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Sweet Music — Winlaw, Jewett Elementary schools saved from closure

Brendan Quinn
By Brendan Quinn
July 6th, 2016

It’s official: Winlaw and Jewett Elementary schools will continue to operate despite initial predictions of potential closure.

Thanks in part to a funding grant from the province, Winlaw Elementary, located in the Slocan Valley, will remain open for business; sweet music to the ears of concerned parents, students and teachers from the area.

The decision by trustees came during Tuesday’s Kootenay Lake School District Special Open Meeting to discuss the School Closure Bylaw at the L.V. Rogers High School Gymnasium.

In front of a tense crowd, trustees held first and second readings of the bylaw.

However, in giving credit where credit is due, many attendees at Tuesday’s meeting were of the opinion that the incredible passion and dedication of Winlaw’s community members was a driving force behind the School Board’s unanimous decision to keep the school going.

Lenora Trenaman, Board Chair for Kootenay Lake School District 8, told The Nelson Daily the board’s decision to keep Winlaw and Jewett open was a combination of the Rural Education Enhancement Fund (REEF) and impassioned community response.

“Well I think that the primary influence besides the input that we received through the consultation period was the rural enhancement funding that has been confirmed by the ministry for Sept 2017,” Trenaman said after the meeting.

“I think that we heard very clearly from every community that they would like to sustain the viability of their schools and certainly Winlaw was impressive because of the sheer numbers and the spectrum of the folks that came to meetings and/or provided us input,” Trenaman added.

Trenaman said that while Winlaw received a lot of focus, all the communities in the district deserve recognition for their hard work.

“[Winlaw response] is impressive, however that does not negate other community input that we had received,” Trenaman explained.

“In Jewett we heard the same message very, very clearly. People came out in numbers to support the sustaining of their schools.”

In this plan, W.E. Graham in Slocan, Winlaw’s sister school in the Slocan Valley, also remains open.

Jewett Elementary, located in Meadow Creek north of Kaslo, another school considered for closure, will also be receiving funding from the province and will remain open.

However, the board is looking into working with the community to continue improving and maintaining the school.

During Tuesday’s meeting Yahk Elementary and Trafalgar Middle School in Nelson were axed by trustees looking to find a balance between money spent on maintenance and buildings to providing the best learning environment for students.

However, the closing of Trafalgar’s dilapidated facility will be completed in stages, with no current students being forced to return to elementary schools while Yahk Elementary is slated to cease operations in the fall of 2016.

Salmo Elementary is another school slated for closure.

This decision depends on Kootenay Lake School District receiving funding to Salmo Secondary School to accommodate Kindergarten to Grade 12 students — meaning no students would be force to leave the community of Salmo.

“Trustees are aware of the challenges of providing education and the distance to the next bricks and mortar school for those kids and is still looking at the opportunity to work with the community to have a viable education facility for those children in the valley,” Trenaman said.

While the passion shown by the communities can’t be overstated, it’s important to recognize that the board has struggled with the enormous burden of creating, discussing and presenting their draft plan, and that anger from citizens wasn’t directed at them, but the provincial government.

“My perspective as Director for this area . . . I think the problem is in Victoria. That’s where the funding has to come from,” said Walter Popoff, Regional Director for Area H.

“Closing a remote school is almost like closing a community down. I will make a commitment that I will work with the province to get additional funding for not just our district, but all the districts throughout the province,” Popoff added.

The third reading of the School Closure Bylaw will take place on Tuesday (July 12th) once again at the LVR Gymnasium at 5 p.m.

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