Opinion: Build a high school in Peachland already

There are numerous communities of 5,000ish around British Columbia with their own high school. It’s baloney that Peachland can’t have one too.

It would probably be easier to attract young families to Peachland if kids above the age of 11 didn’t have to leave town every day just for basic literacy.

And even though strong population growth is expected throughout the Okanagan for the rest of our lifetime, there doesn’t seem to be any appetite to build another school in Peachland.

But power over the province was just transferred to the NDP last month, and they seem willing to invest more in education than the previous government.

Last year when the NDP was in opposition, and Osoyoos Secondary School was facing closure because of weak demographics, they argued that Osoyoos and Oliver, both communities with roughly 5,000 people, each deserve their own high school. The distance between those two towns is comparable to the distance between Peachland and West Kelowna.

In March 2016, NDP education critic Rob Fleming promised his government would pour tens of millions of dollars into restoring adequate levels of education funding very quickly after winning this year’s election..

Osoyoos Secondary ended up getting saved at the eleventh hour because the Liberal government decided not to cripple a community.

So if kids from Osoyoos shouldn’t have to take a bus 20 minutes down the highway, neither should kids from Peachland.

Feeling optimistic, I emailed Rob Fleming, who’s now the Minister of Education, to ask what it’ll take to get a middle school or high school in Peachland.

My initial inquiry was flat-out ignored. So I phoned the office, an interview was arranged, but that was ignored too. I emailed his office, they apologized and set up another interview, but then it was cancelled.

The initial inquiry was on July 19 and our third attempt at an interview has only been tentatively scheduled for next week; he hadn’t committed to an actual time as of press deadline. Minister Fleming has been flakier than my worst tinder match.

It’s not like he even has to put any critical thought into my question. All he has to do is throw together a vague sentence to hazily explain how there are too many old people in Peachland for a high school to be viable. That’s what the local school district did when I asked them the same question. And their response came in a matter of minutes.

“Peachland on its own would not support a large high school,” said Larry Paul, Secretary-Treasurer with SD23. “However the District currently has on its capital requests funding for a second high school on the west side. There is a growing need for a second facility as the population increases. The school would likely be built in West Kelowna to be more central to the population.”

So West Kelowna’s probably going to get a second high school before Peachland gets one – what are we, chopped liver?

Even if the NDP actually pours tens of millions more into education like Fleming promised last year, Paul said SD23 still has to build about five schools throughout the district just to meet the current population demand, so he’s very skeptical about Peachland getting a new one in the near future.

No doubt that the brick and mortar required to operate a high school in every small town would cost school district’s quite a bit more money. So school boards try to justify centralized high schools by pointing out how students are given a high quality of courses to select from. But with all due respect to ambitious high school students, very few employers care about anything accomplished in high school.

Priorities need to be rearranged if a high school is ever going to get built in Peachland.

A local high school would give local students a much closer connection to their hometown, it would give young families a major new reason to move to town, and it would substantially increase property value in Peachland. But the Ministry of Education only offers shoestring budgets and SD23 has decided that it’s more important for Peachland teens to commute to Mount Boucherie Secondary School so they can have more elective courses.

As much as teenagers love having the option to study advanced placement mathematics, I’m willing to bet that most of them would prefer an extra 30 minutes of sleep every morning.

What a catch 22 for Peachland. How will we ever have enough teenagers for our own high school if a high school never gets built?

Dan Walton  


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