News Local

School accommodation review underway

TYLER KULA

Sun Media

There were enough chairs for 200 people at Petrolia's Hillcrest School Thursday night, but only 25 were filled as the first accommodation review committee (ARC) meeting for Petrolia area schools was held.

"I'm kind of surprised there's not a lot more people sitting here right now," said Beth Wilcocks, a Grade 2 French immersion teacher at Hillcrest.

She said she's concerned about students' well-being at the school.

Increased junior kindergarten levels at the JK to Grade 3 facility resulted in eight kindergarten classrooms this year and the addition of two portables, making three in total.

"Grade 3 is our oldest grade so for them to have to walk in and outside all the time, it's not safe really," Wilcocks said. "And it's not ideal, so something has to be done."

The ARC is weighing options on how to address student imbalance across four schools over the next five months. Hillcrest is above capacity, while Queen Elizabeth II School, LCCVI and Lambton Central Centennial School all show declining populations.

Queen Elizabeth II has Grades 4 through 8 and is where Hillcrest students attend after Grade 3. The decision was made to blend the schools in 1999 when Hillcrest was experiencing declining enrolment.

"What a difference 10 years makes," education director Gayle Stucke said.

She credited the surge in new students at Hillcrest partially with housing development near the school.

"More development attracting young families," she said.

The first ARC meeting was primarily for information and setting up ground rules. Stucke also cautioned the committee, made of parents, community and municipal representatives, to hold off any decisions until a French immersion review provides recommendations. Those are expected in January.

Hillcrest, Queen Elizabeth II and LCCVI all have French immersion.

The only recommendation put forth so far is to study the feasibility of consolidating Hillcrest and Queen Elizabeth II, presumably in a new facility on one of the existing school sites.

That was suggested by Petrolia town council in September, but nothing is set in stone yet.

"Wouldn't that be a nice, ideal world to have a new school, but I don't know if there's any hope of that," Wilcocks said.

Another repeated concern was the rollout of full day kindergarten across the province over the next five years.

The board has 17 classrooms to select for full day enrolment for next year, but Hillcrest will not be among those with classrooms chosen, Stucke said.

The next ARC meeting is on Thursday, Jan. 7 at Queen Elizabeth II at 7 p.m.