The future of Denman and Hornby Islands’ elementary schools is up in the air.
According to School District 71’s Long Range Facilities Plan, the schools have small and declining enrolments and one of the district’s 14 recommendations in the report is to “consider alternative educational programming models for Denman Island and Hornby Island schools.”
SD71 superintendent Sherry Elwood said there is no list of what those ‘alternatives’ may be right now because the district needs to explore them first, but she said community meetings will be held on the Islands in the spring.
“I did serve notice that we’d have to have a fairly deep conversation in the spring of this year about what the future is for the Island schools — and we will do that,” said Elwood. “And that’s not coming from a place that we have any appetite to close (the schools) at all, but I had to be honest and say there is a time when we look at the viability, educationally, of school populations and we might need to make different decisions.”
According to the Long Range Facilities Plan, Denman Island Community School has room for 89 students. However, in 2011, 33 students were enrolled in the kindergarten to Grade 7 school. The projected enrolment is 26 students in 2016 and 22 students in 2021.
Hornby Island Community School, which is also a kindergarten to Grade 7 school, has room for 135 students; 37 students were enrolled in 2011, and the same numbers are projected down the road as Denman Island’s school.
According to Elwood, community meetings were held on both islands about two years ago to talk about the future of the schools, which she described as “good and difficult.”
“What we had said to them was that we were getting to a place where we needed them to be open to try some things that were different — and they were which is terrific — but there would be a time where we get to a place where there is just an educational, pedagogical reason, where the numbers drop to a place where we don’t think that the learning is viable for students,” said Elwood, adding “but also that we were doing everything we could think of to keep those schools vibrant and alive.
“So that is what you’re seeing right now; this is the second year of them trying some new things. We’re going to have a reflection time in the late spring here.”
Elwood noted the new things the schools have been trying include blended models of distributed learning, face-to-face learning and project-based learning as well as different grade splits than schools like Royston or Courtenay elementary schools which have more students in them.
According to its website, the Denman Island school has a kindergarten to Grade 3 class and a Grade 4 to Grade 7 class. The Hornby Island school has a kindergarten to Grade 2 class, a Grade 3 and 4 split and a Grade 5, 6 and 7 class.
Elwood also notes additional resources have been given to the schools in an effort to keep them going as they are, and district resources are tight.
“We’re looking to be creative as we can and to stretch the district resources which we have been doing, stretching the district resources to keep those schools viable,” she said, adding the district will look at any and all possibilities to keep the schools vibrant. “I need to also be honest and say that there may be a time when we have to look at a different model for elementary education on the Islands.”