Jim Pearce will be the principal at Mission's only high school next year.

Mission Secondary selected as only high school in SD75

Change was met with mixed reaction online this week

The Mission board of education decided Monday night to create a single high school at Mission Secondary for all of the district’s Grade 10, 11 and 12 students.

The reconfiguration will also turn Heritage Park and Hatzic secondary schools into middle schools for students in grades 7 through 9.

Trustees said the move was necessary in order to provide students with advanced and specialized courses and programs, many of which had been cut as enrolment fell in recent years.

All four school trustees present ­— Randy Cairns, Shelley Carter, chair Edie Heinrichs, and vice-chair Jim Taylor — approved the changes. Trustee Carol Hamilton was not present.

The trustees told a crowd of around 50 parents, teachers and community members that Mission secondary had been recommended as the site of the new school for several reasons, including financial considerations.

Using Mission secondary as the senior high school would see an influx of around 110 students into the 62-year-old building and cost around $1.5 million. For Heritage Park to be used, space would need to be made for around 400 students, at a projected cost of $4.5 million.

Taylor, who had at one time favoured the use of Heritage Park for the new senior high school, said the student influx would likely see a “portable city” spring up around the building.

Moving senior students into Mission would allow for a more seamless transition, trustees said. They also expressed hope that the school district would be able to convince the province to replace the 62-year-old Mission secondary within the next decade.

District superintendent Bill Fletcher also announced Heritage Park secondary principal Jim Pearce, and vice-principal Beth-Anne Cullen will take on those roles at the new high school.

Pearce and Cullen spoke to those present Monday about how a single high school would be a drastic improvement over the current situation.

“If we continue to do the same things, we’re done,” Pearce said. “We’ve got to make it better for our kids.”

With older students split among three different schools – and with their numbers expected to decline for more than a decade – Pearce said the three schools lacked sufficient interest to offer specialized courses, including trades classes. The lack of those options have exacerbated the problem, as students seeking those courses for graduation enrol in neighbouring districts.

Pearce noted that in 2002, 11 advanced placement courses were being taught.

“This district may offer one now,” he said. “That’s ridiculous.”

Classes that his school can’t currently offer with only 20 interested students will become viable with a larger student base.

Various sports teams have also fallen by the wayside without enough players in the individual schools.

In a speech that elicited applause from the crowd, Pearce said he hopes the community can “build something so spectacular that every single one of our kids have what they need.”

He said a high school would also allow teachers to teach in their specialties, would allow for more collaboration and innovation among staff, and would create a community hub.

With the new school, he said “we can get more out of our children and we can get more out of ourselves.”

During the consultation stage, some had suggested the high school should take on grades 9 through 12, while the middle schools should handle students in Grade 6, 7 and 8. Such a move, however, would have forced the closure of up to five elementary schools – including three in rural areas, trustees said Monday. It would also have created two senior high schools, thereby defeating the reconfiguration’s purpose.

“The main reason for doing this is to get a school with a critical mass of 1,200 or so kids so we can offer them programs,” Taylor said.

The move was greeted positively by many of those who chose to attend Monday’s board meeting.

Online, though, the response was mixed, with commenters on the Record’s website raising questions about transportation for students, the future of existing senior-led programs at Hatzic and Heritage Park, and the future of junior sports teams of Grade 9 and 10 students.

Questions about details were also raised during Monday’s board meeting. Trustees and district staff were unable to answer most, citing the need to officially decide to reconfigure the schools before working out all the details. Now that Mission secondary has been chosen to house senior students, staff say they will begin to work on the details of the plan, including plans to try and reduce the $1.5 million price tag of the move.

To gather input from parents and other community members, the district is planning monthly “think tank” meetings, the first of which will take place Oct. 29 at a location to be announced. Details will be released on the district’s website, mpsd.ca

Similar events will be held to discuss the creation of the two middle schools, including, among other details, catchment area boundaries.

Principals for the two middle schools will likely be announced in the coming month, Fletcher said.