Parents' questions ranged from drop-off times to worries about after-school care as the YK1 school district presented plans to move 300 students while their school, JH Sissons, is rebuilt.
Others want to know what "plan B" looks like if work to build a new school facility takes longer than the two years currently forecast. Work on the new Sissons is scheduled to begin in August, and the new facility is expected to open in the fall of 2022.
YK1 estimates 334 students will need to be moved to other schools during the 2020-21 academic year, with most moving to William McDonald while new junior kindergarten students are enrolled at Range Lake North. William McDonald's Grade 8s would move to Sir John Franklin, the district's high school.
In 2021-22, the picture looks similar, though those Grade 8s would return to William McDonald. The school may use portables to cope with an effective doubling of its student population that year.
"We don't know what parents are going to move out of town, what students are going to move out of town, what students are going to move into town. Because that varies," said YK1 superintendent Metro Huculak, explaining the numbers used to arrive at a plan are only an estimate. He was speaking to 45 parents and a handful of children at a meeting last Wednesday, held at William McDonald School.
Huculak took the current year at Sissons as an example, saying: "Several students left, they moved out of town – so that's why the enrollment that we had projected was not there."
Huculak believes his district's draft plan takes into account feedback from previous meetings, such as a request to preserve the integrity of the middle school and French-immersion programming, as well as ensuring the least amount of movement.
However, parents had fresh concerns. In particular, some said the plan would leave them with children spread between two or even three schools, potentially creating drop-off chaos each morning. Parents asked if drop-off times could be staggered as a result.
Others wondered about the safety of children during a congested drop-off and pick-up. Lorraine Brekke, whose children will be four and six years old when the move happens, wants access to supervision for the "little people." She said some parents may bike their kids to school, so "don't assume it's just a five-minute car ride."
One parent asked what would be done about the William McDonald parking lot, which they called "dysfunctional at the best of times."
Huculak said meetings had taken place with the NWT government's education and infrastructure departments, as well as with the City of Yellowknife, about the parking lot. "There's going to be a huge increase in the number of vehicles that come, drop-offs and so on," he acknowledged, pledging to spend more time assessing how drop-off will work under the plan.
In response to a request from several parents for longer after-school care – and even, potentially, before-school care – Huculak said the school district had signed an agreement with the NWT's branch of the YWCA to provide after-school care to all schools, and he would take parents' requests back to the YWCA.
Asked how William McDonald's programming would be maintained with an influx of children, principal Jodi Lee-Lewis said that while science and art rooms would become classrooms, that did not mean the subjects would be removed from the curriculum. Administrators and teachers will move with their students, as will their supplies.
Portables are an option, Huculak said. If needed, they would be located behind William McDonald.
Parent Miki Ehrlich said she recognized the work done by the school district, but was anxious that YK1's plan remained in draft form with construction less than a year away.
"I guess I'm curious about Plan B," she said, "if things don't go as plans and if renovations take more than two years. The new build, if that takes longer."
"He's got a gigantically big task and I think he's doing everything he can," Carol Lockhart said, referring to Huculak. She has children in three schools. "I think he's got a lot of intangibles, as well as dollars and cents to deal with, so it's not easy."
Huculak said he planned to meet the principals involved this week then work toward finalizing the plan. Parents who have comments or questions can contact YK1 by calling 867-766-5050 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.