Public input sought on GEMS school proposal 

Meetings in Pemberton, Whistler this week

Residents will soon have their say about the proposed development of a private school in Pemberton when public meetings are held in Pemberton and Whistler this week.

The Pemberton meeting will take place Wednesday, July 23 at 7 p.m. at the new community centre. The Whistler meeting will take place July 24 at 7 p.m., in the Westin hotel. Both meetings will offer information about GEMS Education, the Dubai-based company that hopes to the build the school, as well as the proposed “Independent Day and Boarding School” to be located in Pemberton.

Plans to build the school were announced in 2007. The proposed site is Ravens Crest, outside the boundaries of the VOP.

The site is a rock bluff, according to project proponent Cam McIvor, but developers have nonetheless submitted a “non-farm use” application to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), which oversees the use of land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), where farming is a priority use.

They have also submitted an application for rezoning to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

“The school’s proposed primarily on unimprovable, non-arable land, very hard soil that can never be improved,” McIvor said. “We are seeking a non-farm use application so that it will remain agricultural and it will be under the jurisdiction of the ALC when it comes to permits and uses on the land.”

GEMS, which stands for Global Management Education Systems and has operated for 48 years, is headed by Sunny Varkey, an India-born businessman who now operates the company out of Dubai.

Varkey sees education as a business. His schools offer K-12 education at three levels of affordability: budget, mid-market and premium. School fees at English schools have ranged anywhere from £5,000 a year to £12,000 (the equivalent of over $24,000).

The schools themselves can be found throughout the world — there are more than 30 schools in the Middle East, in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Libya, while 11 are operating in England. The Pemberton school would be the first for GEMS in North America.

The education itself is largely traditional, with teachers trained in several curriculums including the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, the American Curriculum and the Ontario (Canada) Curriculum. The academic program stresses four values at all GEMS schools: world citizenship; universal values; leadership qualities; and forward thinking.

Academic results are “consistently high,” according to the GEMS website, with English GEMS schools ranking nearly 40 points above the UK national average. The website also says that students have gone on to such institutions as the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and Columbia University.

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