Langley school trustees close school but program survives

Members of the gallery clapped when the Langley School Board voted to close Lochiel school in rural South Langley.

It’s a far different reception than the district has received in the past when it closed facilities. Last fall the board examined closure of Langley Secondary, and has closed underutilized elementaries such as County Line, Otter, Aldergrove, South Carvolth, Bradshaw and Murrayville.

The reconfiguration of H.D. Stafford from a high school to a middle school was also controversial in the community.

The specialized program at Lochiel, 224th Street and 15th Avenue, will be moved to Simonds Elementary, 20190 48th Ave.

“I think overall most communities think this will be a win,” assistant superintendent Gord Stewart said.

The board announced its plan to look into the closure April 7 which launched a 60-day consultation process, as set out by district policy.

“Two factors that really triggered this,” he said.

The board had decided not to convert Simonds into a middle school. The elementary has about 140 students but capacity for more than double that. The move of the program will put Simonds’ population at about 300 but not all U-Connect students are present at all times.

“We’re not talking about amalgamating programs,” noted Rob McFarlane, the school board chair. “If nothing happens at Simonds, it’s a vulnerable school. In my mind, it’s a great win to both.”

The other factor was expansion of the Lochiel U-Connect program. U-Connect is a blended school/home school program offering an alternative to traditional classroom environments. The program is kindergarten to Grade 10 but could expand to all grades with the move.

“Certainly if they wanted to do that, it was going to be very difficult to do that at its current site,” Stewart said.

Trustee Shelly Coburn said the input of staff and parents was taken into consideration but what about the students at U-Connect.

“I’m wondering if they are happy about this or if they have any anxiety about going back into a mainstream school or if they’ve even been consulted,” she asked.

Lochiel principal Sarban Sangha said the older students are excited about the new opportunities this affords, including volunteering, leadership, buddy opportunities and more.

“Some of the younger ones are a little bit apprehensive,” he said.

They like the small setting but the school will work to make their transition as smooth as possible and provide a sense of security.

Stewart added that the U-Connect students can interact with the Simonds students as much as they feel comfortable or not at all.

The Lochiel program started in 1997, the first B.C. school to blend face to face instruction with home schooling, site based and online learning. It attracts students from Langley as well as Surrey and beyond but its remote location made it inaccessible to some.

Trustee Alison McVeigh noted her children went to Lochiel.

“What’s going on out there is absolutely magical,” she commented.

She said she’s determined to help the program be sustainable and help Simonds have a stronger future.

Trustee Rod Ross said the schools win and the district sees a fiscal benefit, noting the “budget is only so big.”

Former City councillor Rosemary Wallace, now a school trustee, noted there is another benefit.

“I’m sure the City of Langley is going to be quite happy that this is happening and therees not going to be a school closing in the city,” she said.

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