Vanessa Morrow (left) and Stephanie Melnyk listen in disappointment as the Revelstoke Board of Education hears superintendent Mike Hooker's report on early French immersion.

Update: French immersion deemed unfeasible by Revelstoke school district

French immersion is not feasible in Revelstoke, according to report by school district superintendent Mike Hooker.

Note: This article has been updated following a meeting of the Revelstoke Board of Education on Wednesday, Mar. 27.

For the second time in five years, a push for early French immersion in the Revelstoke school district has died at the school board table.

At a meeting of the Revelstoke Board of Education on Wednesday, Mar. 27, the board supported a recommendation by superintendent Mike Hooker that the implementation of early French immersion was not feasible in the district.

“Our priorities remain focused on students through successful early identification and intervention programs, high levels of individualized student services, and a breadth of program choices at the secondary level,” he wrote in his report. “Our small system meets and exceeds expectations for student success. This achievement has required that we be thoughtful in our resource allocation and priority setting activities to ensure we protect the strength and quality of our programs.

“Within the context of our small total population, the implementation of an Early French Immersion program is not feasible,” Hooker concluded.

His recommendation was supported by the board. There was no vote on the matter.

“The report doesn’t support the feasibility of early French immersion and the district is just too small,” said trustee Jeff Nicholson, who was serving as chair in the absence of Alan Chell. “However, the board is interested in all options to enhance French instruction and I think the meeting on April 4 to which all trustees have been invited could be a start to discussions of other options.”

The meeting he referred to is one organized by the Revelstoke chapter of Canadian Parents for French.  The group formed earlier this month as a way to get broader support for their push for early French immersion in the district. The parents produced their own report on the feasibility of the French immersion and are holding an open house to discuss the issue at the community centre on Thursday, Apr. 4, from 7-9 p.m.

The report produced by the parents comes to a different conclusion than Hooker’s, and presents different numbers.

According to Hooker’s report, French immersion would start with a cohort of 17 kindergarten students in 2013 and those numbers, based on provincial attrition rates, would slowly dwindle until there is only about 10 students in grade seven and five by the time they reach grade 12. 16 children are committed for 2014 and only 11 for 2015.

His report was produced in light of the district’s declining student numbers; enrollment is expected to decline by up to six per cent in the next school year and the number of children registered to start kindergarten this fall is only 59 – much lower than the 72 expected.

The parents’ report says there are 19 committed children for kindergarten starting this fall and another 18 committed for grade one. There are 22 children committed for kindergarten in both 2014 and 2015, according to the numbers they have collected.

It also considers a far gentler attrition rate, with 16 students remaining in the program by grade 7.

The difference in numbers has been a contentious issue between the parents and the school district. Hooker has said he is only counting parents who have contacted him directly, while the parents believe some children are being missed.

The school district’s numbers are based on an annual decline in enrolment of three per cent and five per cent attrition every year from grades K-6, 10 per cent for grades 7-8, and 12 per cent for grades 9-12.

The CPF report recommends the school district pursue French immersion from kindergarten to grade seven and then have students take a test for their Diplome d’etudes en langue francaise (Diploma in French Studies, or DELF) to prove their proficiency in French upon graduating high school.

The CPF report surveyed eight small B.C. communities with early French immersion programs.

Hooker’s report uses Golden, B.C. as a comparison and notes that Golden has begun phasing out its French immersion program as it was considered no longer feasible with a cohort of 22 students.

The parents, who have been led by Stephanie Melnyk and Vanessa Morrow, walked out of the meeting visibly disappointed after the board finished its discussion. Melnyk, who has been acting as the group’s spokesperson, declined immediate comment on the board’s decision. However, on Tuesday she told the Times Review she was disappointed by Hooker’s report.

Several trustees said they would attend the open house on April 4 and said the district should look at ways to improve French education in Revelstoke.

“What’s quite obvious is there’s still a desire in Revelstoke to improve French language instruction,” said trustee Mauro Morrone. “Being that according to this report early immersion is not feasible, I think we have to find other ways to improve French language instruction in our district.”

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