Garnett parents plead for help

As a demonstration school, R.C. Garnett was hailed as a model where educators could implement and learn from teaching practices that enhance children’s education.

It was built so that educators could watch educators at work. They could observe, form strategies and confer with their peers.

It was the first of its kind in Langley when it opened in September, 2006. It also didn’t have enough children to fill the Grade 6 and 7 classrooms.

Today, R.C. Garnett has become a model of what has plagued schools on the Willoughby slope: planning gone awry.

Many of the school’s 500-plus students are learning in portable classrooms as overcrowding in Willoughby schools continues to worsen.

Now it has emerged that Lynn Fripps Elementary, a new school opening in Willoughby in September, could pluck students out of Garnett to finish their elementary education away from their friends and siblings.

Many parents are not happy.

“Please help!” Christy MacLeod wrote in a letter to The Times.

MacLeod, whose children have attended the school since Kindergarten, was informed by the school and PAC last week that the board of education is proposing changing the school’s configuration to Kindergarten to Grade 5.

That leaves Grade 6 and 7 students without a school they grew up attending, MacLeod said.

“Our beloved and voted school board trustees believe that the Grade 6s and 7s will be bused to the new school — Lynn Fripps Elementary. Bus transportation will cost a family between $250-$525,” she said.

Garnett is at 7096 201 St.; Fripps is under construction at 21020 83 Ave.

MacLeod said that when the site for the new school was announced, “the community voiced to the school board that this was the wrong place to put a new school, as the capacity issues at R.C. Garnett and surrounding Willoughby schools will not be solved.”

She said that the board of education “is now trying to make the new school look ‘full’ by using our children to fill it.”

She added: “As a parent I feel misled by our school trustees who . . . cannot come together as a united front.”

A meeting at the school to discuss the proposal and other growth-related challenges at Garnett is set for Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 6:30 p.m.

The meeting is to discuss issues specific to Garnett. The school district will hold a public meeting this spring to discuss its plans for schools in the Willoughby area.

Kristina Wilson is another parent who is upset. Her children have attended R.C. Garnett since day one, and now her son Carter “will be kicked out of his school” and be bused to Lynn Fripps for his last year of elementary school.

“He will miss out his Grade 7 year at his school, and we feel that we are being kicked out of our school because they are making way for new Kindergarten (students) coming in,”  she said.

The Wilson family lives in the R.C. Garnett catchment and fully expected all their children to attend school there until it was time for high school.

Families recall promises of a building extension, but that has not materialized.

“Parents are infuriated,” Wilson said. “It’s a slap in the face. We have raised $38,000 to pay off our playground, and we have created the community atmosphere at this school.”

In November, parents received a letter from then-school superintendent Cheryle Beaumont who stated that the rate of enrolment of students living in the Willoughby school communities, and the continuing pressure to accommodate all students, continues to increase.

“As a district, we must manage this enrolment,” said Beaumont, who was fired by the board in early January.

The school district decreed that Lynn Fripps will open as a K-5 school, and will develop into a K-7 school.

All current K-4 students living within the newly-developed Lynn Fripps Elementary catchment will be expected to enroll and attend Lynn Fripps Elementary School, the letter stated.

The letter went on to say that the district was not “at this time” planning for Grades 6 and 7 at Lynn Fripps.

“We do realize, however, that in preparation for the middle school, and until it is complete, there will be an accommodation of Grade 6 and 7 students at Lynn Fripps for a time. Should there be sufficient interest for a Grade 6/7 class, we will start that right away this coming fall,” Beaumont wrote.

“We recognize that students in their last two years of elementary school may very much wish to finish off at their existing school before heading off to secondary school. We can accommodate that, for those two grades alone, and manage enrolment in the area. We do realize, however, that in preparation for the middle school, and until it is complete, there will be an accommodation of Grade 6 and 7 students at Lynn Fripps for a time. Should there be sufficient interest for a Grade 6/7 class, we will start that right away this coming fall.”

A more recent note to parents from director of instruction Claire Guy said that moving the two higher grades to Fripps is “the preferred option . . . until the completion of the middle school in two years. The move would reduce the student population this September by approximately 133 students and free up valuable classroom (sic).

“Honouring the sentiment of keeping families together, the school district would cover the cost of bus service for these students with pick up to and from R.C. Garnett to Lynn Fripps Elementary, allowing for older siblings to remain with younger ones before and after the school day. Another added benefit to this change is that R.C. Garnett would now be able to accommodate all students on the current wait list who reside within the school’s catchment area,” Guy said.

Meanwhile, the board of education meets on Tuesday to decide if it will sign off on a controversial plan to give up a school site in the Routley area, on 70 Avenue west of 200 Street, as part of a land swap. This would give the district another school site west of 208 Street, in the Yorkson area.

— with files from Frank Bucholtz

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