Sowchea Elementary may get stay of execution

Parent Advisory Committee presents alternative to closing school,
Mayor asks for one-year delay on board decision

Shauna Hesse

The June 15 community consultation meeting took an interesting turn which may mean a year delay in the decision on the possible closure of Sowchea Elementary School.

Christie Hoy and Leslie Lantz, presented an alternative program to the Nechako Lakes School District Board of Trustees. During question period after the presentation, Nadine Frenkel, Vanderhoof trustee, asked if the group intended to apply to the Vancouver Foundation – which would provide a large portion of the funding for the program – by the July cut-off.

Lantz said the intention is to use the proposal as a working copy and to apply to the foundation depending on the board’s final decision that comes down June 22.

“The proposal as its written is our working copy to present to the Vancouver Foundation,” Lantz said. “That is our goal pending on the decision is to move forward as quickly as we can.”

Charlene Seguin, SD 91 Superintendent, asked the group if it was its intention to ask the board for an extension on the June 22 decision.

“When you spoke to district staff earlier you have had some communication with the Vancouver Foundation and there’s a timeline,” Seguin said. “You’re hoping for a grant and the grant comes if you can match the funds and you’re going to need some time to match the funds.”

“Yes, that would be a letter of intent that would go in by the end of July and then you would have a formal proposal,” said Shauna Hesse, District of Fort St. James grant writer. “At this point basically we need to know where we are at or how this is going to move forward in order to tailor that to make this happen.”

“So, in reality what you’re asking for is a delay in the decision from June 22?” said Seguin. “As I interpret what you’re saying is ‘we need a little time to raise money’, would I be correct to say that?”

“We don’t know if delaying the decision is the best for everybody either,” said Lantz. ”We’re just being honest about that. We know we need more time, but we don’t know how much time.”

Mayor Rob MacDougall was the final speaker during the question period. MacDougall asked the board to consider a one year stay on the decision to close Sowchea Elementary School.

“About 10:30 this morning I was sitting in Prince George … with about a hundred individuals including the Minister of Education. We talked about how we can maintain a level of excellence in our province and our communities,” he said.

“To give our children the absolute best opportunity we can so they can succeed with education and in life.”

“I want to say thank you to the PAC, for the wonderful job you’ve done in less than two months to come up with a proposal like this,” MacDougall said. “That has a chance to succeed if we can get support from the board here.”

“I think we need some time yes, board, I’m asking for you to delay your decision one year. Give us a chance to implement this proposal, give us a chance to go out and look for sponsorship,” he said.

Hoy and Lantz said the Sowchea Elementary Parents Advisory Committee (PAC) believes there is potential to keep the school open by utilizing both Sowchea and David Hoy’s facilities as Neighbourhood Learning Centres.

Hoy said the learning centres will provide spaces where children can learn through hands-on programming in arts and culture, sports skill-building and through preschools, daycare and after-school programming. She added the proposed project would see five classrooms in each school that would provide centres for this programming.

“By using a proven sustainable infrastructure and by bringing the programs to the kids instead of the kids to the programs … we can be more efficient,” Hoy said.

Hoy said there are a number of possible income sources outside of program fees such as provincial partnerships, sponsorship through businesses and community foundations such as YMCA and the United Way. The Vancouver Foundation is also a grant the group would look at obtaining for the program funding.

“We feel (the project) will protect this school district’s initial PAC capital investments in the schools, it adds diversity and choice for residents and helps attract and maintain families into the district,” she said. “This works toward increasing the number of children in our schools.”


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