Nelson’s Wildflower School is poised for expansion here and elsewhere, although trustees want many potential issues addressed first.
The Kootenay Lake board of education heard this week that the alternative school with multi-age classes has a “rapidly growing and longstanding” waiting list of over 150 names, and there’s interest in bringing the concept to Creston, Salmo, and Kaslo.
Superintendent Jeff Jones presented a two-year proposal to grow the program, while canvassing trustees on what other information they need before approving it.
He explained Wildflower began as a private program in a church basement and became part of the school district in 2003, based in Central School. This year, it was granted school status and presently has 87 students in four classes.
Wildflower has a philosophy of “continuous progress,” rather than grade levels, Jones said. Each class is made up of students ages six to 11, and ideally one teacher works with the same group over a number of years, creating an attachment between them.
Parents are also directly involved in developing educational programming, and provide homeschooling on Fridays.
Jones said the proposal would add another class in Nelson next year and one in Creston. Meetings would also be held in Salmo and Kaslo to determine the viability of adding classes in those communities for 2013-14, and interest would later be gauged in the Slocan Valley.
Jones identified a series of challenges to overcome, including sharing resources over multiple sites, providing administrative support, and building a cohesive staff.
However, he felt technology may help them meet those hurdles, and recognized each site would take on its own personality depending on the community’s needs.
Jones said another important consideration is that Wildflower’s pupil-teacher ratio is lower than in other schools, raising concerns of equity.
Trustees responded with a long list of questions.
Art Field worried the district will encounter similar problems as with the French immersion program in Nelson, where demand far exceeds available seats.
“Who gets in and who is left?” he asked. “I assume Wildflower will get the best kids. It could ruin a number of schools. Be prepared to face a lot of difficulties — you’ll have parents on your backs for sure. We’ve got to be very careful about privileges these kids have.”
Field said he was concerned Wildflower represented a departure from the public school system, and questioned the homeschooling component.
Barb Lindsay echoed Field’s comments, although she said she believes in everything the school does and in multi-age programs. Lenora Trenaman also worried entry criteria will become an issue while Bob Wright asked for data on Wildflower’s student outcomes compared to other schools.
The board will consider the proposal on December 13.