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Sending Gabriola students to Cedar Secondary one option to relieve overcrowding at NDSS

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools board to vote on initiating public consultation
Nanaimo District Secondary School. (News Bulletin file photo)

Shifting Gabriola Elementary’s catchment high school to Cedar Secondary is one of the options on the table to alleviate enrolment pressure at Nanaimo District Secondary School.

NDSS has 1,636 students enrolled, nearly 100 above capacity, according to a Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools staff report, with 1,680 forecast for 2023-24 and 1,700 for 2024-25. NDSS is also the catchment high school for Brechin, Fairview, Mountain View and Forest Park elementary schools and French immersion students, and houses lacrosse, volleyball, soccer and hockey academies. Cedar Secondary has intake from Cedar, Cinnabar Valley and Qwam Qwum Stuwixwulh schools and could accommodate Gabriola students with no capacity issues, staff said.

The move could be implemented in September and there is already busing. Travel time wouldn’t be greatly impacted, according to staff, as the current trip is 13 minutes, while it would take 15 minutes to get to Cedar Secondary.

“There would be an immediate positive impact on the academic options available to current students of Cedar Secondary, as well as additional extracurricular activities that accompany a larger school,” stated the report. “For Gabriola students … there may be fewer academic and extracurricular options available at Cedar Secondary because even with 400 students, Cedar Secondary will still be an abnormally small secondary school for a school so close to an urban area.”

Speaking at the board meeting Wednesday, Jan. 25, trustees Mark Robinson and Naomi Bailey wondered about adding Grade 8 and 9 to Gabriola Elementary, which could reduce NDSS enrolment and was a suggestion raised during the election campaign.

Mark Walsh, secretary-treasurer, said there would be educational implications to keep junior high students on Gabriola.

“I don’t think we think it’s a great educational outcome, just because we’d only have two teachers to teach all of Grade 8 and 9, which is not going to be easy under the circumstances … at this point we wouldn’t recommend [it],” he said. “If the community comes back [wanting it] then of course the board has that opportunity.”

Placement of five portable classrooms at NDSS is another option. The district was already planning to add a pair of portables, said staff, but while it does own portables, moving them would cost approximately $125,000, said the report. The move would be a short-term fix and wouldn’t “alleviate pressure on the limited specialty rooms (e.g. science labs, elective spaces such as foods, automotive, metalwork or art, or the gym) that are intended to serve a school of 1,400 and not 1,700,” said staff.

If the option is chosen, there would be 13 portables at NDSS.

Relocating sports academies to John Barsby Secondary School in September 2024 is another option. Based on current enrolment, 29 students are attending the hockey academy, 44 lacrosse, 33 soccer, and 28 volleyball.

The City of Nanaimo is partnering with the district for a pair of all-season fields at Harewood Centennial Park next to Barsby, and there is also a covered lacrosse box there. Volleyball players would continue to be bused to Bowen Park under this option and hockey players could require busing to the Nanaimo Ice Centre as well.

The move could also affect the district learning alternatives program, decreasing the space it has at John Barsby, stated the staff report.

Students who opt out of sports academies and French immersion programs can currently continue attending NDSS, but another option would require them to return to their catchment school, said the report.

The final option includes expansions at both NDSS and Wellington Secondary to accommodate 100 students each, but staff said it would require at least five years from a board decision to project completion.

The board voted unanimously to enter into consultation with stakeholders. Consultation will take place for the duration of February with a report anticipated in March.

The district would like to decide on an option by the start of spring break this March. However, more time will be provided if necessary.

RELATED: SD68 to examine solutions for NDSS overcapacity

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

I joined Black Press in 2010 and cover education, court and RDN. I am a Ma Murray and CCNA award winner.
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