School is back and at Seven Summits Centre for Learning there are some positive changes now that it’s become a public school.
At the end of the last school year, Seven Summits had to face leaving behind its former educational partner, Self Design Learning Community, after changes at the Ministry of Education threatened to leave the centre’s teachers short on pay. Seven Summits options were to either go independent or partner with an existing public distance learning program with a brick and mortar location, and in the end, the centre partnered with School District 71’s Navigate program, making it a public school.
Going public comes with a number of benefits. For teachers, the change means not only are their wages not being cut, they’re now union employees, being paid union wages.
“We’re not an independent school, we’re publicly funded like any other public school, and so the teachers had to be union — they’re part of the BCTF [BC Teachers’ Federation] — and they were hired by SD71,” explains Sue McBride, administrator and special education mentor at Seven Summits.
When the possibility of going public was first discussed, there was concern that some of Seven Summits staff members could lose their jobs, as the positions would have to be posted for and they would have to reapply. But there was ultimately no need for concern.
“We were worried about it and it could have happened for sure. The job posting came about pretty quick and was pretty specific to our needs that are here, and that’s probably very different than what you would see on the island. They’re smaller positions, they’re not full-time positions, so it had to be enticing for someone from SD71, who lives on the island, to come out here and take a job,” says McBride. “So for our sake it was good that we got to keep our teachers.”
Two of last year’s teachers have moved on to other things. Melanie Boothe and Kylie Stewart are no longer teaching at the school, but two new teachers, Andrea Pierce and Jennifer Boutilier have been hired.
Partnering with SD71 also means that learners now have new opportunities. This year learners have started independent study and work experience. One student is doing an internship with Thoughtexchange and another is doing an internship at the Rossland Public Library.
There are also a lot more elective that learners can take online this year, and the centre is supplementing those online courses by bringing in mentors from the community.
“For example, all of the kids signed up for photography online; Ryan Flett’s coming in to do a workshop for the photography,” says McBride.
But despite being a public school, Seven Summits still needs to charge parents to cover the cost of the building, which isn’t covered by the ministry, because Seven Summits is considered a distance learning school. The annual fee to parents is $2100 — $2000 if parents take advantage of the early bird rate — but McBride says the fee shouldn’t deter families.
“We offer scholarships for families that can’t afford it, so it shouldn’t be a problem,” says McBride, who encourages anyone curious about the centre and its scholarships to come by and talk with her.
There’s also a $250 fee that parents can work off by volunteering 25 hours over the school year. The fee is meant to encourage all parents to lend a hand. “We found that just like a lot of things, it’s the same parents that help all the time, and so they’re so taxed and tired,” says McBride. “So it’s a way for all the parents to get involved.”
McBride also hopes that the cost to attend Seven Summits will decrease as the school grows its pool of international students.
“Our goal is to be able to grow in a way with internationals that helps subsidize that cost, so then it’s more cost affordable,” says McBride.
Asked if there was any danger of international students taking spots from local students, McBride said, “No, I would love for that to be a problem, but no, we have the potential to still grow.… We don’t have that worry because we’re a blended model, so the courses are online and we supplement that. So we could take as many as, I don’t know, as we could. International wise, I’d love for the [Red Mountain Academy] to grow and bring us more kids.”
The one problem Seven Summits could potentially face with bringing in more international students is a shortage of host families. Anyone interested in hosting an international student should contact Sue McBride at 250-362-7772 or firstname.lastname@example.org.