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Surrey School Board weighs potential special choice program relocation

The new Salish Secondary School in Surrey is under construction. Photo: City of Surrey, Sheila Reynolds
Surrey’s new Salish Secondary School construction site. Photo by Sheila Reynolds.

Reported by Reuben Dongalen Jr.

Surrey school trustees are looking at whether they should move popular special programs like French immersion because of the overcrowding of some schools.

As the district continues to discuss ways to cope with overcrowding, moving or eliminating specialized “choice” programs in schools that are significantly above capacity may be one of their quickest solutions.

Shawn Wilson, the chairperson of the Surrey school board, said it makes parents irate when they can’t send their children to a school that is within their view from their home.

“You know often what happens is, you will have people that live in a house and they can see the school, and yet they’ve got to take 25 blocks away or something to get to their school. That’s simply not fair,” Wilson said.

“Our priority is, kids that live in the catchment area get to go to the school that’s in their catchment, period,” he added.

Program moves may upset parents

But the school board risks enraging another group of parents if it starts relocating programs.

According to Karen Tan, the president of the Surrey District Parent Advisory Council, many parents are moving into areas where there are certain schools offering specific choice programs. But, if these programs are relocated, parents will now have to travel farther that may be an inconvenience to where they live or work.

“If it’s a parent that’s in a choice program and have moved close to the school to be at a certain program, it’s kind of disheartening,” she said. On the other hand, Tan said, she understands the board’s decisions.

There are only a handful of choice programs in Surrey. Aside from French immersion, they include traditional schools, Discovery, Punjabi language, Intensive Fine Arts and more.

According to Tan, the lack of choice programs in Surrey is already an issue for parents.

Relocation means longer travel time for students

Relocation now adds another concern, because these choice programs are expected to move to schools in the northwest area of the city.

This will mean significant, new travel for parents and students, because many choice programs are still located in south Surrey, where the overcrowding is. Travel will be kilometres away.

Wilson said that the district’s choice programs are taking up room for students in standard curriculum in some schools.

Parents in some rapidly developing areas that aren’t able to enrol their children into local schools have either been placed on waitlists or are enrolling further from where they live. The issue for lack of enrolment space is made worse when schools within their catchment is taken up with special programs serving students from all over the district.

He said the board’s priority is to make sure the schools are accessible to their nearby residents.

The board is expecting to decide on relocating or eliminating two choice programs this fall.

He said the board would be looking at the French immersion program at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary and the Inter-A program at Kwantlen Park Secondary, which is an integrated academic program focused on developing leadership skills, community service and field studies.

Wilson used the new secondary under construction in the Clayton North area as an example of a school that may alleviate other overcrowded schools. Relocation of special choice programs from overcrowded schools to Clayton North is one of the factors for discussion.

He said that the board would be determining how best to deal with the new high school that is expected to have 1,500 student seats.

Wilson said the board will be discussing a possible relocation of the French immersion program from Lord Tweedsmuir to the new site. Nothing will happen for another three years, however, as the construction is to be completed by 2020.

Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary has a capacity of approximately 1,400 but is accommodating around 2,100.

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