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.

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.”

Briana Tomkinson

Briana Tomkinson is a Montreal-based writer and original founder of Tenth to the Fraser. She really likes to write letters by hand.

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