Unanswered questions in proposed Yellowknife school swap

At a meeting in Yellowknife last night, a high school principal said he's hearing ‘a great deal of fear from parents’ about a proposal for the Y-K1 School District to give up one of its schools to the francophone school board.
Allain St-Cyr school in Yellowknife. The Government of the Northwest Territories has been ordered to expand services to the francophone schools in Yellowknife and Hay River. Whether and how to do that is still under discussion.

“If we were to consider possibly giving up a school, what would we get in return?” Marilyn Malakoe wants to know.

She works at Mildred Hall elementary school in downtown Yellowknife.

“And no one knew the answer to that.”

Malakoe was one of about 50 parents and educators of the YK1 School District who met in Yellowknife met last night to discuss whether they’re prepared to give up one of their schools to the francophone school board.

The Government of the Northwest Territories’ Department of Education has been ordered by the courts to provide additional space and a gym to the Commission scolaire francophone Territoires de Nord-Ouest.

It wants to use one of YK1’s schools to do that.

A similar proposal in Hay River has already been declined by the Hay River District Education Authority and the Commission scolaire francophone.

How and if a school swap would happen in Yellowknife is still under discussion.

'A great deal of fear'

Al McDonald is the vice-principal of Sir John Franklin High School.

He describes “a great deal of fear from parents that if we were to give up a facility, we'd either lose programming or services or both."

YK1’s schools have some room for give. William McDonald is operating at the lowest capacity right now, with just 35 per cent of the students the school was built to accommodate.

This meeting wasn't about fighting to save a particular school.

The discussion foccussed primarily on brainstorming what they’d like to hold on to: programming like arts or French immersion? Or having a middle school?

Meaghan Spence says enrolment can't continue to be so low, but she worried about what happens next.  

"My kids are in the french immersion programming at a French immersion school,” Spence says. “Honestly, it doesn't matter what building they're in as long as they get that programming and still get that sort of education, that's far more important to me."

Tina Drew's sons attend schools in the district.

"I would rather see a school be leased to the GNWT rather than outright transferred, because we don't know what's going to happen in the future and we don't know if we'll need a bigger school later,” she says.

What if YK1 says no?

Some parents also questioned what happens if the YK1 board says no to the swapping proposal.

Could it go ahead and pull funding for one school anyway?

Many say they'd like to hear from directly from the Department of Education soon.

Some parents also questioned why the territory waited so long after a 2012 court decision to ask for one of the YK1 schools.

The GNWT has appealed the decision ordering it to expand francophone school services. The appeal was heard in court last month. A decision has yet to be issued.


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