Potential Cow High split still an option

The contentious subject of splitting Cowichan Secondary into two schools is still under consideration, even if it’s not on the front burner.

The contentious subject of splitting Cowichan Secondary into two different schools is still under consideration, even if it’s not on the front burner.

The idea was first raised in January but an outraged response from parents and students has pushed it off the board of education table until November.

Schools superintendent Rod Allen told trustees at a special school board meeting Jan. 19 the district wanted to split the big school into two distinct operations instead of its present configuration as two campuses of the same school.

Asked April 21 what has happened to that idea, Allen said, “We were looking at that amongst a variety of other things. We are still looking at what is the best configuration to achieve our needs. We were never just looking at configuring into two. That was one of the options we were looking at, absolutely.

“The conversation about a correct structure is still alive and we have said we would bring that back, based on parents’ requests, in November.”

However, things did look more definite when the idea first came up on Jan. 19, at a quickly-called special open board meeting that only addressed that one subject.

There, Allen reminded the board that part of the change made in the spring of 2013 when the government-appointed trustee was in place was the reconfiguring of the entire district, with elementary schools going to a kindergarten to Grade 7 set-up and secondary schools taking students from Grade 8 onward. This eliminated at one stroke the middle school system the district had tried to build up for several years and left Quamichan Middle School free for a new use.

Since September 2013, Cowichan Secondary has been joined at the hip to Quamichan, utilizing the facilities of both.

However, Allen told the trustees in January, while that system has worked “it is not optimal.”

An alternative model of setting up two distinct Grade 8-12 schools was suggested, allowing for two different kinds of programs to be offered: a performing arts school and another with a science-technology focus. The idea was to look at bringing in such a change by September 2016.

Allen also told trustees at that time, “both research literature and experience tell us that smaller schools with more manageable cohort sizes allow for stronger relationships between staff and students, improve academic performance, more easily respond to student choice and learning needs and have stronger connections to parents and the community.”

Trustees then voiced several concerns but Allen reiterated that the goal for the project was indeed September 2016.

“I would like to bring that information back to you on Feb. 2,” he said.

The board gave him the go-ahead.

It was also decided to hold an information session on Jan. 28 to tell the public about the idea. That meeting was never held, however, because of immediate blowback from parents.

According to Caroline Kirman, president of the district parents advisory council, parents were stunned to read about the decision and swung into action quickly to voice their concerns.

Parents are demanding deeper, fuller consultation, rather than simply a presentation of a solution, Kirman said at the time, pointing out that if that public session had been held, the feedback would have been “very reactionary and emotional” because “you can’t give people a week’s notice before such an important discussion. Many people were blindsided.”

The idea that such a change could have been in place by September was another sore point.

The reaction at at a meeting of the school’s PAC was blunt. It was along the lines of, “Are you kidding?” Kirman said.

Discussions this November will have to address concerns from parents, students and teachers about whether science courses would be available at both schools, what would happen to French immersion classes, and whether students would be able to graduate with their friends.