After two years of construction, roughly 2,000 students – nearly 1,200 to Belmont and 800 to Royal Bay – will walk the hallways of their new high schools.
But high school students will not be the only ones on the West Shore entering a different school for the first time. In fact, roughly 4,000 students will be changing schools on Sept. 8. and that means quite the logistical juggling act for School District 62.
Pete Godau, director of facilities for SD62, said that over half of the District’s students will be moving to new schools on Sept. 8. Some of that is in part due to the new high schools but it is also because of a new grade redistribution done to see consistency across the board.
All elementary schools in the District will now house kindergarten to Grade 5 middle schools Grades 6 to 8, and high schools will have students from Grades 9 through 12. Sooke schools already had this configuration of grades but schools in, what Godau, referred to as the Belmont area (Langford and Colwood), did not have this consistent distribution.
Jim Cambridge, SD62 superintendent, said this grade reconfiguration could see some middle schools hardest hit, with the youngest grade turning into the oldest and two new grades of children entering the school.
“Two-thirds of the students have never been in a middle school.” He said “it can be challenging,” but administrators and teachers have been busy planning ways to minimize the culture shock for students.
Godau said this reconfiguration also freed up room in elementary schools where space had become tight due to the younger demographic of the West Shore.
But students won’t be the only ones changing schools. Some teachers will also be changing schools to continue to teach the same grade level.
Cambridge said, “last spring we had the largest teacher movement,” and staff spent several months placing teachers, which included teachers moving grades, transitioning to the new Belmont school and filling new positions created by Royal Bay.
“We’ve been planning for this for a long time… It’s going to be a lot of work.” In fact Godau said they have been planning for this move for almost two years. But he admitted “it won’t be without its hiccups.”
Cambridge said one of those hiccups could potentially be transporting students.
“We’re counting on parents.” He said the District determines its bus routes by how many students have registered for transportation, which parents were asked to do back in the spring. But he suspects a number of parents haven’t done that yet for this school year because it simply hasn’t occurred to them.
The addition of the two new high schools as well as the grade shuffle meant that the District’s bus routes underwent a massive reconfiguration to accommodate the new routes now required. But this reconfiguration was based on how many students had registered for transportation and their anticipated need. Cambridge said they would see after the first week whether the routes would have to be adjusted again to accommodate for overcrowding or a lack of use. “We’ll have to get up and running to see,” he said.
“When we had one high school everyone could go to that school.” Now he said with two different schools, students with special interests, such as specific sports programs, will have to go to the school offering those programs. But if they are not in that schools draw zone, transportation may not be available to them.
Besides transporting students, Cambridge said they have been busy transporting teaching supplies and materials to the new schools and schools effected by the grade change.
“We’ve had lots of people on staff working all summer,” he said. This move included the rental of many vans and trucks to make sure next week’s first day of the new school year will be as smooth as possible for staff and students.
“It’ll be nice to have a year next year where we aren’t building two high schools,” admitted Godau.