A group of about 30 or 40 parents and children from Surrey Traditional School (STS) carried signs reading “No split classes” during a protest outside the Surrey Surrey District main office Thursday morning, upset that conditions that they were promised at the specialized school have been broken.
This year, the school has two classes – a Grade 1/2 and Grade 6/7 – where kids from the two grades learn together in the same classroom for the year.
“I understand that this happens in our school system – it’s a regular occurrence, I get that,” said Stephanie Campbell, mom of a daughter in Grade 1. “But in our school, we are a choice school in the public school system and the choices were clearly stated … that there are no split classes, blended classes, anything of that sort, and that all class sizes were limited to 20 students per class.”
In fact, the school’s website does state “there are no split, blended or combined divisions.” It also says primary grades would be capped at a maximum of 20 students per class.
Since the paragraph was brought to the school district’s attention, a note underneath has been added.
It reads: “The above statement has been brought to our attention by parents in the current context of the development of split classes at Surrey Traditional for the 2013-14 school year. We are trying to determine the origin of the web site statement given that it is contrary to current district policy on programs of choice and our practices of staffing at all elementary schools including other Traditional schools and programs of choice.”
Campbell said the same promises were made in an “enrolment contract” signed by parents.
The district’s manager of communications Doug Strachan said it’s become apparent the previous principal told parents there would never be split classes, which is simply incorrect and against policy.
Of the 99 elementary schools in Surrey, there are only a handful that do not have combined-grade classes.
It’s often a situation driven by efficient use of space and staff, said Strachan.
Overall, enrolment has declined at Surrey Traditional in recent years and this year’s class shift has caused the loss of two teachers at the school – something that’s also irked parents.
Strachan said the school was actually overstaffed, and even now, all but two divisions are well below the class size limits. The newly combined Grade 6/7 class has just 17 students.
“The effect of keeping those two teachers there means that all the other schools in the district would be subsidizing, to the tune of about $200,000, to reduce their class sizes even further than any other schools have,” Strachan said. “It’s an inefficient and ineffective use of resources. Other schools require more teachers because of their growth.”
In addition, he said, combined-grade classes have been proven advantageous, both academically and socially.
District staff met with parents during a three-hour meeting Sept. 10 to provide information and answer questions.
But Campbell said parents should have been told of the changes much sooner so they could make alternate plans if they wanted. She said she would have taken her daughter to a different school had she known of the disruption.
For her, it’s not so much about the split-grade classes anymore, but that someone be held responsible for the mistake.
“This was a contract, these are the promises made and the reasons why we go out of our way to send our kids there instead of having them in our local, convenient area catchment school.”
Parents have a meeting with district Supt. Mike McKay tonight (Sept. 12).