Brandon School Division’s skyrocketing student enrolment was the topic of a public consultation at École New Era School Monday night.
More than 120 people came out to the first of three public meetings to discuss how the division can address the population challenges, both short- and long-term.
Barb Breemersch has two children currently enrolled in the French immersion program at New Era.
"I’m new to the division, I’ve only been here a year and there’s big changes happening with French immersion, so that’s a real concern to me," Breemersch said. "My kids, being in the younger grades, we want to keep them together with their classmates at least till Grade 4, because studies show that they do so much better."
Enrolment in the division is currently at 8,232. That’s an additional 309 students, compared to September 2011. The division projects that increasing trend to only continue.
By 2016, an estimated 13 additional classrooms will be required for grades four to eight, while an additional 12 high school classrooms will be needed by 2017.
In kindergarten to Grade 3, a projected 66 additional classrooms will be needed by 2016, due to both population growth as well as meeting a provincial mandate to cap K-3 classes at 20 students.
Meadows School and École New Era School are the two facing the most pressure. Meadows currently has 448 students, while New Era has 550.
"We don’t think we have a lot of time to wait," board chair Mark Sefton said.
The division has already exceeded the projected numbers for 2014-15, and as Sefton has previously stated, "The immediate need for action and public consultation is based on the reality that École New Era School has reached its student capacity. The board of trustees wishes to make it very clear that doing nothing is not an option."
The division would like to see a new school up and running by the fall of 2015 and has made the request to the province.
Those in attendance were asked to discuss several options, including moving all French immersion students from New Era to Earl Oxford in the 2013-14 school year; bus the English-speaking New Era students living north of the CP Rail tracks to Kirkcaldy Heights; incorporate grades seven and eight French immersion at École Secondaire Neelin High School; or add classroom portables to schools that require more capacity.
Marcia Wiebe has a daughter in Grade 3 French immersion at New Era and is concerned about how these options may disrupt learning.
"I believe we are at a crunch with all of the population issues in our schools," Wiebe said. "Every school is going to be affected in one way, shape or another and I just know we need to work together to solve the problem, solve the over-crowding."
Wiebe said she will choose the least disruptive option for her child, however it’s unclear what that will be.
"I don’t care whose children they are, I don’t care what course they’re in, every time we disrupt a child’s school community, we disrupt their learning and that concerns me," she said. "I know we don’t have a lot of choices when the schools are so full, but we need to do it in the least disruptive way for every child in our community."
Parents and teachers brainstormed in groups and presented feedback, questions and ideas to the crowd. Some other suggestions included moving the English as an Additional Language reception centre out of New Era, spending money on permanent additions to schools, moving New Era’s grade sevens and eights to King George.
For a detailed look at the many options, visit the division’s website at brandonsd.mb.ca.
The next public consultation will take place Wednesday at Riverheights School at 7 p.m., Another meeting will be held at King George School on Sept. 26 at 7 p.m.