The vice-chair of New Westminster's board of education says the district should look into the feasibility of changing boundaries for the new John Robson elementary so that students living south of Royal Avenue would go to the new school and those north of the street would go to Lord Kelvin elementary.
"I have no opinion one way or the other. My only opinion is I think we need to look at it," trustee Michael Ewen told The Record.
The idea came up when the board was discussing a motion by Trustee Lisa Graham to have French immersion in the new elementary school, Ewen said.
"I don't think we should just throw French immersion in there," he said. "During that conversation, some of us said, and some of us of being me, said if we are going to do that, we should look at maybe re-drawing boundaries and having everybody who goes to Robson currently, and I don't know what the numbers are, I don't know if it's feasible, I don't know if Kelvin could handle it, but the idea was to look at whether we could have kids from north of Royal go to Kelvin, put French immersion into the new Robson ... and re-draw that boundary."
Ewen said he has heard from people who are concerned about kids crossing busy Royal Avenue to get to the new school, which will be built on the former St. Mary's Hospital site.
"We always point out when someone says that that half the school crosses Royal right now," he said.
If French immersion remains in the new Robson (currently, the school offers French immersion), Ewen said he's concerned that the new school will be packed with students, while Kelvin's - located up the hill near Moody Park - population shrinks.
"And it may be that we divide up between Kelvin and Spencer because Spencer is declining too," he said. "I don't think it's reasonable to take the new school and shove it full of 500 kids, and two other schools close by that are in the 250-range."
The board of education will have to ask staff to analyze the numbers before any decisions are made, Ewen said.
While the district is preparing to build the new school, it's an opportune time to look at those boundaries, he said.
"That being said, the board hasn't made any decision on that," he added.
The board will begin regular meetings again in the fall, and Ewen said he plans to put the boundary issue on the agenda.
Trustee Graham said that it is "incumbent" on the board to consider the boundary options to ensure "that the needs of the district are met in the best possible way."
"My hope is that in doing that we will consider the families who are going to be immediately affected by the John Robson transfer, particularly, I know the French immersion parents would like to stay with their cohort at the new school," she said. "You want to minimize transitions for students at young ages. You want to provide as much stability as possible."
The district has been "unsettled" for a long time, Graham said, because of questions around the project. Now that the provincial government has approved funding for two schools - a middle school as well - the district has the opportunity to plan, she said.
"Now that we have ministry approval, we will be able to look at statistics and make informed decisions," she said.
Currently, provincial law states that students may enroll in a school outside their boundary if there is room.
John Robson's parent advisory council president Serena Trachta questioned whether Kelvin could house more students.
"My feedback from parents has more been about the east/west boundary, not so much the north/south boundary," she said. "It's people that are west of Robson now that are having to come further east to get to the new school at the St. Mary's site."
Trachta agreed that a boundary change might alleviate that issue, but she didn't want to comment on the idea until she had talked to other Robson parents.