured as Grades K to 5 early years single-track French immersion schools.
Both schools are currently K to 8. The changes are set to take effect on Sept. 2.
Officials say the parents of students currently attending George McDowell School will have options for their children to attend one of a number of neighbouring schools — Dr. D. W. Penner School, H. S. Paul School and Highbury School — where enrolments have been declining, as well as possibly Samuel Burland School.
LRSD’s superintendent, Duane Brothers, said the reorganization will address the overpopulation of École Julie-Riel and École St. Germain, as well as increase French immersion capacity in the division from 970 to 1,500 students, making room for the projected 1,340 children who will enrol in French immersion in the next few years.
"We know there is no perfect solution," Brothers said. "We know that any solution we could have chosen would have affected one or more of the families in this room. Parents will have a variety of options for their kids and we want to work with individual families to find individual solutions."
Brothers told The Lance after the meeting that the final decision was an "incredibly difficult" one.
"Come Sept. 2, we’re going to have kids in new schools. During the next few months, staff will be meeting staff, parents will be meeting parents and kids will be meeting kids," Brothers said. "We will be creating new communities and there will be the opportunity to start rethinking team names and logos. We’ve talked about both the challenges and opportunities, and here are opportunities.
"It’s a fact that George McDowell will be no more in its current form, so our work now is to help get its students situated in schools they chose to go to." he added.
At the recent meeting, several parents voiced their concerns about the effects the changes will have on their kids, their schools and their communities. Concerns range from daycare availability to transportation costs, and it’s clear that the next few months will be a massive adjustment for many individuals as the division begins to implement the changes.
Married mother of two Jennifer Johnson is worried the decision will mean her children will now have to travel for more than an hour on two Winnipeg Transit buses to get to George McDowell School, which she said will cost around $1,200 a year. Her kids, aged 12 and 10, currently attend École Julie-Riel.
"We’re disappointed because right now the school is literally in our backyard," Johnson said, noting she currently lives in a one-income household, as she is studying full time at the University of Manitoba.
"We’d like to see the board come up with a compromise and help us cover our costs. They keep saying they know what we’re going through, so I hope they can throw us a bone."
On Jan. 8, the division started its transition plan, as administration met with staff at two of the affected schools to begin the debriefing process, and started sending letters to parents in all eight south St. Vital schools, including Victor H. L. Wyatt School, which was also part of the decision-making process.
Information will be updated regularly on the division’s website, officials say. For more information, visit www.lrsd.net
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