If you build it they will come.
Or so hopes a Neigbourhoods of Learning task force trying to bring grade 10-12 education to a city that recently lost its three senior high school grades, but has no hard enrolment numbers to construct a school around.
The groundwork is now being completed on creating a blended learning school system to deliver the three grades with a distance learning affiliation, incorporating some on-site teachers.
Although the independent and distance learning task force is close to having a school structure in place, questions remain on how many students it will have when doors are opened in fall.
And the answer is no one knows. Yet.
Task force chair Kristi Calder said there is much speculation on what the enrolment would be for Rossland-based high school classes, there is no way to gauge actual numbers of students since its format has yet to be set.
“Our best guess is we would be on our way to an agreement, if that is the way we would go, and to an independent school by the end of next week,” she said. “Because the timelines have been so short, the hope has been we go to the public when we have something more concrete.”
There had been a lot of polling in the early stages of NOL on how many students would attend a Rossland-based school when the fate of Rossland Secondary School (RSS) hung in the balance, and the task force has used a lot of that information in going forward.
As a result, the task force is looking at options and how to present a school with anywhere from as few as 25 to as many as 125 students.
The format the school could take is becoming clearer, said Calder. There is now a May 31 deadline facing the task force on the independent school application with the province, and there are three negotiations in progress with distance learning partners.
There is another task force working to keep high school education in the city, a public K-12 task force. Both task forces are working on complementary paths, said Aaron Cosbey, chair of the public K-12 task force.
The public K-12 task force is working toward a long-term solution that would see all of Rossland’s students educated in Rossland under a public system, but outside of School District 20.
“This path is definitely several years away,” said Cosbey. “We are working on geological time lines.”
What is more feasible and immediate for students in September is what the independent and distance learning task force is concocting.
“With the blended learning program (at RSS) effectively shuttered by the SD20 board, we are looking into options that would allow students to learn in an inquiry-based, blended off and online environment (as mandated by the BC Education Plan),” Calder said.
Independent and distance learning task force
The task force has a central goal of ensuring that the program in Rossland be accessible to all.
If the preferred educational route is independent, Calder said, NOL would structure the program to any student and family that would want the choice.
The goal is not easily achieved, read an NOL report to council, but it could be possible through alternative fundraising through such avenues as international student revenue or external sponsorship.
The school could have as many as 10 international students enrolled in fall, all through the international sports academy.
Calder, who has managed the international academy for RSS, said there needs to be an update to find out how many of those students will continue to attend school in Rossland.
“Because when they did enrol it was a while ago and things have changed since then,” she said. “But knowing the students and the families specifically, I am pretty confident they will maintain their enrolment.”
In conversation with Brian Jonker, the deputy inspector of independent schools in B.C., the NOL application for status as an independent school was deemed “where education is going.”
The application means NOL would qualify for a group three level designation, allowing the school to operate but with no promise of provincial funding.
An inspection by the Ministry of Education would occur in October, a venture that, if successful, would lead to group two level funding—around 35 per cent of SD 20 operating funding ($3,300 per full-time-equivalent student).
However, that funding would not kick in until the end of January, meaning prior funding has to be in place before that.
“This is where revenue from international students would be crucial as well as other fund raising initiatives,” the report stated.
Calder said the task force issued a request for proposals in April with the hope of creating a potential independent or public partnership.
“We have received responses from both independent and public distributed learning entities and are currently reviewing these responses to determine both suitability and feasibility for our situation,” said Calder.
One option is to partner with an existing public distributed learning (DL) school for grades 10-12, who would in turn receive $5,851 in funding per full time equivalent student. NOL is investigating how funding could be shared with some teachers hired here in Rossland to work with students in collaboration with DL teachers.
Calder said NOL is negotiating with three prospective providers.
Either way, the group is looking for a personalized learning format in a blended format, similar to what was seen at RSS in grades 10 – 12.
“It’s going to have a lot of opportunities for engaged, relevant and experiential learning,” Calder said.
The task force is not pursuing a pure DL environment, she explained, but a blended learning format that will put teachers in a face-to-face environment with students.
“In all scenarios the program model is one that is personalized utilizing a blended learning format creating ample opportunities for engaged, relevant and experiential learning,” the report explained. “We are not pursuing a pure distributed learning model.”
Costs and location
Calder said tuition could be roughly $500 to $1,000 per student per year, corporate scholarships notwithstanding.
A facility—the conference centre at Red Mountain Resort—has been secured for the school, and there are a number of other prospective options as the number of students becomes apparent.
Working with a DL partner is less expensive than running an independent school, opening the school up to all students and families who prefer this choice.
The course offerings are quite broad, and the program can still be marketed to international students including student athletes, the report noted.
Public K-12 task force
Creation of a municipal school district, or the re-drawing of boundaries that would see Rossland joining
another school district, is also a possibility.
A municipal school district would not be run by the city. It would be a public school district like any other, with a board of trustees entrusted with management, and public funded.
The difference in Rossland would be the district would encompass only Rosslan, said Cosbey.