By Doug Hallett
The public school board has given a tentative nod to building a new school in Rockwood and also to starting a French immersion program in Rockwood in September 2014.
A feasibility study done by the board in the wake of a recent controversy over where Rockwood area students should go for French immersion has concluded that it’s feasible to start an FI program in Rockwood in 2014.
However, the numbers dictate that in its first year it would take only junior and senior kindergarten students, or perhaps kindergarten and Grade 1 students. The program could then grow by adding one grade each year, says the feasibility study report, which was endorsed last week by the board’s business operations committee.
As well as backing the French immersion plan for Rockwood, trustees gave approval in principle to the idea of building a second public school in Rockwood. It would relieve increasing enrolment pressures at Rockwood Centennial school, a junior kindergarten to Grade 8 school that will add full-day kindergarten in September 2014.
It’s not clear at this point whether an FI program would go into Rockwood Centennial or into the planned new school, said board communications officer Maggie McFadzen.
“Where we’re going to put it, I don’t know,” she said. “Hopefully, by that time we’ll have two schools out there” from which to choose.
The board hasn’t yet picked a site for the new school, and the timing for building it hasn’t been finalized, McFadzen said in an interview.
The two issues – the new school and the FI program – came separately to the business operations committee, which includes all 10 of the trustees on the Upper Grand District School Board.
The proposed new school is one of the changes the board is making to a massive $83-million construction plan unveiled last fall. The plan is aimed at providing enough classroom space for full-day kindergarten to be in all schools by September 2014, and also at relieving enrolment pressures in high-growth areas.
The changes to the plan also include two new renovation projects, each worth $250,000, to put more kindergarten space in Willow Road and Priory Park schools in Guelph.
The board’s original plan included the building of an “early learning centre” in Rockwood to cope with the arrival of full-day kindergarten in the village. Taking only kindergarten and perhaps Grade 1 pupils, “it was going to be like part of a school, and we could add onto it” later, McFadzen said.
The early learning centre “was a stopgap measure to relieve enrolment at Rockwood Centennial,” she said. But now, she noted, a regular new elementary school in Rockwood that goes at least to Grade 6 is seen as a more cost-efficient use of available funds.
The switch in plans means the board now intends to spend $850,000 on renovations at Rockwood Centennial to turn five existing regular classrooms into three full-day kindergarten rooms plus seminar space. This will reduce the school’s capacity to 409 students.
Rockwood Centennial, attended by regular English-track students, is over its capacity and uses portables. Rockwood parents have been lobbying for years for a second school.
The new $6.2-million school to be built in Rockwood is to include three kindergarten and 10 regular classrooms, giving it a capacity of 308 students. That’s considered small, but it could be added onto later to make it bigger, McFadzen noted.
Many East Wellington students are now bused to Guelph schools for French immersion, but this is to change. Residents of Rockwood, Eden Mills and other places east of Jones Baseline were upset when the board decided in January to stop accepting their children into French immersion classes in Guelph and to bus them instead to Erin schools. When it made the decision, the board agreed to do a feasibility study into starting an FI program in Rockwood.
For East Wellington children who aren’t now attending Guelph schools – or who don’t have siblings in FI in the city – the switch to Erin schools takes effect this September. For others, it takes effect in September 2014.
Rockwood area parents will be asked in October 2013 to confirm their intent to register their children for an FI program starting in September 2014, says a board staff report.
If an FI program is established in Rockwood, its students would be directed to Erin schools for higher grades, McFadzen said. Erin District High School is where FI students from the Rockwood area would go for grades 9 to 12, while Erin Public School handles grades 7 and 8.