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New West school district eyes future of programs of choice

Parents and school communities will be consulted on French immersion and Montessori programs. Here's what lies ahead.
Skwo:wech Elementary School is one of two sites offering Montessori programs of choice for kindergarten to Grade 5. The New Westminster school district is now reviewing the future of all its programs of choice, including French immersion and Home Learners.

Programs of choice in New Westminster schools will remain where they are for at least the 2023/24 school year.

That’s the assurance from School District 40 as it embarks on a review of programs of choice, encompassing its French immersion, Montessori and Home Learners programs.

The review is designed to identify “strengths, gaps and future opportunities” in the programs, as associate superintendent Maryam Naser told trustees at their Nov. 8 operations committee meeting.

The programs have come under the microscope as the district struggles with a space crisis caused by small school sites and fast-growing enrolment. The problem is most acute at École Qayqayt Elementary School, one of three early French immersion sites in the district and the most overcrowded of its elementary schools.

But Naser said the review of programs of choice isn’t primarily about capacity; it’s focusing on educational aspects of the three programs — including how they align with curriculum, how they align with district values and strategic plans, how they’re meeting student interests and needs, and how viable they are into the future.

As it stands now, the district has three levels of French immersion: early French immersion, staring in kindergarten or Grade 1, offered at Herbert Spencer, Qayqayt and Lord Tweedsmuir elementary schools; late French immersion, offered at Glenbrook Middle School; and high school level, at New Westminster Secondary School.

It also offers Montessori programs at the elementary level only, at Skwo:wech and Connaught Heights elementary schools.

The Home Learners Program, meanwhile, is based out of the old Hume Park Elementary School site on Fader Street.

If the review finds any need to move those programs, Naser said, it wouldn’t happen until the 2024/25 school year at the earliest — since school registration is already underway for the 2023/24 school year.

Outside consultant will lead SD40 programs of choice review

Naser noted the review will include both data collection and public consultation, led by an outside consultant and spearheaded by a working group that will include district staff, principals from program-of-choice schools and a French immersion facilitator.

On the data front, she said the district will look at such areas as student outcomes and graduation rates, administrative procedures, waitlists, inclusive practices, and staff recruitment and retention.

As far as public consultation goes, the district plans to use both surveys and focus groups to find out what’s working well in the programs, what obstacles and challenges they’re facing, and where and how the district can improve.

Online surveys and focus groups are planned for January and February, with a draft report coming back to the board for its April 11 education committee meeting.

A finalized timeline and full consultation plan will be presented at the Nov. 22 school board meeting.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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