French Immersion overcrowding an issue in Elgin since 2013

The ‘re-designation’ of 240 students to Port Stanley Public School was one of several short-term solutions considered, advises a member of the school council at Pierre Elliott Trudeau French Immersion School.

And one of the options would have seen those students returning to Wellington Public School, where most of them attended prior to the opening of their new home in the former Homedale Senior Elementary School.

It’s a possibility that may yet see the light of day, advises St. Thomas CAO Wendell Graves.

“Anything is possible,” Graves says. “One of the committees of council relates to the courthouse/Wellington block area and they have met a couple of times to work through a couple of potential strategies for that Wellington block which Algoma (University) will be done with at the end of the school year.

“We’re also going to be setting up a council/Thames Valley District School Board liaison meeting where we want to talk about some common issues in the city so that would be one that is on our agenda to talk to them about in terms of French Immersion.”

The population at Pierre Elliott Trudeau French Immersion School has ballooned from 494 students in 2010 to 780 in 2014. To handle the crush of students, 11 portables are now housed on the school grounds.

A recommendation approved in December, 2013 would see an addition in place for the 2016-17 school year, contingent upon Ministry of Education approval.

Tammy Logtenberg, a member of the school council at Pierre Elliott Trudeau French Immersion School, confirmed to the Times-Journal in an email this week less than three dozen parents attended the January meeting where a survey on possible options was distributed.

Logtenberg adds that is fairly typical of the turnout for any council meeting.

“This unfortunately was a ‘larger’ turnout for any school council meeting,” she writes in the email. “I’ve been on school council for the past couple of years, and there has also been very low parent involvement.”

She notes parents should have been well aware of the meeting to deal with overcrowding at the school.

“Agenda items and minutes are always posted on the school’s official website by school staff for parents to view, then decide if they’d like to attend. The school reaches its parent population via its newsletter.

“The school, as of this year, has sent all newsletters via ‘enews’ to parents’ email and parents were informed of this by paper method at the beginning of the year and I would speculate that most parents, if not all, receive this.”

Earlier this week, Julie Karathanassis of St. Thomas told the Times-Journal she and other parents were unaware of the January meeting as no letter was sent home advising of the open forum. Instead the meeting was advertised on social media and on the signboard in front of the school.

Logtenberg points out newsletters were distributed on Sept. 18, Oct. 10, and four times in January on the 5th, 12th, 20th and 26th.

“The newsletter indicated that child care would be provided, and that we would be discussing the issue of our overcrowding and for parents to please bring ideas with them about potential solutions.”

In addition, notes Logtenberg, a Facebook group was established, “independent of the school, to help encourage a better show at the open forum. I can confirm that over 100 members at that time viewed the event and updates on the open forum, but still failed to attend.”

A transition team will be established at the school to deal with issues like extra-curricular activities such as sports teams and clubs. Also the fear expressed by some parents French Immersion students in Grades 6-8 and Grade 7 and 8 Extended French students who will attend classes in Port Stanley will become isolated from their home school.

Logtenberg notes the transition team “will address all these and other pertinent questions, such as before/after school programming, etc. The board acted quickly with their response, which allows time for Trudeau to help with this transition period.”

Dealing with overcrowding at the school is an issue that dates back to 2013 Logtenberg advises.

“It’s not new. Even when the board threatened to send away 40 kids due to boundary changes, parents barely showed up. Council still represented those parents and we kept those 40 kids.

“I honestly do feel for parents who feel blindsided. We honestly don’t know how to increase parent awareness/involvement. We had to halt out hot lunch program last year due to lack of volunteers.”

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