There was a lot of frustration expressed at a meeting on the closure of Grades 7-9 at Wapella Wednesday.
The Southeast Cornerstone board of education is considering permanently closing the three grades at the school.
Currently Wapella is classed as a K-9 school, but students in Grades 7-9 go to McNaughton High School in Moosomin.
The grade closure was intended to be temporary for the 2013-2014 school year, and at the time the school board agreed that “a moratorium will be put in place, effective immediately, on approval of transportation for Wapella students requesting transfer to an out-of area school.”
Parents at the meeting Wednesday said the board continues to grant many exemptions to parents, allowing them to send their children to school in Moosomin on the bus that was originally intended to take only high school students.
According to parents, providing transportation of Wapella students to Moosomin makes it difficult for other students to stay in Wapella in higher grades, as class sizes diminish.
With no students enrolled in grades 7-9, Wapella’s enrolment is below the 58 students required to avoid school review for a K-9 school.
On Jan. 19, the board of education passed a motion to consider closure of grades 7-9 at Wapella.
Wednesday’s meeting was part of the required process for school reviews.
“I’m the father of three young girls, ages seven and under,” Mark Knutson told the board Wednesday. “Two of those girls currently are attending Wapella School in Grades 3 and 1, and I have a four-year-old who will be joining kindergarten next year.
“My wife and I moved here when we found out we were pregnant with my oldest daughter eight years ago, and we moved into a very different community than the one we currently reside in. That community was in a state of decline. Over the last eight years we have seen a tremendous upswell in growth in young families in this town. We now have a very strong playschool that is feeding our school. We currently have eight four-year-olds who will be joining our kindergarten next year. We have 10 three-year-olds who will be joining our school in two years. The smallest class we have is the current one-year-old class with six children. So we have a large amount of young children.
“The number of students within the school has been increasing and the young families we have in the area shows that trend will continue, not decrease. We see a bright future in this town. We chose a small-town lifestyle. We have the ability here to watch our children walk to school. We can allow our seven-year-old to ride her bike to school. We have the ability to monitor very closely what’s happening in our school, we have the ability to take an active part in our school, be part of our children’s education, know the teachers personally, know the other students very well, know the parents of the other students personally, and that is something that is very important to us.
“I will always support freedom of choice for parents to make the choice of the education they want for their child. I know every child has different needs, different requirements and I think it’s important that parents have the ability to choose the best option for their child.
“But I also feel that option must be available for me. We have a large groundswell of young families. You see that groundswell, you see that growth, and you see that excitement within our community.”
“My daughter is in grade six this year and her mother and I hope she will be able to continue her schooling here in Wapella,” Brian Schinke told the board. “The grade six parents have all met and we would prefer unanimously that our children do remain here. Personally I don’t see any benefit in placing more students in Moosomin School which is to my understanding pretty much at maximum classroom sizes as it stands right now.
“In the smaller classes that Wapella provides, if the students need help I believe they have a better chance to have some one-on-one time with the teacher.
“The projected enrolment shows we should be able to phase in one grade per year and get our attendance numbers back up to where they should be to be a viable school again. We would all like to keep our children closer to home. It’s a safer environment, we have all chosen a small-town lifestyle. It’s what we want for ourselves, it’s what we want for our families.
“It is my understanding that the school division has put a transportation policy into place and it has basically been ignored. People have requested transfers for minimal reasons, and they have been granted. What we need is the backing of the school division, to say no, your children cannot be transported out of here. Not without a damn good reason. The only way our school can survive is if you folks stand up for it.”
“The numbers that you’ve shown are a little bit skewed, in my opinion, because they’re not reflecting what the numbers would have been had you said no to these children who have now transferred to McNaughton School. This school can be a decent small town school. You just need to give it a chance to shine.”
“I currently have a daughter attending Wapella School in grade one, and two more younger children I fully intend to have enrolled in this school when they get older as well,” Sandy Hintz told the board. I’m quite concerned about how permanently becoming a K-6 school will affect our community. I believe it will make it more difficult to attract people to move here if this happens. I have had people personally tell me why would I move there if my kids are going to be going to another school right away? It just doesn’t make sense. This would cause a decrease in house values as well as affect the businesses that we have. If people have to go to Moosomin to attend their children’s school functions, chances are they will do the rest of their business there as well, and we’re already seeing that, and we can’t afford to have it get worse.
“I have been told by our division representative Carol Flynn that to keep our school viable we need to attract people to the community to get our enrolment numbers up, as well as encourage everyone to stay. Anyone can see that we have grown more in the last five years than we have in 20 years, and with neighboring Moosomin and Rocanville two of the places that are very popular with the economic activity around, we’re starting to see younger families look this way because of the more affordable housing compared to those other towns. I think we have done our part very well, but unfortunately every time we gain more kids, and hope to build our school back up, the board allows more kids to get on the bus, parked 20 feet away from the Wapella School doors, that was originally intended only for students to attend Moosomin for grades that were not offered in Wapella. Now basically it’s a free-for-all for anyone who wants to go.
“The constant wondering of how many parents will send their kids to Moosomin because it’s just so easy to do so causes us to lose enrolment numbers which then leads to less teachers, which then leads to triple and quad grades which leads to frustrated teachers, overwhelmed kids, and quite frankly pissed off parents. In my mind, that’s the definition of major educational instability. Yet no one seems to care. Kids are treated as numbers, and we’re always told that it’s the budget and we’re only allowed so much money, so I assume we’d call this a business. So why isn’t anyone concerned that the business is failing?
“We have lots of people who care about our community and our school and we support it 100 per cent so I’m asking, who is the board going to support? The people who want to be here and chose to be here for a reason, or the negative people who don’t want to be here and won’t support it. I have no problem with anyone attending their school of choice, but if they feel that strongly they want to be somewhere else, maybe they should arrange their own transportation and take them right to the school or the division line. But to offer them the service to walk by our doors and get a free ride to another school is very inefficient management and is not fair at all to the parents of kids who want to be here.
“If the board cares and wants to see our school succeed they should be stopping transportation immediately for kids who have grades offered here in Wapella School.”
One mother in the audience said she drives her child from Moosomin to Wapella for playschool, and said she would prefer them to attend Wapella School for the smaller class sizes.
She asked if the school division would provide transportation for her child from Moosomin to Wapella, as it provides transportation for several students from Wapella to Moosomin.
She was told that would not be permitted.
The school division projects that if students stayed in Wapella, enrolments would not exceed 60 students, meaning four full-time equivalent teachers and the need for triple combined grades.
The school division could not provide numbers late last week on how many students from the Wapella attendance area are attending school in Moosomin.
“I think it went well, I think there were important facts exchanged by both sides, and I think that’s the most important thing,” Mark Knutson said following the meeting. “I feel I was being listened to. The actions of the board will show whether they heard us.”
Sandy Hintz said following the meeting that he is optimistic that the parents’ presentations made an impact on the board.
“I think the board is still confused about the transportation,” Sandy Hintz said after the meeting. “We want the transportation to stop for grades that are offered here. If parents want to go regardless, they can drive.”
He said the community will keep trying to convince the board to keep Wapella as a K-9 school.
“We’re going to win,” he said. “We’re going to keep pushing. Once we get the numbers on kids who are going to Moosomin, we’re going to talk to the board again. ”