Wildfires overshadow return to school for Central Okanagan students

There is an air of excitement and anticipation for students returning to school each September.

But with the Grouse Complex wildfires still burning on the West Side and some students returning to school while still under evacuation orders, on evacuation alert or their homes burned to the ground, this September was a little different for the reopening of public schools in the Central Okanagan.

As Kevin Kaardal presented the first part of his September annual back-to-school report, offering updates on enrollment figures, school capital improvement projects and staffing, he discussed at length the impact wildfires on staff, students, families and the illustration that translates to what it means. public education means for a community.

“We need public education more than ever when a community is facing a crisis,” Kaardal said at the Central Okanagan school board meeting Wednesday.

He described a palpable sense of euphoria in some schools on September 5, where students who had lived their lives uprooted by the wildfires saw a return to some sense of normalcy in their lives by returning to class.

Kaardal said the students were greeted by an equally enthusiastic teaching staff, as well as the school district’s trauma counseling services set up to help students who needed it.

“I just learned this afternoon that Westside Road will be open again on a limited basis, which will allow our school buses that have been rerouted through Vernon to reduce travel time, so we are excited about that,” Kaardal said.

“But we also know that for some students it might be difficult to drive down Westside Road and see the tragedy of homes lost to wildfires, so we will be prepared for that as well.”

Kaardal took time to recognize the efforts of firefighters who were on the front lines, citing their efforts to save Rose Valley Elementary School, which saw the fire reach the limits of the school fence.

Kaardal said firefighters battled the flames until the wildfire was spread by wind, stressing that while considerable attention was paid to efforts to save a $75 million water treatment plant dollars in West Kelowna, saving the school also meant preserving a $40 million facility.

He also expressed gratitude for the efforts of the school district’s support staff, its administrative leaders and teachers for their efforts to ensure that all schools would open on time.

In his report, Kaardal cited the efforts of operational staff members Harold Schock, Josh Currie and Rob Drew for their support in working with the Emergency Operations Center; the entire international education team and homestay coordinators who had to find temporary accommodation for hundreds of arriving students; and the administrative and custodial team at Mount Boucherie High School for supporting the move of the Westside EOC from Royal LePage Place to the high school.

“Many of our employees have accommodated or continue to accommodate families under evacuation orders or those who have lost their homes. Last year’s theme of creating caring communities for our school district is lived daily,” Kaardal said in his report.

Compounding this situation was the landslide on the highway between Summerland and Peachland, which forced the school district to find other ways to get teachers living south of the landslide into their schools.

“Our staff at all levels was exceptional,” Kaardal told the school board.

“Our staff were in schools preparing for classes over Labor Day weekend because they know and understand how important this is to students. »

Kaardal noted that some summer school improvement projects have been delayed due to disruptions from the wildfires, but he said those projects will eventually be completed.

“We will get there,” he said.

On the statistics side, the Kaardal report shows certain figures from school districts for the start of the 2023-24 school year:

*As if on September 12 and 24, 194 students were enrolled in the Central Okanagan Public Schools system, an increase of 466 from the original projections and 666 from the September 30, 2022 enrollment.

• To date, 438 fee-paying international students have arrived and another 105 will arrive during the second half of this academic year. These students represent 29 countries.

• The school district’s Welcome Center helped introduce 331 students and their families from 44 different countries compared to 156 in September 2022.


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