News of the sudden closure of Glenfir School in Summerland came as a shock to many last week, resulting in a rush by parents to find places in other schools for their children before the school year resumed after the spring break.
“The current economic reality has severely impacted our small school of 76 students and we simply do not have the financial means to continue operating our facility,” said Craig Dunbar, the school’s head, adding that they had hoped to make it through the whole school year, but were unable to.
“We have a majority, 80 to 90 per cent of the students that are already placed or have plans,” he said. “Some are just holding off until they can get confirmation but at this point, I am feeling very comfortable and confident with that placement of our students right now.”
Some parents, like Erin Ross, are considering Summerland’s Montessori School after spring break for their children. Others will be headed to schools in the Kelowna area, like the Vendanta Academy, which is offering free tuition until the end of the school year.
“I don’t know how many are actually taking advantage of that, I think it’s pretty negligible,” said Dunbar, noting that most of the student population is drawn from the southern areas of the valley.
Wendy Hyer, superintendent of the Okanagan Skaha School District, said that space will be available for any students that want to reenter the public school system.
“Any student that lives in our catchment area, we have an obligation to,” she said. “We’ll be glad to have them.”
Ross said she is heartbroken that her children won’t be able to continue at Glenfir. Her daughter, Charlotte, was the only kindergarten student at the school in September, though she was joined by another student in January.
“I’ve got two daughters in school, our concern is the class size,” said Ross. “The attention and the strides I have seen in her … she is writing sentences.”
Ross said she would reenrol her students “in a second” if a way could be found to reopen Glenfir, though she is still wondering how the school got into the situation.
“We’re sad to see them go. I am not sure what happened financially,” said Ross. “We’re still not sure we’re getting straight answers.”
Glenfir sits on 17 acres of land in rural Summerland, but Dunbar said it wasn’t an option to sell off part of the parcel to gain operating funds.
“That wasn’t an option for the board to consider. They would have made that choice if they could have but they decided it wasn’t a prudent decision for them,” he said. “The building will remain dormant for a short period, until the board explores possibilities for the future of what this building could hold, even possible future educational possibilities.”
One possible future is the Glenfir facilities being taken over by the Summerland Montessori School, but Dunbar said that isn’t a likely scenario either, though it was considered as a solution to the school’s population problems, as well as offering Montessori a place they could use as well.
“I don’t foresee that is going to happen. There has been some building of relationships there … but I don’t see it going much further at this point. They have been interested, not so much the moving in here, but we looked at amalgamating with them,” he said. “That has been explored over the past year. It just never materialized for a whole host of reasons.”
Whether they end up in a public or independent school, Dunbar thinks the Glenfir students will handle the transition well.
“Children are more resilient than we give them credit for, but there will be an adjustment period for them, being in a new school being in a larger size classroom than they are accustomed to,” he said, noting that while they follow the same base curriculum public schools do, their smaller class sizes allowed teachers to go into more depth and detail. That, he said, will be a big benefit for students as they move on.
“I think what it is going to offer to them is a real affirmation of the knowledge and learning that they have done here and their ability to take that learning and understanding of what they have, apply it, extend it and use it,” he said. “I think that opportunity in itself will be very positive for them.”