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School division looking for enrolment solution in Pulberry

Final decision on swapping two local school buildings will have impact either way

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Two school communities in St. Vital are a step closer to swapping addresses for the start of the next school year.

In response to the rising demand for French immersion places outstripping the projected enrolment for English program students in the Pulberry area, senior officials at Louis Riel School Division are looking at a straight swap of school buildings for the staff and students at Hastings School (English program) and École Marie-Anne Gaboury (French immersion). The schools are separated by a shared field.

At a special meeting held at the division’s board offices on April 15, a notice of motion was filed for a final decision by the board to combat the enrolment situation. At press time, the decision was scheduled for the regular board meeting on April 22.

At the recent meeting, attended by parents of children from both schools, LRSD’s superintendent Duane Brothers said the proposed switch appears to be the most sustainable option based on all of the criteria — and in the long-term, he believes the adaptability of both sets of students would play a key role in the success of such a transition.

Hastings currently has 270 students and a capacity for 565, while Gaboury is almost at capacity, which was increased to 365 with the introduction of a portable classroom last fall.
"This is a challenging situation, not just because we’re dealing with buildings, but people. It’s not easy, but we believe that kids adapt and that we can bring about a lot of changes," Brothers said.

Christian Michalik, one of LRSD’s assistant superintendents, walked attendees through a "matrix" which focuses on the main points of the discussion and is part of larger document which will help trustees consider the main criteria when making a final decision.

He said other possible options factoring in other area schools — whether it be Minnetonka, Darwin or others with capacities smaller than Hastings — would cause a greater disruption to more students and potentially lead officials to rethink the division’s programming.

"We’d have to think about our French immersion policy and consider revising it. This could lead to a systematic shift at how we’d represent 32 per cent of students in Louis Riel School Division and mean disruption to many more kids and their families" Michalik said.

"Based on the projections, Hastings students would find themselves with room to grow at Gaboury and we could also explore relationships with child care providers. This is a solution because we’re localizing change and making use of available space. Yes, we’re asking both school communities to move, but move to buildings next to each other. This way, student cohorts and staff will get to stay together."

If the switch is sanctioned, a transition plan leading up to September would kick in as early as April 23, Brothers said.

Some Hastings parents have expressed concerns ranging from an potential increase in school traffic, the fact Hastings is wheelchair-accessible and Gaboury has three floors, and the fear of losing programming for students with different needs due to space limitations.

Conversely, some Gaboury parents feel the proposed move is pragmatic in light of the growth of the French immersion program in the area and the evolution of the school.

For more information, go online at
Twitter: @lanceWPG

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