Against the wishes of many D’Arcy parents, School District 48 (SD48) has voted to revert Blackwater Creek Elementary School to a K-3 model of operation for the 2023-24 school year. The decision, which was made at the district’s March 8 board meeting, would allow kids entering Grades 4 and 5 to continue attending Blackwater Creek, as long as there are fewer than 20 youngsters in Kindergarten through Grade 3.
Based on a presentation made by assistant superintendent Paul Lorette, finances were a key factor that influenced the board’s decision.
At the time of this writing, 26 students (including four new Kindergarteners) are officially enrolled in Blackwater Creek. Unofficial information from the Blackwater Creek Parental Advisory Committee (PAC) regarding a few families who wish to send their children to the school puts potential enrollment as high as 30 for the upcoming academic calendar.
Due to SD48’s funding formula for small schools within its jurisdiction, trying to accommodate 30 students at Blackwater Creek would reportedly incur an extra annual operating cost of $70,000 to $100,000. According to Lorette’s data, this cost could only be eliminated if the school were to reach a minimum of 45 students, which the board does not consider to be realistic.
Furthermore, the Provincial Collective Agreement between the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) indicates that classes with Kindergarteners are not to exceed 20 people in size. These regulations would force SD48 to hire a second full-time teacher at Blackwater Creek to proceed with current enrollment levels.
An additional classroom space is also purportedly necessary to accommodate more than 20 students and would cost approximately $643,000.
For these reasons, trustees voted to adopt Lorette’s recommendation that Blackwater Creek be limited to 20 students, with priority given to K-3 pupils.
Area D trustee Celeste Bickford disagreed with her colleagues, recommending instead that SD48 honour the PAC’s wishes by keeping Blackwater Creek as a K-7 school and trying to hire another teacher as soon as possible. Her motion was defeated in a vote.
“We’re talking about a unique school in a small community that is far away from any other alternative schools,” Bickford argued. “We have to be careful in comparing [Blackwater Creek] to other schools. I do think it is important to show this community [in D’Arcy] that we value education within community … and we see the impact that it has not only on [the students’] education but on their overall health and well-being.”
District superintendent Chris Nicholson stated that the decision regarding Blackwater Creek could be revisited in the future, if new enrolment trends or currently unforeseen factors arise. However, parents aren’t holding their breaths.
“It seems to me that [SD48] is, to a certain degree, fulfilling their own prophecy,” said Blackwater Creek PAC chair Daved Moldofsky. “They’re saying that enrolment isn’t really going to go up that much, but it won’t if they undermine the longevity of the school and don’t support the possibility of growth.
“As Celeste [Bickford] was saying, you need to support the community and the community needs a school. If you don’t support the school, you’re discouraging children from going there.”
It is worth mentioning that in 2012, Blackwater Creek’s enrolment dropped to nine K-3 students, a trend that could have threatened the school’s survival if left unchecked. For this reason, the district chose to begin enrolling fourth-graders in 2013, with the occasional fifth and sixth-grader also admitted from 2018 onward.
Erin Stewart Elliott and Alison Beierlein are two other D’Arcy residents who have advocated for maintaining Blackwater Creek as a K-7 institution. They and several others must now face the practical difficulties associated with relocating their kids to Signal Hill Elementary in Pemberton.
“My family’s needs are the same even though Blackwater isn’t an option for us next year because we will continue to live in D’Arcy,” said Elliott in an email. “This is where our home, our work, our community, and our life is. Going forward, we want more of what we love about Blackwater. This means a sense of community, connection and relationships, high-quality education, and proximity to our home.”
“As a family, we’re disappointed,” added Beierlein. “Our daughter has to leave Blackwater Creek at the end of this year because she’s in Grade 6. Technically, my son would probably still have a spot there next year, but [my husband and I] want both of our kids to attend the same school, so we’ll transition him to Signal Hill in fall even though he’s only in Grade 3.”
It’s a tough pill to swallow for parents who had come away from the Feb. 8 district board meeting feeling heard and understood by trustees. At that point, D’Arcy residents were optimistic that SD48 might consider unorthodox solutions to the problem at hand, but many of the questions raised by trustees on Feb. 8 were not revisited at length during the March 8 meeting.
“Despite some of the trustees showing clear understanding and concern for our issues, they were not able to agree on a path forward. This was frustrating, because there were options which could have allowed more grades without building a new school or addition,” said Elliott.
Moldofsky isn’t too concerned about his own son, whom he describes as “super curious” and “super resilient.” Instead, he worries about other D’Arcy children who are already known to struggle in and out of the classroom. He believes that attending a new and relatively distant school, spending up to 10 hours per week on the bus, will only push these vulnerable youngsters deeper into the troubles that they face.
Furthermore, Moldofsky is disillusioned with what he views as the failure of SD48 decision-makers to practice what they preach.
“I could accept this decision a lot more if the district said: we feel [your school] is important, but we feel the money is more important,” he said. “But really, what they say is: ‘we feel the children are the most important, but we’re going to make the decision based on the money.’ They talk the talk, but they won’t walk the walk.”
“I would like to invite Rebecca Barley, the chair of the Board of Trustees and our representative, to Blackwater Creek to explain to the children what is going on and why,” Moldofsky continued. “I don’t think it should be our responsibility as parents to break this bad news that we disagree with.
“If the school board wants to make this decision, then the very least they can do is explain their reasoning to the children that are affected.”
The PAC is now organizing a Blackwater Creek reunion in May, which will be open to current students and their families as well as alumni.