Nanaimo Ladysmith school district has not come to a decision on how to address overcrowding at Nanaimo District Secondary School.
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools previously noted NDSS has 1,636 students enrolled, nearly 100 above capacity, with forecasts of 1,680 student for 2023-24 and 1,700 in 2024-25. SD68 hoped public consultation would provide direction to address enrolment issues, but staff has recommended more time for further consultation and information-gathering.
Changing Gabriola Island’s catchment high school from NDSS to Cedar Secondary was an option that could have been implemented by September, but Gabriola community members spoke against it overwhelmingly. No other options would affect next school year and so more time “to dig deeper into the impact of a determination by the board” was suggested by school district staff.
The options staff will delve deeper into include maintaining the status quo, adding more portables and removing “programs of choice” such as sports academies, the report noted. At the March 29 school board meeting, Mark Walsh, SD68 secretary-treasurer, said he wasn’t sure if the school district has all the information to take the next step, including the impacts of doing nothing.
“We want to target the school as a whole, including staff and students impacted or potentially not impacted, to understand what’s happening, what it feels like to teach and to be a student in a school of 1,650, 1,670, 1,690, in the facility that they have, because I think that would be helpful,” he said.
Extra time will also allow staff to explore situations at schools outside the district that may have comparable capacity issues.
“It’s not going to be hard to find a Lower Mainland school that’s kind of old, that has a whole bunch of portables to get a sense of how do you do home economics … what’s missing, etc. and to get a sense of what a permanent school of 1,800-1,900 kids looks like because that seems to be the demand of some of the folks we heard from,” said Walsh.
According to the district, 960 people participated in public consultation via the ThoughtExchange platform, with 66 per cent of those parents or guardians and 14 per cent students.
A common theme among parent respondents was that a catchment change to Cedar Secondary would be costly to families with “added financial pressures.” Less-than-ideal public transit alternatives would lead to paying cab fare and longer walking distances, stated a summary report of responses. “There is no safe option that doesn’t cost these families,” the report said.
Changing Chase River Elementary’s catchment school to Cedar, from John Barsby, was a suggestion due to its closer proximity, noted the report.
The board, including chairperson Greg Keller, was pleased with the detail provided in the report and said it will better inform decisions.
“I’d also welcome us in finding ways to change the narrative from this being a district problem to this being something that we need to work with the community to resolve … I think it is going to take a community to come up with a solution that makes sense for everybody,” said Keller.
Trustee Mark Robinson added an amendment to take the Gabriola-Cedar catchment switch off the table and the motion passed unanimously.
Consultation took place from Jan. 26 to Feb. 28.
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