Lakes District News
School District No. 91 (Nechako Lakes) has reached a decision to close schools in Fort St. James and Fort Fraser.
Sowchea Elementary in Fort St. James and Fort Fraser Elementary will close as of June 30, 2015.
The board of education voted to close both schools after a 60-day consultation period. Two public meetings were held in both Fort Fraser and Fort St. James. Manu Madhok, Director of Instruction for School District No. 91, said community members offered possible alternate solutions to closing the schools.
“The Fort St. James community presented the board with a very well done proposal around creating neighbourhood schools,” he said. “Although that proposal was insufficient to keep Sowchea Elementary open, the board is hopeful to keep working with that community on some of their key ideas and concepts for the existing two schools.”
Fort St. James Mayor Rob MacDougall said he understands that the board of education was faced with a very difficult decision.
“I respect that decision; I know it was tough,” he said. “Having been involved in this decision-making process, I know it was not easy; they did it with heavy hearts.”
The approximately 125 students from Sowchea Elementary will be amalgamated into David Hoy Elementary, creating a combined school of just over 260 students. David Hoy’s operational capacity is assessed by the Ministry of Education at 345 students.
The approximately 50 students from Fort Fraser Elementary will be amalgamated into Mouse Mountain Primary School and Fraser Lake Elementary Secondary School.
Madhok said a continuous decline in enrollments was the reason for the school closures.
In the Fort St. James area, the school district has seen a decline in enrollments from 900 students in 2000/01 (grades k–12) to 594 students in the 2014/15 school year.
In the Fort Fraser/Fraser Lake area, the school district has seen a decline in enrollments from 664 to 464 students over that same period.
“School closures are not a pleasant part of running a school district,” said Madhok. “However, the reality is that we have far fewer students in our communities; by closing these two schools we have increased utilization of our existing schools and have ensured that the board is being fiscally responsible in allocating the majority of their resources towards students rather than partially empty buildings.”
“We hope to see our community populations stabilize in the next few years so that we don’t have to continue dealing with declining enrollments,” he added.
Over the last five years, School District No. 91 has closed Topley Elementary School in Topley, Muriel Mould Primary School in Burns Lake, and Prairiedale Elementary School in Vanderhoof.