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What lies ahead for New Westminster schools' programs of choice?

Enrolment is growing faster than schools are being built — and that has School District 40 reviewing its use of space.
Qayqayt Elementary School
École Qayqayt Elementary School is overcrowded — but how can the school district deal with the space crunch while it awaits a new elementary school? That's what a capacity review is looking at right now.

Programs of choice could be on the move in the future as the New Westminster school district works to find space for all its students.

The district is planning for a new elementary school on the Fraser River Middle School site, at Simcoe Park.  The catch? That plan is still at the concept stage and funding has not yet been announced by the province, meaning it’s at least five years before the school will be completed.

In the meantime, School District 40 has to figure out where to put all the students who are coming in to the rapidly growing district, where enrolment is expected to grow from 6,521 students in 2021 to 7,261 in 2025.

The district is already looking at introducing a lottery system for kindergarten registration at École Qayqayt Elementary School, downtown; that will take effect for the 2023/24 school year.

School district staff are also working on other potential solutions to the space crunch.

One of the principles guiding their work is the acknowledgement that programs of choice, community partnerships (including infant-toddler child care) and “non-instructional uses of space” will be relocated, when necessary, to schools where space permits.

Which New Westminster schools have programs of choice?

Right now, the district has two programs of choice in its elementary schools: Montessori, offered at Skwo:wech and Connaught Heights elementary schools; and early French immersion, at Herbert Spencer, Qayqayt and Lord Tweedsmuir elementary  schools. There’s also late French immersion at École Glenbrook Middle School. Registration for those programs is on a lottery system.

School district space is also currently being used for two preschool-age daycare programs operated by the Lower Mainland Purpose Society: Ready Set Grow, for infants to five-year-olds, at Fraser River Middle School; and Qayqayt Child Care, for ages 18 months to five years.

What — if anything — the ongoing capacity review by staff will mean for all of those programs has yet to be determined.

The board is expecting an update in November.

“We want to do this strategically, thoughtfully,” superintendent Karim Hachlaf said at the Sept. 27 board meeting. “This is not about just putting portables at any site and calling it a strategy. It’s not.”

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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