Watching the Osoyoos Independence Committee go about its work of building an alternative education program for Osoyoos students is both heartening and maddening.
It’s heartening to see such effort and dedication, such determination to turn the sow’s ear delivered to the community earlier this spring into a silk purse. For those of you not privy to the Facebook world of the Independent School program, one posting by committee chair Brenda Dorosz about sums up the independent school committee’s commitment:
“I didn’t come this far just to come this far.”
It’s maddening to think that, perhaps, actually, yes, we have — despite this committee’s valiant effort.
That’s not the fault of the committee or the many Osoyoos residents who would love to see it succeed.
But it’s also not the fault of a Town of Osoyoos Council that is mandated to provide for good government — a mandate that includes delivering rudimentary public works and recreational services, but not educational opportunities.
The public education mandate belongs to the Okanagan Similkameen School District. It punted when faced with third and short last April, but it still maintains legal authority for public-sector education in the South Okanagan, including Osoyoos.
The independent school committee is a private education program. It is an ad hoc vision — shared by many in the community — but it wasn’t appointed to undertake its work and it does not have authority to craft an educational experience on behalf of the Town of Osoyoos or any other government body.
At best, it has capacity to build a private program with which the Town of Osoyoos should not be a partner — even in a limited capacity.
It would be nice if the Town of Osoyoos could exercise some form of eminent domain and take control of the independent school effort and make it its own. The same people now doing so much good work could remain in place, their efforts enhanced by Town authority. But, again, we come back to that statutory capacity and the Town’s lack thereof under the BC Charter.
So, where does that leave us?
If the community consensus is that we do desperately require our secondary school — and right now consensus is all we have because there is no hard data to support any conclusion concerning the effect of a school closing on a community’s social and economic well-being — then we need to marshal a whole-community effort to build an alternative Osoyoos-controlled educational program.
As a community, we need to fashion a structure, complete with a charter, vision and mandate, to make such a program a reality, not just for the short-term but for the future as well.
Our guiding principle should be to develop a secure, stable program that is beyond the clutches of the school district and even the province, one that is jealously guarded by the people who call Osoyoos home and funded by its own — and others who can appreciate the Osoyoos experience.
To build such a program requires time and thoughtful planning. Regrettably, the school district’s action has left our community insufficient time to build that program in the few months remaining before September. About all we can accomplish is a rushed, napkin-crafted effort as we move into the school year.
To implement such a program this September will mean that we will not have done our due diligence. We will not have explored all opportunities, sighted all challenges and obstacles, made the most of all resources.
We may have a limited independent school program, but at what cost? What is the future of our community when half of our children are “Townies” — students attending school in Osoyoos — and the other half are “Roadies” — students attending school in Oliver?
Perhaps there is a more cautious route forward — one that keeps our younger students in the community but also offers capacity to build an all-inclusive independent program for future years.
Osoyoos could transition to an independent school.
This September, the community could easily have in place a program for Grade 8 and 9 students — one that can accommodate those 80 or 90 students in Grade 7 and 8 in our community right now.
Such a program has a much better chance of success. We have building resources to house those 80 or 90 students — in three or four classrooms rather than the eight or 10 required with a full-secondary program — and can also expect a substantial reduction in educational costs with the requirement for fewer teachers and a reduced need for specialty labs.
The Sonora Centre would manage as an interim space for the first year of the school, the limited student size requiring very little in the way of alterations to the Centre and daytime schooling leaving a much reduced footprint on evening programming.
With an expectation of the Osoyoos Secondary School being secured before the start of the 2017 school year, the independent program could next September add Grade 10 to accommodate the Grade 9s already in the program. Grades 11 and 12 could be added in subsequent years.
The multi-phase transition to a full independent secondary program delivers a better chance to keep the majority of Grade 7 and 8 students in Osoyoos as parents are brought to understand the direction of the program and see the opportunity of being pioneers in rebuilding a more stable secondary school environment in Osoyoos. It also provides time to build an educational culture established on thoughtful, professional planning.
Most importantly it provides an avenue for Osoyoos to develop its own independent school programming unfettered by other Charter school obligations — religious or otherwise. All that is required is to provide increased funding for the first two years until the school can access its own charter in Year Three. Such an unfettered environment has a much better chance of support of the full Osoyoos community.
Th very hard truth right now is that in its current iteration, the independent school program is likely not going to get Town funding, nor is it going to find a home in the Sonora Centre. With a transition program, that funding and other resources will likely be much easier to access.
The transition is a compromise of sorts, one that could bring the independent school committee and Town Council to the same room — and working together as bonded partners.
The independent school committee has moved forward the independent efforts leaps and bounds. Now perhaps it’s time for it to embrace a parallel direction forward — a direction that Osoyoos Council can more easily support and champion.
It also means our current Grade 10, 11 and 12 students would be required to attend school in Oliver. Our older students are better prepared to travel that distance, either by bus or their own vehicle, and, frankly, their academic requirements are likely better served at South Okanagan Secondary School than in a start-up independent school. Their travel is a situation that can be further addressed through a number of measures we as a community can identify and implement.
Much like with any other successful program, the transition to a full independent secondary program is a pilot, one that offers immediate success but also opportunity to learn and grow as we move forward.
Human nature urges us to rush forward with reactive action; thoughtful action, however, is predicated on patience.
Right now, to secure a secondary education program that is not only a benefit to our students but also the envy of other communities and an economic development tool in its own right, our community requires thoughtful action — the kind of sophisticated action that comes with authoritative voice, power and resources.
We didn’t come this far just to come this far. With a little give and take, we could go the distance together — and Osoyoos would be the better for it.
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