School board closes grades 8, 9 at Wapella

April 26, 2016, 2:06 am
Kevin Weedmark


The Southeast Cornerstone School Division will officially reduce Wapella from a K-9 school to a K-7 school.

While Wapella is officially a K-9 school, in practice it has been a K-6 school for the last couple of school years, as there have been no students past grade 6. Parents of students have requested transfers to McNaughton High School in Moosomin for a variety of reasons.

The school came within one vote at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting of being a K-6 school.

The first motion put forward at the meeting was to discontinue grades 7, 8,and 9 at Wapella. Trustee Carol Flynn who represents Moosomin and Wapella voted against the motion, as did board chair Audrey Trombley. The other trustee from the area, Harold Laich of Wawota, voted to discontinue the three grades.

The vote to discontinue the three grades was 5-5. Because the vote was tied, the motion did not pass.

Then a second motion was brought forward, to close two grades instead of three, discontinuing grades 8 and 9. That motion passed unanimously.

Because Wapella has been in practice a K-6 school because of the transfers, despite the motion to discontinue two grades, Wapella could in effect go from a K-6 to a K-7 school this fall.

That will happen if parents of students now in Grade 6 opt for their children to remain at Wapella School, and not seek transfers to McNaughton as parents have done in other years.

At a public meeting called by the board as part of a school review process, one parent said parents of current Grade 6 students had met and decided they would like their children to remain in Wapella for grade 7. Adding the extra grade may mean putting more grades together at Wapella, however.

Moosomin-area school trustee Carol Flynn opposed the original motion to discontinue grades 7-9, but put forward the second motion to discontinue grades 8 and 9.

“I think all of us want the same thing. We want to have a very strong viable school in Wapella,” she said in opposing the original motion. “We also want it to be the best school it can possibly be. That means it’s best for the students, it’s best for the staff and it’s best for the community.”

“For the community, we’re not about economic development, but we are about families, and the connection between communities and schools. People will move to Wapella knowing that the school is going to be there and is going to be a viable school for the future. For those reasons I will not support this motion. I think it can be a viable school with more grades than just K-6.”

Wapella mayor Sandy Hintz was there for the vote and said he was disappointed. “It wasn’t the decision we were hoping for,” he said. “We got another year added on which is good, but I don’t understand why we can’t be temporarily discontinued instead of permanently. It doesn’t cost any money for the word temporary to be on there.”

While board members questioned whether the current grade 6 students would actually attend grade 7 in Wapella next year, Hintz said he doesn’t believe that is an issue.

“From the information we have right now there’s no doubt at all,” he said. “If there was, we wouldn’t have expressed our frustration at the last community meeting with the board.”

He said he still believes Wapella could be a viable K-9 school, adding one grade each year, if the board gave the community that chance.

“With our numbers, and what we’ve got coming up, there’s no reason why we couldn’t just keep building,” he said. “People are still moving to town.

“It’s frustrating when they say the parents have spoken by sending their kids to Moosomin. This started 10 years ago, when they started transporting kids to the elementary schools in Moosomin. Now we’ve turned it around and we’re growing again. We’d like to take it year by year.”

He said he’s hoping the provincial government can help ensure a future for Wapella School.

“They’ve made their decision. I’m not going to go back to the board right now. I’ve talked to the MLA and I want to go to the education minister and ask why it can’t be temporary instead of permanent.

“I think the whole process was unfair. There was no 7, 8 9 but they put us in the threshold of a K-9. If they treated us as a K-6 there would have been no problem. Why put us through this? Why not leave the option there to add those grades? That’s all we wanted, and it wouldn’t cost anything.”

He said he was surprised by the how the votes went.

“The city representatives were voting against us all the way, then one of them said the parents shouldn’t get to decide where their kids go to school. We’re the taxpayers that pay for the schools.

“I think the parents know what’s best for the kids not the school board and people who live three hours away. For the life of me I can’t understand that. Amalgamation was the worst thing for education.”

Harold Laich of Wawota voted for both motions for grade discontinuance at Wapella.

“One of the questions I had at the public meeting . . . when we looked at the projected enrolment we were looking at a certain number of students in grade 7 next year that the board wanted some assurance on with respect to enrolment.

“My understanding is that the board did not receive from the SCC or from parents any indication other than two parents that they would guarantee that their students would enrol in Wapella this fall in Grade 7. If we don’t have that documentation and that assurance that that in fact would happen, then that limits the numbers to a possible two students in Wapella in Grade 7 and I don’t think that’s viable for grade 7.”

During the debate on the motion to discontinue just grades 8 and 9, Laich said he is worried that some parents of grade 7 students will still want their children to attend McNaughton High School.

“My biggest concern is that parents are going to say now that we don’t have grades 8 and 9, we might as well send our kids to Moosomin in grade 7. Then, if half the parents decide to do that, do they transport their own kids, then that again gets to be an issue within the community with respect to what’s viable in a classroom.

“I sincerely hope that if this motion passes, that the parents of the kids attending grade 7 next year will enrol in Wapella School.”

Elwood White, who represents the Pangman area, voted against the original motion to discontinue three grades at Wapella. “I believe in possibilities, and I believe the parents’ intention is to leave the children in those grades,” he said.

Estevan trustee Janet Foord, who had put forward the motion to discontinue three grades at Wapella, spoke against closing only two grades. “My belief is we just put the decision making onto the parents instead of in the boardroom here. Parents are now going to have to struggle with their neighbors to decide. If one decides to keep their kids and one decides to send them, if we decide to keep grade 7 open and don’t provide transportation, then you have to deal with transportation—kids in cars or parents having to drive kids. I don’t think we’ve done the community any favors by bringing forward this motion. I think we’ve created more conflict, and I think with the numbers next year or within two years we’ll be back at this table.”

Pangman School will remain open and will retain all grades after two motions, to close the school and to reduce the number of grades, were both defeated 6-4. About 60 people from Pangman crowded into the boardroom for the meeting and erupted in cheers when the two motions were defeated.

Her original motion to close Pangman School was defeated 6-4, as was a subsequent motion to discontinue grades 9-12 at Pangman.