School District 71 is already getting a strong response from the public going into its review of catchment areas for schools.
As of the Oct. 22 board of education meeting, the district had already received a stronger than usual return rate. Superintendent Tom Demeo told school trustees that typically when they survey families, they get between 400 and 500 responses.
“Overnight, we have had a thousand surveys completed around our boundary catchment questions,” he told the board.
As of the most recent check just prior to the board meeting, there were another 400 surveys in progress.
“It’s working,” he said. “You need to be part of this. This is what we’re doing, we want your input into the process and into what the decisions are going to be.”
Board members commended district staff for their efforts. Trustee Sarah Jane Howe (Cumberland) said it was impressive they had already had triple the usual response.
“I think that there’s going to be some exciting ideas,” she added.
Demeo credited district communications work for helping to get the message out to school communities about the importance of the surveys to the catchment review process, using all methods including social media. This also is helping the district keep track of any misinformation spreading.
“We’re using all our resources. We’re getting engaged with communities,” Demeo said. “We’re looking forward to our sessions.”
The first round of sessions will take place starting Nov. 4 at Royston Elementary at 6:30 p.m. Sessions will follow at Cumberland Community School on Nov. 6, Miracle Beach Elementary on Nov. 12 and Huband Park Elementary on Nov. 13. The first round will be a chance for the district to share ideas that have been generated while also providing an opportunity for the school district to receive new ideas. After this phase, the district will look at what ideas it has and how viable these might be.
For the second round, it will present some options when it comes to school catchment areas and the rationale behind these. This round takes place between Nov. 27 and Dec. 4.
In addition, the school district is contacting municipal governments about plans for growth in areas of their respective communities and how this might affect school boundaries.
“One of the things that we always worry about is what happens down the road,” Demeo said. “We have to be cognizant of that.”
Trustee Sheila McDonnell (Area A-Baynes Sound,Denman Island, Hornby Island) noted from feedback she has had that some people are not sure what they are being asked at this point. She also wanted to know if there was a way to get the message out that there is no need to “start rallying in defence of something t this stage.”
Demeo acknowledged that some people in a school community had taken to social media to express concern about changes at their school because of capacity issues.
“One of the things we have to do is we’re going to have to be diligent with our social media,” he said. “We have to help ourselves and not just wait.”
He said the district responded on social media to clarify the review process and its stages.
“That first set of meetings are going to be crucial that we come prepared with data and that we have information for people to take away,” Demeo added.