Teachers’ union leaders from Kitimat and Terrace, where Grade 7s were moved out of elementary schools two years ago, say the Coast Mountains School District should research how the change has affected those schools before it makes similar changes in the Hazeltons.
Hazeltons parents last week expressed concerns about a plan to move Grade 7 students to the Hazelton Secondary School in September 2015.
Their concerns relate to a lack of consultation in the lead up to the move, longer travel times for younger students, bullying, and issues with Grade 7s sharing the school with older students.
Opposition to the plan was also voiced at the Jan. 26 meeting of the Hazelton Grade Reconfiguration Committee, which was created by the district to investigate the best model for the move.
School district board chair Art Erasmus told The Interior News last week that the transition was aimed at improving graduation rates.
Two years ago, the district moved Kitimat’s Grade 7s to Mt. Elizabeth as part of a district-wide shift towards the middle school model.
Unlike Terrace, where the Skeena Middle School for Grades 7–9 has its own school site, Grade 7s at Mt. Elizabeth share the building with Grades 8–12s.
The transition planned for the Hazeltons would be closer to the model used in Kitimat.
Cathy Lambright, the president of the Terrace District Teachers’ Union, said Coast Mountains had not done enough research into how reconfiguring grades had affected those schools.
“My concern is this, let’s take a look at our own district,” she said.
“Kitimat is a school within a school, just like Hazelton.
“What were some of the concerns and pressures from the parents there, from the kids, from the teachers, what worked and what didn’t?
“Let’s take a look at that before we rush headlong into making possibly similar mistakes in Hazelton.”
She said the union was not opposed to the move itself but the timeframe.
She believes it would be a mistake to introduce changes in Hazelton this year because the school was not prepared.
“I think that trying to do it in too short a time can be really harmful because the high school is certainly not organized or set up for a group of students to move into HSS at this point in time for Sept. 1,” she said.
She called on the school district to provide more evidence to support its claim that the change was beneficial to students.
Kitimat District Teachers’ Association president Kim Meyers does not believe the transition has helped students at the Mt. Elizabeth Secondary School.
She said she would not recommend a similar model being introduced in the Hazeltons because resources at Mt. Elizabeth had been stretched by the move.
She believes a middle school that operated separately, like the one in Terrace, would be more successful.
“A true middle school model provides for collaboration and team-building and kids doing collective activities but that’s just not possible when they are in the same building … it just doesn’t work when you’re all in one building and sharing resources,” she said.
“In Kitimat we were assured over and over that the students would be kept separate … but there is no separation and there is no way to do it.”
Meyer agreed with concerns raised by Hazelton parents that younger students were more vulnerable in a high school environment, “for a lot of different reasons”.
“I find it cause for concern, absolutely,” she said.
In her opinion, a similar move in Hazelton would not “hurt” Grade 7 students academically but it would not improve their graduation rates.
Board chair Erasmus said last week the district was receiving positive feedback from parents, students and teachers at the Terrace and Kitimat schools.
He said the board would consider how to respond to community concerns at its next meeting on Feb. 18.
“Given the amount of ‘we don’t want to do this’ that we had at the meeting … clearly the board will be advised from the meeting … that it’s not smooth sailing and what do we need to consider as a board in order to provide services to the students and families in the Hazeltons.”
The Interior News requested more information about whether the district had researched how the changes affected students in Terrace and Kitimat but the district declined to comment further.