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Worried parent fighting for daughter’s school

LRSD draws up list of options to cope with projected growth in French immersion enrolment

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Chris Molnar, whose daughter attends George McDowell School, signs Nikki Sherwin’s petition.

JORDAN THOMPSON/CANSTAR COMMUNITY NEWS Enlarge Image

Chris Molnar, whose daughter attends George McDowell School, signs Nikki Sherwin’s petition. Photo Store

Nikki Sherwin is determined to fight so that her daughter doesn’t "lose her school."

Sherwin, 45, has been speaking to The Lance in light of the news that Louis Riel School Division is looking at five potential long-term solutions to tackle overflowing enrolment in French immersion schools in south St. Vital.

Based on projected enrolment information for the next five years, officials say the catchment area has six schools with the capacity for growth, while student enrolment is predicted to increase at two schools — École Julie-Riel and École St. Germain — which are already over capacity. Both schools are French immersion.

The six English program schools are George McDowell, Dr. D. W. Penner, Highbury, H. S. Paul, Samuel Burland and Victor H. L. Wyatt.

One of the shortlisted potential options is to redesignate George McDowell School, where Sherwin’s daughter attends, to a K-8 French immersion program school.

Noting her mother is French, Sherwin stressed she is not against French immersion programming, but rather the impact a potential school redesignation will have on her River Park South community.

The division is set to hold community forums at each of the eight schools to work with community members to address the issue. The first meeting was held at George McDowell School on Oct. 3.

Officials say the purpose of the consultations is to present information regarding the challenges and to explore long-term solutions with community members. Individuals and parents with concerns and questions are encouraged to attend.

Speaking before the recent meeting, Sherwin — a single parent who has been regularly petitioning against redesignating her daughter’s school — said she hopes other individuals will join her "because there are more viable options with less impact on the community."

"I don’t know many of the parents at the school, because I don’t have that social network, so I feel like a one-woman petition," said Sherwin, who owns Woofs ’n Wags Dog Daycare in St. Vital.

"At this point, I do feel alone in this. I’ve taken it upon myself to be the voice of the community. I would love some help and support and would love it if people would stand shoulder to shoulder with me and give just a few hours of their time to help circulate the petition."

Sherwin said individuals can email her and she will either bring the petition to their home or meet them at George McDowell School because "every signature counts." She can be reached at info@woofsnwags.ca

As well as worrying about her daughter’s well-being, Sherwin has several concerns regarding the potential redesignation of George McDowell School, which include the impact on the diversity of the neighborhood and the effect it could have on property taxes in the area.

"One thing that is good about the community is the coexistence of French immersion and English program schools. In my opinion, with no English school, this would affect the desirability of the neighbourhood. It could also negatively affect property taxes. As a homeowner, I find this a big concern," Sherwin said, noting her daughter currently has a three-minute walk to school.

"A change will mean a longer walk. My child is very small and she could be potentially walking in -40C conditions. I don’t think anyone wants that."

"At the end of the day, it’s simple. Let’s make a choice that makes the most sense and has minimal impact on the community."

LRSD’s board chair, Hugh Coburn, said community members can play a vital role in helping the division come up with the best long-term solution.

"We have to start looking at what we can do," Coburn said. "We have a number of scenarios and we’re focusing on the community and working with them to satisfy the majority of their concerns," Coburn said, noting the aim is to have a sustainable solution in place by September 2014.

"We’re asking the community which solution they can work with, as the enrolment situation is getting pretty drastic in south St. Vital," Coburn said, noting he encourages individuals to attend the upcoming forums.

"If they listen to why we’re doing this, they should get a better understanding. This is a community decision and we want to make sure we do our consultation and have the voices of the community heard," he said.

"I think we’ve taken a proactive approach and I’m pretty proud of our board and senior administration. I don’t blame people for being concerned. I was the same way when my kids were at school."

Following the Oct. 3 community forum, Sherwin said she was pleased with the growing support of community members.

"I was permitted to ask for parent signatures at the conclusion of the meeting and most parents came up and signed when they found out about our school," she said.

"I now have a few volunteers to help me go door to door and it feels great that a few of us are coming together to inform the community about the impending vote that will decide our school’s future in January."

"My goal for our community is to get 500 signatures to present to the division, so that we are standing as a community to save our English school and keep our neighbourhood diversified with both English and French," Sherwin said.

Registration for the upcoming forums is required. Registration information is available online at www.lrsd.net Other supporting information, including the five potential long-term solutions to tackle the enrolment situation, is also available on the division’s website.

What do you think of the proposed long-term solution choices? Email simon.fuller@canstarnews.com.

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