Royal Bay secondary is shown midway through the construction process earlier this year. The high school is scheduled to open in fall 2015.

Sooke District school trustees face considerable challenges in 2015

Plans for massive movement of students next fall already underway

The upcoming Sooke School District year will be all about transition.

More than 4,500 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 will navigate their way to new schools for the 2015-2016 academic year and the newly elected School District 62 trustees are already preparing for this and other challenges in one of the fastest growing districts in B.C.

“We had a survey done and by 2024, our growth prediction is 50 per cent (from current enrolment),” current Sooke School Board chair Wendy Hobbs said.

“There will be lots of communities with transition times (next Sept.) and we are focusing on getting two new high schools open … so we have enough schools to handle the growth that is predicted.”

She said the work for the newly elected board, which features just one new member, Ravi Parmar, is just beginning.

New bus routes, new catchment areas, labour relations, new courses and transitioning students into those schools are on the docket, all of which is exacerbated by the building of the brand new Royal Bay and Belmont high schools.

“I think the challenges of moving that many children into a new school are going to be (difficult), but I think it’s going to be wonderful,” she said.

“Once we get (them) dealt with, it’s going to be an exciting time.”

That isn’t the only work to be done, Hobbs said.

On top of the need for more high school spaces that is already being addressed, growth in elementary age students is another area of focus for the district.

“We definitely know that Happy Valley is a concern, but you can only put so many portables on schools. You are taking fields away from kids and that is difficult,” she said. “As you drive (past) Happy Valley (elementary) you see there will be another 25 (homes going in there) so it is crazy.”

That school is currently so full, families living right in the area aren’t able to send children to their neighbourhood school. Development along the corridor is happening faster than the rate of growth in the number of schools, which causes the capacity issues – Hobbs said there are no quick-fix solutions.

Two classrooms formerly earmarked for Langford Emergency Preparedness are currently undergoing changes to be turned into classrooms. The process, meant to happen over the summer, was delayed when support staff avoided crossing the teachers’ picket lines and is now scheduled for completion around Christmas.

A further configuration change in the school grades adds another layer of respite for the undersized school.

“Next year our Grade 6 (students) are going to be in middle school so we’ll have a couple more classrooms (available), but I do see it will come to a point where we’ll be at capacity and need another elementary school in the Westhills or Latoria area,” she said.

“We just can’t keep up with development. It took 15 years to get John Stubbs replaced – it’s a long process to get schools.”

The reconfiguration will see Grade 9 taken out of middle schools and added into the high schools, while Grade 6 is shifted from elementary to middle schools.

The completion of that process for SD 62 will align it with other districts in the Capital Region, in part to keep the sports teams matched with those in the Greater Victoria and Saanich school districts.

The Sooke School District has a $92-million budget for 2013-2014 – almost double that of the City of Langford – and is the largest employer in the West Shore.

Newly elected trustee and Belmont graduate Parmar, just 20, also believes the new system will bring positive change and said he hopes to further engage the public in his new role. He has yet to be sworn in, but said he looks forward to learning from the incumbent trustees while working in a growing school district in which he feels proud to have been educated.

“There is no shame. We are a growing district and Langford and Happy Valley are going to continue to grow,” he said. “We will work with our counterparts at council and continue to pressure the government for more elementary schools and maybe a middle school,” he said. “We have (work to do), but we have a lot to be proud of in SD 62.”

Hobbs concluded with an invite, hoping previously low numbers at open houses and past school board meetings begin to climb as more light is shed on the work the trustees do.

“We invite all parents and community members to come and engage with us with education,” Hobbs said.

“Please come out and be involved. It is children’s education, it is important and we look forward to seeing you all.”

The next Sooke School Board meeting, where trustees will be sworn in, is Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. and is open to the public.

alim@goldstreamgazette.com