Two Slocan Valley schools with small enrollments escaped closure or reconfiguration for another year Tuesday, but trustees insist they’re not just sticking with the status quo.
The Kootenay Lake board of education voted to allow Winlaw elementary to remain a K-6 and Slocan’s W.E. Graham community school a K-10, with the decision to be revisited annually.
The motion, put forward by trustee Lenora Trenamen, backed a “family of schools” concept and included provisions to examine catchment boundaries at the south end of the valley, encourage increased enrollment, and bring class sizes more in line with the rest of the district.
It also supported the “further development of student access to learning in a variety of methods.”
The motion was similar to a recommendation from a community advisory committee examining the fate of the valley’s schools, which were threatened with closure last year.
However, it was at odds with the superintendent’s recommendation to turn Winlaw into a K-3 school and W.E. Graham into a 4-10. That would have reduced the age spread in the present blended classes.
Trenamen hoped her motion would “provide a catalyst to help support a positive change” and “advance from the status quo.”
Slocan Valley trustee Barb Lindsay welcomed the motion and noted with provincial grants for rural schools, Winlaw and W.E. Graham are paying for themselves despite their small numbers.
“The schools at the north end generate enough money that they can be sustained even at a lower student population,” she said. “They contribute to the district.”
She was also heartened by the work of the committee over the last year, and said it allowed Winlaw and Slocan to co-operate rather than compete.
Trenamen’s motion originally included a clause calling for an annual review for a maximum of four years, but was amended after other trustees said they didn’t want to tie future boards.
The only voice of dissent was Salmo trustee Art Field, who felt they were simply postponing a difficult decision on the schools’ future.
“Staff recommended changes that are maybe for the better and would provide stability for those schools,” he said before voting against the motion.
Superintendent Jeff Jones was more than happy with the decision, even though it overruled his suggestion.“I think the board found a place that recognizes the needs of the community,” he said.
Jones based his recommendation to reconfigure the schools on a request last month from the board to find a way to reduce costs and address low use of the buildings.
However, parents felt blindsided by the move, which they said was at odds with what the committee had been trying to achieve.
About 50 community members packed the gallery Tuesday and applauded following the vote.
Jessica Lunn, a parent and Slocan village councillor, says she was “excited” by the decision.
“It seems like the board is willing to work collaboratively with the schools in the north end,” she says. “I’m excited for the children and the parents. Hopefully we’ll be able to move forward.”
Each school has about 70 students.