A five-person delegation from the Lyndale School Community Council met with trustees from the South East Cornerstone School Division last Thursday afternoon to discuss the school's future.
Although Lyndale, the school that is situated in Oungre, has been reduced to 18 students in a kindergarten to Grade 9 program this year, it is exempt from any closure orders due to its status as a school of necessity. Lyndale is strategically located in a remote region of the large school division and therefore it has been defined as being a school that cannot be closed since that would force students to make lengthy bus trips to reach any other school in the region.
But with just 18 students, the Cornerstone administration was forced to cut the teacher numbers by one this academic year, leaving Lyndale with just two teachers.
The Oungre delegation was seeking some assurances from the board that this ratio would not be reduced further.
Glen Walkeden served as spokesman for the group that included Janine Young, Joel Hanson, Janice Ashworth and Carrie Clarke.
About a year ago, the school had an enrolment of over 30, but parental decisions to send some students to other area schools has left Lyndale in a precarious situation.
The delegation noted with some enthusiasm that five children are expected to enrol in the kindergarten program next year, while they lose three who are graduating from Grade 9.
"If our numbers go below 18, are we going down to one teacher?" asked Walkeden.
He said it would probably serve the division better if they could provide some assurances that the school would retain a minimum of two teachers (or more). He pointed out that it is easier to recruit educators if they know they'll have at least one or two other teaching partners and that any impromptu matters or emergencies can be handled as a team, rather than by a solo decision maker.
The seven trustees in attendance at the meeting provided some empathy and dialogue, but stopped short of providing a stamp of approval for the request, saying they required more time to consider all scenarios.
Walkeden said the two teachers this year have certainly been committed to the program with their hearts and minds. He added that when the Lyndale SCC contacted the Ministry of Education, "no one really wanted to talk with us, at least no one in authority."
"Did they offer you anything?" asked trustee Daryl Harrison.
"No, at least nothing that anyone could put in writing. We got the ball rolling, but nobody wanted to say anything. So now we're looking to the north of the province to see how the more remote schools deal with distance education," Walkeden replied.
Marc Casavant, Cornerstone's director of education, said their human resources department is gathering information that will be pieced together to help address Lyndale's unique situation including instruction time, preparation time and distance education options. He said that will be forwarded to the school community council.
Trustee Audrey Trombley asked if the SCC "had a feeling for the future and potential for growth."
"Well, we just had 95 people out this morning for a school/community breakfast and we've heard that we'll have five or six new students for sure next year, so it looks like growth, but then we sat in front of you a few years ago and said that and it didn't happen. "
"So you're not looking for a third teacher here?" asked trustee Harold Laich.
Walkeden assured him they weren't, but they were seeking some assurances that they could count on a stabilization factor of at least two teachers.
The trustees and SCC agreed that reducing the numbers of grades would only reduce student numbers again. The school had already seen a reduction from a K to Grade 12 status two years ago.
The SCC delegation said property taxes were not an issue, noting that the region was well off in financial terms, and was willing to supply materials and maintenance for the school. Walkeden and others also noted the students currently attending the school have bonded remarkably well with older students taking on responsible and helpful roles to assist the younger ones, so in that regard, there is a school spirit and cohesiveness that is welcomed.
Carol Flynn, Cornerstone's board chairwoman, said she saw at least some consistency in enrolment numbers moving forward for the next two years.
Harrison pointed out that the school could only reduce the program by one grade, since schools of necessity are required to offer the minimum of kindergarten to Grade 8.
Trustee Len Williams said he had heard that some of the Oungre area students now attending schools in Weyburn appreciated the additional opportunities.
Walkeden replied that Lyndale was not out to try to force Oungre area students back into the fold, but rather see to it that those who have committed to stay in Oungre's school are given equal opportunities to learn and he said the fact that the existing school population is a closely knit one, is a bonus factor.
"It seems they play and work together," Walkeden said, noting that kids taking the longer bus rides find it is taking a toll.
Laich said that as a trustee, he appreciated the cohesiveness of the parent group while Flynn said "I have appreciated your honesty and realistic approach to this problem."
In conclusion Walkeden said, "well, we never have come in shouting and swearing, we're just asking you to keep looking at the problem and we're asking for some assurance of stability."
Trombley said that although Lyndale was the only school of necessity in the division's 38 school setup, it would still serve the division well to develop a policy regarding them.
With a promise that their request would receive serious consideration and further detailed discussion, the delegation left the conference room.