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Board tracking FI attrition, enrolment rates at Hillcrest

QMI Agency

This is an implementation year for operating the first single-track French immersion school at Ecole Hillcrest Public School in Petrolia, converting Ridgetown District High School into a Grades 7-12 school, and continuing the second year of a five-year, phase-in to full-day kindergarten.

So said Lambton Kent District School Board education director Jim Costello at the board's Oct. 25 meeting in Chatham.

He told trustees no communities served by the board will have to grapple with the possibility of closing a school this year. Costello's annual pupil accommodation report doesn't include recommendations to initiate accommodation review committees.

"This year we want to monitor, and we want to collect data to see if those new programs are sustainable," Costello explained. "If they're sustainable then we'll entertain the possibility of replicating them."

He noted that with the French immersion (FI) school, the board wants to track attrition rates this year, as well as new enrolment rates next year. Hillcrest is the board's only single-track FI school.

While declining enrolment is still an issue with 250 fewer full-time equivalent (FTE) students in elementary schools in 2011-12, Costello told the board full-day kindergarten is projected to add about 1,445.5 (FTE) students over the next three years.

"That's a significant enrolment boost," he said.

However, Costello told trustees it's important to remember the decision to enrol a child in full-time kindergarten is still optional.

Several programs to recapture and engage high school students have helped curb the decline of secondary enrolment down to 214 FTE, well below the 400-500 FTE anticipated.

Costello called this a "small victory."

He said the board has also been successful in dealing with declining enrolment by being creative.

An example can be found in Ridgetown, where two elementary schools - Ridgetown Public School, which closed, and the former Ridgeview Moravian Elementary School, renamed Naahii Ridge Public School - were "right-sized." This school offers classes from JK to Grade 6, with the Grades 7-8 students attending their own wing of RDHS.

Costello said the board often sees the biggest decline in secondary schools in the rural areas.

He said if an accommodation review is undertaken in a community resulting in a consideration to move Grades 7-8 classes to the local high school, "we would certainly encourage any community to go and visit Ridgetown District High School.

"The feedback has been positive," Costello added. "We are not hearing any negative (feedback) around the high school issue there."