Grade 9 programming at three rural schools near Swift Current will be discontinued at the end of the current school year due to a preference among students to attend high school in the city.
The Chinook Board of Education accepted the recommendations of the Success, Waldeck and Wymark school community councils (SCCs) at a special meeting on April 25 to discontinue Grade 9 effective June 30 and the board instructed administration to start preparation for the transition move of students.
The recommendation by each SCC came after the completion of a consultation process for their school community about the future of Grade 9 programming at the school.
Director of Education Mark Benesh told the Prairie Post on April 27 there has been a definite trend for students at these schools to already go to Swift Current Comprehensive High School (SCCHS) in their Grade 9 year.
“What happened the last few years, the majority of students from Wymark, Waldeck and Success have chosen to come to the Comp for their Grade 9,” he said. “It increased until the last couple of years all the students from Waldeck and Wymark came in. The schools themselves were noting that the students were coming in and there were conversations around just having some kind of consultation to see where they should go, because families and students were choosing to come in, and they weren’t having many students left over for their Grade 9 program.”
Official enrolment numbers for the current school year, based on enrolment on Sept. 30, indicate two students decided to remain at Success School for their Grade 9 year and one student enrolled at SCCHS. In the previous school year only one Grade 9 student stayed at the school in Success and three went to the SCCHS.
The SCCs at the three schools therefore implemented a consultative process to evaluate the situation before making a decision on Grade 9 programming.
“They asked us to come in to answer some questions on some data and what’s happening,” he said about the role of the Chinook School Division during the process. “Then also on what the process would look like. Each of the SCC’s facilitated community meetings, which listened to all the people’s viewpoints of Grade 9 in their schools. … I felt the SCC’s did an excellent job in allowing people just to understand the circumstance and talk it through and give their viewpoints on it.”
He noted the recommendation by each SCC to the Chinook Board of Education was a result of the consultative process. The role of the school division was only to provide information and guidance about the process, which was carried out in accordance with provincial school division administration regulations for grade discontinuance.
“The school division never took a position on whether the students should be staying in their communities or coming into the Comp,” he said. “We were there to facilitate and understand what the process would be, if they look at this option. We were there to provide data and answer questions from their community so that they would have all the information in making decisions, but at no point was the board directing them or encouraging them to end their Grade 9 programs.”
According to Benesh there will be around 32 students from the Success, Waldeck and Wymark areas coming to the SCCHS for the 2022-23 school year.
“The Comp was built for 1,500 students and it is presently projecting around the low 900s for next year,” he said. “So they have the capacity to easily absorb 30 new students, and that happens all the time. Last year about that number came anyway without the Comp really knowing they were coming, because people made late decisions on that and then often through hockey season the Comp is adding a variety of students, depending on if they move in to play hockey as well. So the Comp can absorb and support a number like that moving forward.”
The existing bus transport for students coming from those areas to Swift Current will be used for Grade 9 students coming to the SCCHS in the next school year.
“At this point we believe that all the students will be accommodated through the normal bus routes,” he said. “It could change, but we’re not aware at this time that any additional routes would be needed. Many students have older brothers and sisters or other people from their area already coming for Grade 10, 11 and 12. And so that was already happening in that process. The reality is it’s just one year earlier in that process.”
Notification letters have already been sent out to families in the catchment area for the three schools to inform them about the decision of the Chinook Board of Education to accept the recommendation of each SCC. The rest of the transition process will include contact with students who are set to come to the SCCHS in 2022-23 from these schools to start their Grade 9 year to provide information about programming and opportunities.
“The transition pieces are more about helping the families and the schools to be ready for the circumstance and then the other pieces are we just have to notify those communities,” he said. “So we have to post in schools and in communities the change that happens because of the motion.”
Benesh felt this change and the clear decision to discontinue Grade 9 programming at the three locations will help to provide families and schools with the necessary clarity.
“I think it just helps in transition planning,” he said. “It allows for the Swift Current Comp to know that these students are coming. It allows being prepared and it allows those schools to celebrate a grad in Grade 8, because I think they were struggling being able to do it in Grade 9 when the majority of students would be leaving. So what it does is just helps things being organized and ready and proper transitions are just in place to support all those students who would be coming.”