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West Shore baby boom leaves school district scrambling for space

Last fall Education Minister George Abbot read Curious George to K students at John Stubbs Memorial school. The school has six classes of K kids, the start of a baby boom on the West Shore. - Edward Hill/News staff
Last fall Education Minister George Abbot read Curious George to K students at John Stubbs Memorial school. The school has six classes of K kids, the start of a baby boom on the West Shore.
— image credit: Edward Hill/News staff

Grade 9 shifting from John Stubbs to Belmont in September

A West Shore baby boom has prompted the Sooke School District to make room for a wave of young kids at John Stubbs Memorial school.

The district is shifting Grade 9 from John Stubbs to Belmont secondary starting next September, and is opening a French immersion stream at Millstream elementary.

The move will clear space at the dual elementary and middle school in Colwood, which along with Lakewood and Happy Valley schools, is facing overcrowding pressure due to a high birthrate on the West Shore.

John Stubbs currently hosts six kindergarten classes but only has need for three Grade 9 classes. District officials say over the next five years, that skewed demographic bulge won’t change.

“If you look at the preschool aged kids over the next five years, the numbers are significant,” said Jim Cambridge, superintendent for SD 62. “The school will be overcapacity very quickly. The way to accommodate that is to move Grade 9s. It takes the pressure off.”

SD 62 officials became aware of the baby boom over Christmas while updating enrollment projections surrounding the planning for two new West Shore high schools.

In 2010, West Shore municipalities which feed into SD 62 had 600 births. In 2011 that jumped to 800.

“We said ‘wow that’s a big jump,’” Cambridge said. “We knew we had a lot of K kids, but we’ve got a lot more young kids than expected. Now we’ve got to make space.”

The district added 27 classrooms through additions to four schools and installed modular classrooms at six schools last year, but with full-day Kindergarten and plenty of tots in pipeline, classroom space remains at a premium.

John Stubbs principal Garry Manhas said the number of K classes this year is about double from 2010 — 98 tots entered K in 2011 versus about 60 the year before.

“It’s a considerable jump,” Manhas said. “And demographics for the district indicate it will continue.”

“All the elementary classes are being used,” he added, “even after the addition was put on.”

Opening a French immersion stream at Millstream school in north Langford should also take some pressure off John Stubbs, the primary French immersion school for elementary and middle grades.

In September, Millstream will offer a K French immersion class, and will add a new grade each year until Grade 5. The popularity of French immersion has doubled in the past few years – 10 per cent of SD 62 kids are in that program.

In September, Belmont will add 75 to 80 students from John Stubbs, which who take up about three classrooms of space. The high school has about 1,400 students this year.

Principal Carl Repp said Belmont is happy to welcome Grade 9 students and has the room to fit them in. The school received two portable classrooms last year and isn’t at capacity, he said.

“We have the room. Adding 80 students won’t affect us much,” Repp said. “Growth has dramatically increased primarily in the younger grades. We can take the hit at the secondary level. We are the last to burst at the seams.”

With shifting one Grade 9 class to Belmont, the district is one step closer to reconfiguring it’s grade structure to match the rest of Greater Victoria: high school from Grade 9 to 12, middle from grades 6 to 8 and elementary K to Grade 5.

Repp said the current Belmont school won’t get a full cohort of Grade 9s – that will come when the two new schools are built.

“It’s important to be aligned with the rest of southern Vancouver Island, for programs like band and athletics,” Repp said. “This has been on the books for a long time.”

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

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