The tables were turned this evening as members of the Osoyoos Independent School committee met with the community’s substantial Indo-Canadian population to discuss a possible route forward for local secondary education this September.
With much of the meeting discussed in Punjabi, it was the English-only attendees who had to wait for interpreter Kuldeep Rai to provide a translation.
The Indo-Canadian community had expressed a collective concern about being left out of the conversation when the Okanagan Similkameen School District earlier this year consulted on a recommendation to close Osoyoos Secondary School.
Tonight’s three-way conversation explored the complex process that is building an independent secondary school for Osoyoos with a September 2016 start.
With much of the puzzle requiring a consistent shuffling of pieces, engaging the Indo-Canadian community early was considered a priority.
As Brenda Dorosz explained, starting an independent school from scratch would mean no provincial funding for the school for the first two years and full independent school funding only after a full three years of operation.
“For us to just run the school as it is run now, it would probably cost us close to $2 million,” she said. “It’s very, very expensive to do it on your own.”
To overcome the lack of provincial funding, the committee is exploring relationships with an existing Level 1 Independent School system — an organization that receives the maximum provincial education grant available to independent schools, about half of what is delivered per pupil to public system schools.
One of those suitors is Good Shepherd Christian School, which currently provides K-7 education in Osoyoos. The school is exploring a transition to including Grade 8 to 12 students.
“What we have discussed, and what I see working, is a board at the Grade 8 to 12 level, a board made up of people that are sending their kids to Grades 8 to 12,” explained Good Shepherd principal Angela Westcott.
The complexity, of course, comes from Good Shepherd’s faith-based curriculum.
Although much of the curriculum is consistent with provincial educational requirements, the school does include a Christian component and a weekly devotional time.
Indo-Canadian students attending, Mrs. Westcott explained, would not have to engage in the school’s Christian programming but would have to acknowledge the Christian standard.
She added, though, that many of the Lutheran-based schools in the province include students from the Indo-Canadian community.
“We do not shut our door to people of no faith or different faiths,” she explained. “We ask that you respect we are a Christian school, but we are not going to attempt to convert your children.”
The independent school committee is also pursuing a relationship with Kelowna-based Studio 9 Arts School. The Osoyoos-based Good Shepherd program, however, is the preferred choice.
The evening also provided additional information on potential sites for an Osoyoos-based independent school.
Counc. Carol Youngberg, representing the Town, said although the Sonora Centre is still being considered as a potential site for the school, other locations within the community are also being scouted — and would be preferred.
The Sonora Centre, she explained, might have started its life as a school, but modifications since it was closed now make it a less suitable location for a secondary school.
The priority, she said, however, was to “allow schooling for local people by September who choose to stay in the area.”
The committee, which its members said is working relentlessly to provide an alternative to the school district’s plan to bus secondary students to Oliver, is proposing a similar meeting with the entire Osoyoos community.
That meeting would be scheduled for prior to the May long weekend.