Montessori, Early French Immersion programs to be relocated

New Westminster parents of preschoolers and gradeschoolers who hoped to enroll their kids in programs of choice may need to adjust their plans, as School District 40 prepares to shuffle the locations of so-called ‘Programs of Choice’ – Early French Immersion and Montessori. It all comes into play in the fall of 2012, or when the new elementary and middle schools are ready.

Despite vocal community support for retaining ‘triple track’ status, Tweedsmuir will lose its Montessori program. The the program will be discontinued one grade at a time or whenever class sizes shrink below 18 students. Montessori will be moved to Connaught Heights, but will not begin there until fall 2012 or when the middle school is opened.

I was concerned this might mean that some would-be Montessori students might miss out, but SD 40 Director of Instruction Sandra Pace told me via email, “Nothing is being discontinued in 2010. A Kindergarten will be started at Connaught the year before grade 1 is discontinued at Tweedsmuir, so that the transition can be smooth. Parents will all be informed of the move ahead of time, so there will be no surprises. There will not be a cohort that has no Montessori program in the West End.”

The other school losing a program of choice is John Robson Elementary, which will see its Early French Immersion program move to Lord Kelvin in fall 2012.

All Early French Immersion grades will move at once in 2012, or when the new schools are built.

McBride Elementary will keep its Montessori program, but catchment boundaries will change when the new John Robson Elementary is opened. McBride students living in Victoria Hill will then move over to John Robson. The new boundary between John Robson and Kelvin will be Queens Ave instead of 4th Ave.

A major change for New Westminster will be the establishment of catchments specific to programs of choice. Beginning in 2012, there will be three equitably distributed catchments for Early French Immersion and two for Montessori. There will remain only one district-wide catchment for Late French Immersion. Under the new system, admission to programs of choice will give priority to students living closest to the schools as well as by application dates.

Said Pace, “Catchments will be devised, and all parents who have applied will be placed into those catchments based on their addresses on file, keeping their priority order. In other words, if you’ve applied for three schools for EFI, you’ll be considered ‘in-catchment’ for the one in whose catchment you’re living, and ‘in-district’ for the two in whose catchments you don’t live. Out-of-district residents come last in all catchments. When offering placements, we will first go down the in-catchment list, and when that’s exhausted, we’ll go to the ‘in-district’ list, and when that’s exhausted, we go to the ‘out-of-district’ list. This is exactly the same as the regular program is now, except that lists are not kept in priority order, because all students registering by the first Friday in June are accepted. The Montessori list at Tweedsmuir will be the Connaught list, and the EFI Robson list will be the Kelvin EFI list as of the fall of 2012. Parents won’t need to do anything for that. Of course, they may not accept an offered placement because the program has moved, but that will be at their choice. It will be offered none the less.”

The recommendations also included catchment boundaries for the new middle school, which will begin at 7th St. and continue west to the edge of the city (excluding Queensborough), and also include all students below Royal Ave. EFI students from Robson & Kelvin will continue at the new school. Late French Immersion will continue to be offered only at Glenbrook Middle School. Timing of the new middle school’s opening also affects most of these program and boundary changes.

The review of locations of choice began last year, with the intention to balance the student load. While schools like Tweedsmuir are bursting with students, others like Connaught have space for more students. It’s hoped that relocating programs of choice will draw new students to underutilized schools. While feedback from parents indicated that most did not want programs of choice moved, in the end the Board of Education voted to accept all the recommendations put forth by Pace in her review of Programs of Choice in the district.

Said Pace, “It’s difficult to allocate programs to existing facilities and student numbers in catchments while still meeting everyone’s desires. We feel that these program allocations will assist the district to balance its offerings over the long term and provide for the space needed for our programs of choice. We look forward to continuing our excellent working relationships with the parents and organizations supporting programs of choice.”

Montessori, French Immersion consultation on ‘options’ meaningless

The school district is currently gathering feedback on a series of “options” for where to locate New Westminster’s programs of choice (French Immersion and Montessori).  The deadline is tomorrow, and I haven’t yet written in my opinion because I’m not sure what good it will do.

