SD48 recommends maintaining existing French Immersion program 

Classroom space remains a concern, with portables likely for Whistler

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A review of French Immersion offerings in the Sea to Sky School District (SD48) is complete, with a recommendation that the district maintains the existing French Immersion program.

The recommendation will be presented at the Feb. 14 SD48 board meeting.

As part of the review, SD48 collected feedback from parents throughout the district using surveys and focus groups.

In total, 564 people responded to the surveys (213 parents with kids in Kindergarten to Grade 4, 294 from Grade 5 to 12 and 57 staff members).

"It's kind of mixed feelings," said superintendent Lisa McCullough of the response.

"The program is really great and people love the program, and it's very robust. On the other side, there are some concerns about the divisive nature of it, in terms of what it creates in a school, some classes that are more complex than others, etc."

Unsurprisingly, the review also pointed to district-wide challenges with staffing and space.

"I can't see recommending that the board get rid of the program — it's robust and the families appreciate it, and it speaks to voice and choice for our families and our students," McCullough said. "I can't see a clean way of minimizing (or capping it)... because then you're getting into lotteries of who gets in and who doesn't get in."

A recommendation of growing the program — despite rising demand in the corridor — won't work either, because staffing and space concerns are already a pressing issue, McCullough said.

"By recommending that we maintain it, it actually implies continued growth for awhile, as the younger cohort comes up and makes the intermediate and secondary programs bigger," she said.

"So our ability to staff that will be very, very challenging, but I'm recommending we leave it alone and we do our best to do just that, which is staff it to the fullest extent that we can, and I'm hoping the board will deal with the part where people feel it is divisive."

The board is also working on a comprehensive review of facilities and enrolment, which will lead to some public engagement for parents in the coming months to gauge what they'd like to see happen.

"Whistler is already on our radar as the most urgent situation in that Myrtle Philip is currently full in terms of classroom space, but they're also full in terms of seats in the classrooms, and Whistler Secondary is also very full," McCullough said, adding that Squamish is not that far behind.

Though the review is still in progress, McCullough said she anticipates Whistler will see some portable classrooms in place for the start of the next school year.

As for French Immersion, the board will carry on as usual and increase efforts around recruitment and retention.

"Which we're currently doing regardless, but (if the recommendation is approved at the Feb. 14 meeting), it would give us permission to continue those efforts... (and) I hope that the board will think about looking at what French Immersion is about, and how might they say we could have some flexibility to decrease the divisive nature," McCullough said.

Once the comprehensive review of facilities and enrolment is completed, the board may revisit the French Immersion review.

"I would say we'll be monitoring our enrolment, in general, really closely," McCullough said.

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