Central School. File photo

No decision yet, but trustees support Wildflower, REACH at Central School

School District 8 trustees made it clear they side with parents

It appears unlikely Wildflower’s middle school grades or the REACH Alternative program will be moved from Central School.

School District 8 trustees met for three hours Friday to hear arguments for and against the relocation of the programs meant to free up space in the building.

Although they did not make any final decisions, several trustees sided with parents, current and former students and even one REACH instructor, and said they would vote against any relocation.

Central School, which also houses the district’s offices, has capacity for 161 students. Wildflower currently has 154 students, but is projected to increase to 183. REACH, which is attended by students who struggle in conventional classrooms, currently has 13 students.

The district has proposed moving Wildflower School’s Grades 7 to 9 classes to Trafalgar Middle School. It also said those students can stay put if REACH moves, or if enrolment is capped. A renovation to convert a stage area to a classroom is also being considered.

REACH, meanwhile, is either to remain at Central or relocate to L.V. Rogers.

READ: SD8 considers moving Wildflower classes, REACH program out of Central School

Although there was no vote, trustees Becky Coons, Sheri Walsh, Al Gribbin, Sharon Nazaroff, Cody Beebe and Bill Maslechko each voiced their support for keeping the status quo.

Coons, a former Wildflower parent, made an impassioned argument for keeping the program kindergarten to Grade 9 in the same building. The multi-age program, she said, relied on continuity as well as a mix of young and older students to be successful.

That speech made an impression, as did Wildflower parents who on Friday and at two previous meetings lobbied in favour of keeping their children together.

“When do we ever get 130 people at any open meeting?” said Beebe. “When do we get the passion for education that these parents are showing?”

That sentiment was echoed by Nazaroff, who said Wildflower parents should be honoured for their commitment to the program since it was added to the district in 2003.

“Wildflower is a jewel,” said Nazaroff. “It is an example across the province of making an alternate program work.”

There also appeared to be little taste for moving REACH, especially after testimony from instructor Travis Sherstobitoff and a former student who both said moving current students to Nelson’s high school would set them up to fail.

“I can’t in any way support REACH moving to the LVR campus just from everything I have heard from the students, from the professionals who work for them, from former students,” said Walsh.

A final vote was delayed to the board’s April 6 meeting. The result may now be predictable, but a minority of trustees still spoke in favour of changes.

Dawn Lang said she supported staff recommendations that the programs be moved, which she added would allow them to grow in enrolment as well as offer access to amenities at LVR and Trafalgar.

Neither chair Lenora Trenaman nor Susan Chew committed to a choice.

Trenaman said she remained on the fence but chastised the board for ignoring the staff recommendation to move either one or both programs. “I don’t know we’re making a good decision by not doing anything,” she said.

Chew meanwhile wondered if voting for the status quo meant the district was kicking the proverbial ball down the road.

“I’m very concerned we say status quo and we’re back here in 18 months.”

Secretary-treasurer Michael McLelland said leaving Wildflower and REACH at Central would likely mean capped enrolment.

The principals of Wildflower, Trafalgar and LVR also spoke at the meeting.

Wildflower principal Sacha Kalabis said his school is an entry point into the district for approximately 20 per cent of middle year students who come from independent schools such as Nelson Waldorf School. “Whichever options our district chooses I know the future of our students is bright,” he said.

Paul Luck of Trafalgar said he believed Wildflower can continue to grow at his school, which is offering adjacent classrooms on the first floor as well as a separate entrance. “I really want my teachers to see the amazing things your teachers do,” he said.

LVR principal Ben Eaton, meanwhile, said REACH would be located in a separate building on the high school’s campus. Its students would have access to LVR’s wellness centre, kitchen and spaces Central doesn’t provide such as a weight room and shop programs.

Advocates for keeping REACH at Central have previously argued the high school is not a positive environment for its students, which Eaton conceded may be the case.

“I do recognize in many cases these are some of our most vulnerable and complex students,” he said.

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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