The author of the report, Sandra Pace, has been very careful to say “I’m not making recommendations, I’m just presenting options.” Yet based on the information I saw at the Tweedsmuir presentation of Pace’s report, there are good reasons why this review is going on. It is dishonest for the district to ask parents to comment on all these “options” as though they are all equally viable.

The locations of the programs of choice impacts the district’s efforts to balance enrolment at our schools. For example, Tweedsmuir, a “triple-track” school with Montessori, French Immersion and a “regular’ program, is overpopulated and surrounded by portables. Down the road and still in the West End, Connaught is practically empty. An easy way to solve the discrepancy on paper is to move one of the programs of choice from Tweeds (almost certainly Montessori) over to Connaught, and presto! Connaught gets a boost in enrolment and some of the pressure is off Tweeds.

But talk to the Montessori and EFI parents at Tweeds, not to mention those of us with preschool kids who chose this neighbourhood in part because Tweedsmuir is a triple track school, and it’s clear many if not most Tweedsmuir parents would not support moving Montessori to Connaught. The same follows for other schools in the district. No one wants to see kids uprooted from their school.

The district admits that most parents say they don’t want to see programs moved from their current schools. Does the district really think that parents would choose fewer options for their kids at the schools they attend? And if they know what we’re going to say, why are they asking us to bother sending in feedback forms?

Just be honest about it: if we need to move programs of choice, so provide us with the recommended options and tell us why. If we don’t need to, then why raise it at all?

It’s a waste of time to ask parents to reiterate what you already know: we don’t want the schools who have these programs now to lose them. If you think they should be moved, make the case for it. Give us real choices, not fairytale “options” that you can’t really consider given the budget and space constraints in this district. For the feedback to be meaningful, parents must be aware of the district-wide repercussions of these decisions.

Perhaps the idea is that this public consultation will offer some measure of transparency in the process of moving programs of choice, but I have trouble seeing how this feedback process will do anything other than inform trustees which schools’ parents will protest most loudly about these changes. And that’s a cowardly way to make hard choices.

Montessori and French Immersion registration insanity begins at birth

Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary in New Westminster currently offers both Montessori and Early French Immersion. Photo: sillygwailo (via Flickr)
Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary in New Westminster currently offers both Montessori and Early French Immersion. Photo: sillygwailo (via Flickr)

When it comes to registration in “programs of choice” in the public school system, there must be a better way. In New West, we don’t have parents camping out on the sidewalk overnight to be the first in line to register their kids (thank goodness) but our method is still crazy. When Wesley was first born, someone suggested I trot my newborn down to the School Board offices and get him registered for Montessori or French Immersion, if that’s what I wanted for him. I thought they were joking.

On the website, it’s easy to mistake registration processes for this school year for the overall registration in programs of choice. I saw a date to register kids the year they were to enter kindergarten, and I thought that was it, I’ll look it up again in 2013. Easy peasy.

I got it wrong. In New West, we continue the bizarre “first come, first served” tradition of registering children in Montessori and French Immersion, but instead of having the insanity begin the year before a child enters school, it begins at birth. As soon as you have your child’s birth certificate, you can sign them up for the school and program you hope  they will enjoy six years later. You can even sign them up for late French Immersion, 12 years in the future.

Here I was, thinking I was overthinking things by planning out Wesley’s schooling four years in advance. It turns out that in New West’s school system, I’m a big ol’ slacker.

To add to the fun, you may not:

  • submit the form via email or fax
  • remove the form from the office and return it later
  • mail or fax a copy of the birth certificate (you must bring the original and let the secretary copy it at the office)

The secretary carefully notes the date and exact time the form is submitted.

So do January babies have an advantage over December babies? Poor Nora (born in October) has to compete with all the babies in her cohort who were born earlier in the year (assuming other moms are looped in to the queuing process). And Wesley … well, he may be S.O.L. by now. Sorry, my son.

