The controversial plan to reconfigure grades in Slocan Valley schools has been scrapped in favour of an expansion at Winlaw Elementary.
A 1,500 square foot modular unit will be constructed at the school as a home for kindergarten students and support services ahead of the 2020-2021 school year.
The decision Tuesday by School District 8’s board of trustees was met with applause and tears from Winlaw parents in attendance.
“It seems like this secures a K-6 school long into the future, which is a big relief for a lot of families,” said Winlaw parent advisory committee (PAC) chair Marya Folinsbee.
The district said last fall it was considering a potential move of Grade 6 students at Winlaw Elementary and Brent Kennedy Elementary to a new middle school located at Mount Sentinel Secondary as part of a facilities plan that would address Winlaw’s capacity issues.
Winlaw currently houses 103 students, 15 more than it should. The school’s enrolment is also expected to exceed capacity through 2033, according to district projections.
But the plan received intense public backlash from parents who didn’t want Grade 6 students attending a high school.
The district is on the hook for the entire cost of the approximately $450,000 unit, but trustees approved the plan with the understanding that grants are available to subsidize the cost and community contributions will also be included.
Although the district didn’t specify Winlaw’s exact contribution, the plan presented to trustees split funding in thirds divided by SD8, the provincial government and community donations.
Board chair Lenora Trenaman said similar funding commitments have been successful at schools in Crawford Bay and Kaslo.
“I’m just delighted,” said Trenaman. “I am so happy, because it’s a win-win. It truly is, and our kids and teachers are going to have a better place to go to every day.”
Folinsbee said she was optimistic Winlaw would rally around the plan.
“We have a really powerhouse PAC,” said Folinsbee. “I’m pretty new to the PAC, but there’s some very inspiring, hard-working and experienced parents.
“I think it’s a combination of donations and boots on the ground and event organizing, and then also just the good will of the Winlaw community. There’s so many great people out there who have all kinds of transferable skills and generosity and equipment.”
Free before and after school care for kindergarten students will also be offered at the unit by the district, which plans to hire an early childhood educator.
Trenaman said the “seamless day” approach has been piloted elsewhere in the province and will help address transportation issues for Winlaw parents as well as ease child care costs.
“You’re just building constantly on a good experience so they get excited about learning and feel supported,” she said.
An uncertain future had previously lingered over Winlaw Elementary for several years.
In 2016, the school was one of six in the district considered for closure, but was eventually spared by provincial government funding.
“We want stability,” said Trenaman. “We want to be able to provide the best learning and working conditions, but we also want stability.”