Education theories and practices are always evolving, as with any discipline.
School District 64‘s configuration review, initiated in the fall of 2018, provides an opportunity to examine the status quo and consider what might be changed in future years.
Whether or not Salt Spring Island Middle School should be maintained in its current state — serving approximately 300 students in grades 6, 7 and 8 — has been a major topic of discussion during the review process.
A significant number of contributions to an online Thought Exchange board, which has been used to gather public input for the configuration review, addressed the middle school, with many of those suggesting it be closed. Anecdotally we’ve heard that some parents have dreaded sending their children to the middle school due to reports of bullying and other harmful behaviours, or reported lack of academic rigour. (Many families have had positive experiences at the school, of course.)
When the new Gulf Islands Secondary School building was opened in 1995 and the former GISS became the middle school, it seemed desirable to use the campus for a new middle years program. At that time, students in Grades 6 and 7 were deemed too old for elementary school, and students in Grade 8 were deemed too young for high school. It was thought that keeping youth of that age together would be beneficial for their social and emotional health. But almost 25 years later, times have changed and so has the thinking.
As a former Grade 6-7 teacher, high school principal and school superintendent who has also done middle years accreditation, Nancy Macdonald pointed out at a school board meeting last week that the promise of middle school helping young adolescents thrive has not been fulfilled as first imagined way back when.
It turns out that other factors may come into play in making a decision about SIMS. In an age of declining student numbers and financial challenges, it only makes sense to seriously consider closing the middle school, adding Grade 8 to GISS and shifting Grades 6 and 7 students to the island’s elementary schools.