Delta will add a third traditional school to its roster this fall as Heath Elementary switches gears to offer the private-style program in the public school.
Discussions to make the change began with staff around spring break – and the concept quickly gained momentum.
“From the get-go this was very much a community decision,” said Janet Lauman, principal at Heath.
She said changing the school’s focus was prompted by figures showing that although Heath’s enrolment sits at roughly 300 students, there are another 300 children in the school’s catchment area who choose not to attend public school.
“That’s a concern,” said Lauman. “Being a strong proponent of public education, we thought ‘why is that?’”
Data showed many parents were choosing private schools because of their use of uniforms, as well as the more structured procedures and protocols.
“It was a good time to ask the question: Should we be traditional?” said Lauman.
After getting support from the school’s staff, parents were consulted, and 90 per cent were in favour of the idea. A written survey was also sent out to gauge approval.
Admittedly, said Lauman, there were a few that didn’t want the traditional model brought in, concerned about things such as the cost of uniforms. But overall, there was considerable enthusiasm.
Deputy superintendent Garnet Ayres admits the move to the traditional model in three of Delta’s elementary schools has been mainly to attract and retain students. Like many school districts, enrolment in Delta has been on the decline for many successive years.
Ayres said parents choosing schools outside their neighbourhood do so because they are seeking something other than what the public education system typically offers. Reasons are varied, but may include religious or cultural considerations, or access to specific learning opportunities.
Traditional schools, he said, offer parents a choice that wasn’t there before. While there is a strong focus on manners and homework policies – something every school strives for – the traditional environment is more structured and formal.
And a big part of that formal approach is the use of uniforms.
“Students feel more attached to their school … an increased sense of belonging,” Ayres said. “We want our students to strive to do their best, find their talents and reach for the stars. Uniforms enhance a sense of community and togetherness at the same time.”
Parents at Heath voted on the style of their uniforms last week – chosen from three designs students had picked as favourites from an original 11 colour and style combinations.
Come fall, Heath students will don navy bottoms or tartan skirts with either sky blue or white shirts that have the school’s green alligator logo.
Delta introduced its first traditional school at Pebble Hill Elementary in 2008. Since that time, enrolment at the school – which had been dropping – has climbed back up again, with the number of kindergarten students quadrupling in three years.
In 2009, Jarvis Elementary also adopted the traditional model and student numbers there have also risen since the switch.
Ayres said its clear “one size does not work for everyone” and providing a choice in schooling necessary.
“If the traditional model offers a more structured and orderly school that parents are looking for, then it is important for the district to respond.”