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Frances Kelsey high's self-paced model bashed by south-end parents

Melody Marat tells school board brass middle-school Grade 6 to 8 students may be vulnerable to problems in a high school setting such as Frances Kelsey. - Peter W. Rusland
Melody Marat tells school board brass middle-school Grade 6 to 8 students may be vulnerable to problems in a high school setting such as Frances Kelsey.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Frances Kelsey secondary's self-paced program took a beating during Saturday afternoon's public meeting probing south Cowichan's educational options.

The three-hour session in George Bonner Middle School's gym gave an earful about safety and effectiveness of Kelsey's program — and other classroom worries — to school-board boss Mike McKay and his brass wrenching $3.7 million from Cowichan's 2013-14 budget.

"What would you do in these circumstances?" McKay humbly asked some 200 parents, students, and teachers.

He stressed no decisions have been made about restructuring schools and programs in district 79's four zones.

But the board must cook its cost-saving plan by May toward next year's operational pressures stoked by a $73-million budget from Victoria.

"And we don't get to mess with contracts," McKay noted of staff and teachers paid 91 cents per $1 of his board's purse of per-student funding.

"The biggest impact in this district is teachers' salaries and benefits," said Karen Bailey.

Phaedra Fairwell backed plans to pull $192,000 from the board office budget.

"I'd like less cuts affecting our kids; we have a lot of senior administration. Think outside the box — some of their duties could be done in the schools."

Stretching dollars amid dipping enrollments means adopting all or parts of two south-end options aired Saturday.

The middle-school model — saving $361,000 — involves kindergarten to Grade 5 classed as elementary, Grade 6 to 8 as middle school students, and Grade 9 to 12 as secondary.

The elementary-secondary option, saving $944,000, sees K to Grade 7 as elementary; Grade 8 to 12 secondary.

Both options would close Ecole Mill Bay elementary.

Most folks seemed to accept shifting French immersion to Bonner, and Cobble Hill elementary, and Cowichan and Kelsey secondary — likely accommodating a dual-track system of English and Français instruction.

Steve Farquarson noted his daughter with special needs is doing well in French immersion.

McKay said kids are basically adaptable, and staff will make changes work for most pupils.

Still, Ecole teacher Valerie Robinson said French immersion is unique.

"If we have to break up school communities, the kind of learning environment we foster can't easily be done in a dual-track system."

Other parents wanted clearer policies about late French immersion instruction.

But nerves got gnarled about sending younger kids to high-school settings.

"Grade 6 to 8 kids are very vulnerable," said Melody Marat.

Chris Keen said stories she hears about Kelsey "aren't nice."

And Toni Lander reported tales of sexual targeting of girls there.

"We don't feel our daughter would survive Kelsey," Keen said, citing dirt and disrepair at the famed self-paced school.

"I'll take my children to another district."

Mandy DeFields said her daughter's apprehensive about attending Kelsey.

"I've heard 10 years of dissatisfaction with Kelsey's self-paced model."

One dad questioned if middle school kids are up to high-school setting speed.

Superintendent Joe Rhodes agreed the board must explore how more and younger pupils would work in near-capacity Kelsey.

McKay was surprised and concerned about issues surrounding Kelsey, saying safety issues must always be handled despite restructuring.

"People must always raise these issues with staff."

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