Thursday, September 28, 2023
September 28, 2023

Phoenix Elementary closing its doors 

Declining enrolment — and a corresponding operational budget deficit — has spelled the end for Salt Spring’s Phoenix Elementary School, with no students registered and an official closing set for this fall. 

With only 34 students enrolled last year — down from nearly twice as many in 2018 — the alternative K-7 school operated within Gulf Islands School District 64 (SD64) will likely close without significant student disruption, the Board of Education heard at its meeting Wednesday, Sept. 13. 

“Students and families were making choices elsewhere within our system, by and large,” said superintendent Scott Ben- well. “This was a ‘natural’ school closure, if I can call it that.” 

The publicly funded alternative school has been in operation since 1991, and was known for small, multi-age classrooms and its cooperative, family-centred learning approach; during the 2022-23 school year, however, Phoenix Elementary operated at an estimated $90,000 deficit. 

Since spring of last year, noting the trend of continued declining registration, district officials reached out to parents — in con- sideration of budget, but also of the impact on a student’s learning experience a cohort size of less than six students may have. 

Benwell said staff worked with the par- ents of existing (and potentially continuing) students to address that significant decline in registration, and through that work — supporting families in their decision-making, Benwell said — staff were confident that in recommending the closure they weren’t leaving anyone behind. 

Indeed, school administrators ultimate- ly received no new registration requests throughout the spring and summer months, and began the year with no stu- dents enrolled in the school. Teaching staff have all been relocated elsewhere — a con- versation “well received” by those teachers, Benwell added. 

“One way of looking at it is that the consultation process is going to be abbreviated,” said Lori Deacon, acting director of corporate services. “We don’t have staff to consult with, we don’t have a parent advisory council to consult with. There are no families at the school.” 

As a result, the board voted to begin the requisite 60-day consultation period immediately; after another public meeting at the school on 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, an official vote to close the school through bylaw will occur Monday, Nov. 13. 

“The demographic of Phoenix has changed over the last couple of years,” said deputy superintendent D’Arcy Deacon, noting that the vast majority of the students that have been at the school during the declining enrolment period have been upper intermediate students — who have naturally integrated into Gulf Islands Secondary School. 

“Early last year, we were looking at between two and three students for a primary program at Phoenix,” he said. “When we met with families in the end, it was five students [remaining] who chose to go to other places.” 

The official vote to permanently close the school will take place immediately following the 60 days, rather than at a regular school board meeting, to allow the still-attached principal at Phoenix to be re-assigned as soon as possible. 

It was also worth moving up, according to D’arcy Deacon, so the board could begin to contemplate the future of the school-owned property on Drake Road. 

“The sooner [the official closure] happens, the sooner options to explore use of that space for potential revenue generation, or other options, can start to move forward,” he said. 

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