In an unusual display of solidarity, more than 20 parents – many with children in tow – showed up Wednesday’s meeting of the Revelstoke Board of Education. They were all interested in creating a new French immersion program in the school district and wanted to make their presence known, even though the issue wasn’t on the board’s agenda.
In fact, they were there because of the lack of French immersion on the agenda. While superintendent Mike Hooker did bring up the numbers, there was no discussion by the trustees. It was the second school board meeting with no discussion since a special board meeting was held on Feb. 1 where parents Stephanie Melnyk and Vanessa Morrow made the case for the program.
The lack of action since then has them and other parents frustrated.
“The numbers talk is actually beside the point tonight in my opinion because there’s other work that needs to be done and at this point it’s not being done at all,” said Melnyk following Wednesday’s meeting. “We saw it wasn’t even on the agenda tonight to look at staffing, distribution of classrooms, all these other concerns that the trustees have, they’re not even discussing.
“It’s just non-existent. It’s very frustrating.”
Melnyk and Vanessa Morrow have been leading the push to implement French immersion in Revelstoke. They presented their case for the program at the meeting on Feb. 1 and they have been meeting with Hooker since then to go over the numbers.
For the school board, the issue is the numbers. According to the information presented by Hooker yesterday, there are only 12 parents fully committed to enrolling their children in French immersion in Revelstoke for the fall of 2013, with a few maybes depending on what school the program is based at. Trustees have repeatedly said the program must be sustainable for it to move forward.
“There’s no doubt that early French immersion programs are a benefit to those students and families who choose to be involved,” said Hooker. “The challenge that we’ve dealt with, and continue to deal with as we go through this process continues to be the size of Revelstoke and its capacity to support early French Immersion.”
Melnyk said she has collected different numbers – 19 committed for kindergarten, with four maybes; and 16 committed for grade one, with six maybes. She’s been trying to figure out the reason for the discrepancy and fears that some people are getting missed by the school district.
“We had a meeting with Mike last Friday,” she said. “We said, ‘What about this family?’ He said he didn’t have that family, but then he checked his files and found the survey.”
When asked about the differences, Hooker said parents who were committed to the program needed to tell the school district, not just Melnyk. They need to be on the district’s list and not just hers.
“I’m not hard to get in touch with,” he said. He also maintained that no one has been missed. “I’ve got every survey that we’ve got electronically and paper-wise sorted and in a pile, so I have not missed anyone.”
Alan Chell, the chair of the Revelstoke Board of Education, said the school district should have a better idea of the numbers once kindergarten registration wrapped up this week. “We’re not close at this point,” he said.
However, Melnyk said some parents weren’t receiving the French Immersion survey with their registration package or being told about the program. Following the meeting, some parents said they didn’t receive the survey in November, when it was first conducted.
“I understand it’s difficult to do all that administration but it means that it’s not a robust process,” said Melnyk.
She also thinks the school board should be looking at issues like staffing and location while the numbers are being collected, rather than waiting until afterwards. However, after the meeting Hooker said the district has an implementation plan that was created in 2008, the last time French immersion was explored, and much of it could be used now.
“A great deal of the work that was done then applies again now in terms of projections but at this point we’ve said the first step is to establish that there’s an even a group,” he said.
For the parents, the frustration with the process appears to reaching a breaking point. A group of parents said they will be going around with French immersion surveys and getting parents to fill them out, and then presenting them to the district – that way they can no for sure nothing’s being held back.
“Parents need to start protesting. That’s the only thing we can do,” said Melnyk. “We’ve been playing by the rules for [two-and-a-half] years and although we have an extremely cooperative relationship with the district, starting with Anne, carrying on with Mike and the trustees, it’s not working.”