The sheer number and diversity of those attending the May 17 school district meeting (including parents, business proprietors, property owners, grandparents, etc.) proved to the Kootenay Lake school district trustees that the value-added learning they seek to create by closing schools is already being achieved at Winlaw elementary through extensive integration of school programming and the local community.
Hundreds of attendees were clear and united in their requests that the board prioritize local and accessible education. Winlaw elementary school is a popular, well utilized rural school. Its close proximity to the community makes bus rides short for primary students, facilitates parent volunteerism, creates local employment opportunity and business traffic, and keeps the staff in tune with community values and issues.
While the district draft plan argues that many rural schools do not provide cohort sizes large enough to offer desirable and diverse programming, the popularity of Winlaw elementary school demonstrates this is not a universal truth. Smaller class sizes for primary students are highly valued in many rural communities and will be more likely to meet the new provincial curriculum goals for increased personalized learning. This is what has attracted dozens of families to Winlaw elementary, my family included.
Why, the community wonders, would the board of education even consider closing a busy, growing school? There is no precedent for this. Arguments provided by trustees are baseless and totally inadequate. They rely on provincially determined deferred maintenance costs (that upon closer inspection appear to bear no relation to the actual usefulness or safety of the building), dubious “trending” enrollment data (no census or public health data was used) and the assumption that the district will be able to provide free transportation for students (neighbouring SD 20 is about to charge several hundred dollars per student to ride the bus).
When pressed, administration and trustees admit that closing rural schools is an attempt to convince the province that the district needs a new school. This is too large a sacrifice to make and the Winlaw school community will not offer itself up as the board’s sacrificial lamb.
Clare Kelly, Winlaw