Mid-August brings thoughts of school, whether welcome or dreaded. Scott Stinson, the Sooke School District’s superintendent, is looking forward to the year.
Stinson is optimistic, but the questions on everyone’s mind are still unanswered. Will masks be mandatory? Are there going to be cohorts? Can parents come to soccer games?
At the start of summer when vaccination rates were going up and transmission rates were dropping, Stinson said it looked like September would be pre-pandemic normal, with recommended masks and a lot of hand washing. The final word will come from the Ministry of Education’s advisory panel of education and health professionals and community partners. Stinson expects answers the week of Aug. 23.
“There’s certainly still anxiety around transmission rates. We had such success at the front end of the summer, and now rates are going up. Parents and staff have concerns, as do I,” he said.
The major issues are the students under 12 years old who aren’t vaccinated, whether masks will be required, and if parents will be allowed to attend school events. Stinson’s hopeful for the last piece, along with opening sports and arts programs.
“Having kids come and go quickly rather than hanging around, you lose the vibrancy of our schools,” he said.
Aside from COVID-19, Stinson is itching to dig into the district’s new strategic plan that identified diversity, equity and inclusion as a critical factor for all the priority areas – learning, engagement and growth.
“Looking at how we’re supporting diversity and inclusion among students, to building equity in the work force. And making sure there’s equity of opportunity. The quality of education should not be dependent on what school a student is enrolled in.”
This year will see a lot of consultation within the district, with community partners and neighbours.
“It includes Indigenous knowledge, history and relationships, and BIPOC, sexual orientation and gender identity. We want to make sure all of that reflected in who we are as a community and as a school district.”
There are about 300 more students this year, bringing the district to just shy of 12,000 students.
Two new schools are under construction – Centre Mountain Lellum and Pexsisen, both set to open in September 2022 – and the district has applied for capital funding for a third new school on Latoria Road.
A $5-million retrofit on Hans Helgesen Elementary school is underway – a legacy of the leaky condos of the 1990s. The building envelope and roof are being redone, and should be complete by December.
The district is also waiting on approval for seismic upgrades to Port Renfrew and Sooke Elementary schools, which were identified as the top two priorities.
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