The shortcomings of old South Kamloops secondary were clearly laid out for Education Minister Mike Bernier Wednesday, but Bernier was equally clear: There will be no replacement in the short term.
Bernier took a whirlwind tour of Kamloops schools, getting a close look at what’s working well and not so well for students and teachers.
Having held the education portfolio for only the past five months, Bernier visited classrooms at Bert Edwards School of Technology and South Kamloops secondary before meeting with the school board, part of his continuing tour of school districts provincewide.
“We want you to see the best, the very best,” Denise Harper, board chairwoman, told Bernier.
The board also wanted to point out the obvious about the aging high school, built in 1952, having made its replacement a No. 1 priority among capital projects in the district. At an estimated cost of $50 million, that’s a funding challenge, when it comes to provincial priorities based on population growth versus a declining enrolment in Kamloops-North Thompson.
“I trust the minister will see the building we are walking through for its excellent teaching, for our kids and for the building itself,” said board vice-chairwoman Megan Wade.
Accompanied by SKS principal Rick Kienlien and MLA Terry Lake, Bernier saw the gym and automotive shop, which demonstrate some of the deficiencies of a facility built in the post-war era. The school has been operating over capacity for years and next year's conversion of the John Peterson campus to a K-12 facility will only add to the constraints. What struck him most of all is the limited ability to adapt the old school to meet 21st century standards. One student in a wheelchair is unable to access the gym and cafeteria, for example.
“When you look at a school built in the 1950s, there are bound to be some issues experienced around accessibility,” Bernier said. “We’ve seen that today.
The shops are outmoded, lacking the technology so thoroughly integrated with instruction.
“We’ll continue working with the school board,” Bernier added, noting there are 1,600 schools across B.C. “This particular school, it’s not something that in the short term we’re going to be able to replace, frankly.”
Despite the apparent deficiencies, Bernier said he was impressed with how the school district has been able to adapt and to see classroom instruction thriving.
“I’ve seen some amazing passion here, not only from the teachers but from the students themselves,” he said. “They have some amazing curriculum.”
Earlier, Bert Edwards greeted the minister, showing him how technology and science provide a platform for learning there.
Bernier sat in on a teleconference with a zoologist from Buffalo, NY, who interacted with BEST students while teaching them about the physiology of a turtle.
“How cool is that when we can bring an expert into a Grade 3 class just like that,” said principal Paul Hembling.
In a Grade 6 classroom, students worked at programming Lego robotics to follow their instructions. Bernier recalled that slide rules rather than computers were the standard tool in his time in school.
“That is one of my big priorities, to make sure stuff like this happens,” he said.