School board chair Candace Spilsbury told Lake Cowichan town council that she and her colleagues are eager to talk with municipalities.
“As part of our term we have been working on our priorities. We’re feeling very confident that we have a plan and we want you to know what it is. Perhaps there is some mutual interest that we can engage together to help kids.
Spilsbury stressed that working with aboriginal students is very important to the board.
“We’ve worked hard to establish relationships and support aboriginal student learning,” she said.
“It’s been a priority for us to have aboriginal students retained in their classrooms right through, so they are not dropping out. It was a huge success last year when the achievement results came out and our total overall graduation rates had gone up by five per cent and our aboriginal graduation rates had gone up by seven per cent in one year. That’s an amazing feat for a school district.”
The board has a vision of educational excellence for everyone, everywhere, every time and “we truly try to walk this talk,” Spilsbury said. “We target every student in every school.”
She then talked about the new curriculum.
“I know you are quite engaged with our schools and we’re very pleased that you are so involved and supportive with them. The new curriculum talks about community participation and some of our classrooms now are inviting community participation, asking people to be part of their classrooms, as students are learning a particular area in that curriculum. Or they go out, and we call it land based education. We have some classrooms that are more devoted to that than others. But we would like to see that increased because it is one of the new directions.”
Having the community involved, offering personalized learning allows students to follow individual passions that they want to pursue in their education, she said.
“There is more ability for students to choose an area of interest that they have and structure their projects to fit.
“This is the new way, so it’s not a lecture by a teacher anymore. Teachers are expected to facilitate the learning, to bring out the interest of students, which engages them and which focuses them on the learning outcomes needed.”
Spilsbury said the other piece that was really being promoted was “student voice.”
“We have had a student district advisory committee for a long time and we kind of listened to them but we didn’t really listen and engage and implement. But now, my gosh, they are telling us and they are really bright and provide ideas we wouldn’t even have imaginged. It’s quite an interesting adventure when you work with students in that way.
“They have the voice to tell you how to make it better for them. We’re really trying to support that.”
Different programs such as career and dual credit programs are helping to keep students in school, Spilsbury said.
Some students are able to take first year courses at VIU, or do apprenticeships. The district’s trade centre sees students working on welding, carpentry, hairdressing, HVAC and more.
“We have a story about 32 students enrolling for the welding program; 31 of them finished it, and 30 of them had jobs at the end of it. It’s quite a miraculous story. Four years ago, apparently, we had four kids in these programs. Last year, we had 275 by the end of the year and this year we’re predicting 300.
“These are obvious areas of interest to students.”
In district’s 10-year facilities plan a replacement for the aging Cowichan Secondary is priority No. 1, Spilsbury said.
“With our enrolment problems, action is needed. We now have 14 portables on our Cowichan Secondary site, putting the two campuses together. We heard tonight a draft report by a demographic consultant who has now specified what areas are that are being built on in our community and where the sites are that are going to need new development.”
The result of Bill 28 is that it has brought new teachers into schools this year and probably the same number of additional classrooms.
“The result is that all of our schools are full in the Duncan north and south areas. Getting that survey of demographics is really worthwhile for that reason.”
It will help the board make decisions for the future, she said.
Town of Lake Cowichan Coun. Tim McGonigle said Lake Cowichan is seeing an influx of younger families, and he felt there might be reason for concern at Palsson.
“Each year we review where our priorities are. The demographer that presented tonight said the Lake area would remain stable over time. He was looking at through to 2040. Unless something happens, like new industry here, there isn’t a great deal of change forecast in student enrolment,” Spilsbury told him. “At Palsson there’s been a change of two students this year. But last year overall, there were 454 students here, this year there are 446. But we are finding the secondary schools have all lost a bit.”
McGonigle said the realignment of Lake Cowichan School to include Grades 4, 5, and 6, has made a difference.
“Although I was reluctant with that process, I have a grandson in there and he is thriving. I will say when I was wrong. It’s not often politicians say that, but I was wrong about that.”
Coun. Day asked, “Do you have any idea how close Lake Cowichan [School] is to capacity now?”
Spilsbury told him she didn’t have the exact number with her but the school is not close to capacity.