I assume the (very) early registration is intended to help the school district plan for future enrolment. I doubt how effective this process is for that, however. As an example, my first choice for my kids is Montessori, followed by late French Immersion. It’s what I did as a schoolgirl, and I thought it was a great sequence to follow. But if there are no Montessori spots, I’d be more than happy to put them in early French Immersion instead. There’s no way to indicate this on the form, so I had to mark down all of the above. I’ve now pre-registered for French Immersion kindergarten, grade one Montessori and late French Immersion for both kids! They almost certainly will not be using all those spots, and if I could wait until they were five or so, I could better select what would be best for them, given their temperament. Maybe by then I would feel that Wesley needs the structure of a traditional school program, or that Nora might struggle with a French Immersion curriculum.

Or maybe we’ll be living somewhere else, and all this will be moot. Many (most?) young families can’t realistically plan which school their children will attend six or 12 years from now. A typical real estate lifecycle for young families is to rent an apartment, buy a condo, then upgrade to a townhouse or house. Job opportunities and housing prices have a major impact on where those families settle when their children are school age. Parents who register their infants are engaging in wishful thinking, which may or may not translate into real places for their kids. Because even if you register years before kindergarten/grade one, the Montessori and French Immersion seats are so hot that you still might not get in.

And finally, to add to the ridiculousness of it all, the school district is right now in the process of deciding whether to move the programs of choice. It could be that my local school will no longer have either program, and the kids will be stuck with “regular” school unless we move to another catchment area (I don’t want to ferry the kids to a school across town, and chose our current house in part because the neighbourhood school offered these programs of choice). I also heard a rumour that French Immersion may be cut back to make room for all-day kindergarten in the district … who knows if that will come to pass, but it just goes to prove the point that it’s madness to try to encourage parents to put their name down when both personal and school district situations may change.

If we’re asking parents to jump through all these hoops to get their kids on the list for these programs, why not just expand the programs so that they are available to all children? The current system is elitist, favouring those families with local connections who know the score, and are settled and secure enough to plan six or more years ahead. It penalizes newcomers to the district, and those who misunderstand or are ignorant of the arcane registration rules. The reason given to me why these programs aren’t expanded is a lack of “space” – but all the kids have to go to school here, so I don’t think it’s “space.” If it’s money that’s the issue, I would rather see an education surcharge for parents to cover the extra costs of these programs than a first-come, first-serve or random lottery system that excludes kids who could otherwise benefit from these programs. Fees could be waived for families who can’t afford it, as is often the case for ‘extras’ in a public system.

Our school system should offer equal opportunity for all children in the district. The current model of meting out access to programs like French Immersion and Montessori is broken. The New Westminster school system must find a way to fairly respond to the demand for these programs. If money or other resources are a barrier for doing so, the district should work with parents and the Ministry of Education to find solutions to those problems. Above all, let’s not penalize the kids.

Likely middle school solution: convert Tweedsmuir, Kelvin, Robson or Connaught

The Newsleader’s Michal McQuillan writes a great summary of Wednesday’s meeting to brainstorm solutions to build a west side middle school. Those ideas will be narrowed down to two or three options today [Saturday].

Many of the same questions kept cropping up.

• Why doesn’t the provincial government buy or expropriate land for the school?

• What impact would it have on programs of choice?

• How could the school affect other schools?

• And why can’t the middle school be built on the former cemetery site?

After participants returned from a brief break, workshop moderator Jeff Malmgren summed up the middle school debate this way:

“We need to realize 80 per cent of the people who came here tonight had a great solution to the problem we face. Unfortunately those people don’t all agree. For the most part they all have different solutions.”


Many parents were surprised Wednesday to hear that no vacant land exists for the middle school, and there’s no plan to buy or expropriate property. The provincial government made it clear “there was no money for land acquisition,” said Jim Alkins, the school district’s director of capital projects.

This points to a likely scenario that a west side elementary school—Tweedsmuir, Kelvin, Robson or Connaught—would be converted into a middle school. The students from the former elementary would have to find a new home at one of the remaining three.

Another shock: none of the options will solve the overcrowding at schools such as Lord Tweedsmuir, which has a complex of 11 portable classrooms.

Source: First middle school workshop bears fruit |New Westminster News Leader