Students, parents, and teachers of the Aldergrove and D.W. Poppy regions waited anticipation of the board’s decision regarding the implementation of a middle school in East Langley. (Special to the Aldergrove Star)

‘A tale of two schools’: Standalone middle school out of the question for D.W. Poppy

School District board of trustees put through three motions following middle school consultations

D.W. Poppy Secondary will not become a middle school, the Langley Board of Education decided on Tuesday night.

Students, parents, and teachers of the Aldergrove and D.W. Poppy Secondary catchment areas filled the board room in anticipation of the board’s decision on a variety of options for Poppy’s future.

Option three – first presented by the school district’s transition committee in September – was that D.W. Poppy would be converted into a standalone middle school, feeding its students into Aldergrove Community Secondary School (ACSS).

But district staff recommended scrapping that option.

The board’s vice chair Shelley Coburn motioned for option three to be taken off the table completely, and the vote was unanimous.

Parents, particularly from the D.W. Poppy catchment, raised concerns about educational programs, about busing and transport times for students, and about safety and well being of students.

“Heightened emotions made [the consultation] a very difficult process for many to undergo,” said Poppy principal Dean Pacheco, to which ACSS principal Jeremy Lyndon agreed.

Trustee David Tod said that the “emotional wake of option three became a tsunami that swallowed the Aldergrove community.”

READ MORE: D.W. Poppy middle school plans raise parent concerns

In all of the feedback given – though 70 per cent was from Poppy parents, students, and dedicated community members – over half said “no” to every option the district presented, according to an over 600-page report by the district staff presented to the board Friday.

Option one is to re-submit a request $4.5-million in capital funding from the Ministry of Education to add a middle school-component to D.W. Poppy Secondary, a request that has been denied two times prior.

Option two is to place portables on site at Poppy to accommodate at least one middle school grade group.

Trustee Rod Ross said he really hoped a fourth or fifth option would emerge out from the community feedback process – “I didn’t much like option one, two, or three” he said publicly.

Aldergrove respondents were mixed in their opinions, some thought option three would bring more funding and programming to ACSS. Some wished for no change.

The option that had the most interest from the Poppy community was option two.

“Feedback from both D.W. Poppy and ACSS respondents was to make upgrades to the facilities and programming in the Aldergrove catchment,” the report read.

RELATED: Kwantlen First Nations ‘overlooked’ in middle school plans

A second motion was passed by the board, where all First Nations students in the district be given flexibility and priority to which schools they choose to attend. 

This was seen as essential by district staff due to the difficulties Kwantlen First Nation students from the Fort Langley area face getting to-and-from Poppy, 10 kilometres away.

A third motion approved by the board was that district staff work to improve programming and scheduling for Betty Gilbert Middle School students, who have to walk to ACSS every day to access explorations classes.

READ MORE: Input sought from Aldergrove parents on a future middle school

Coburn put forth the question: “Why aren’t we asking for that same capital funding [that we’ve been applying for D.W. Poppy] for Betty Gilbert?”

Two months of community consultations saw 706 people attend the public meetings – 400 of those at the Poppy consultation – 282 write emails, and 662 people complete the district’s online survey to voice their opinion on the options.

That level of feedback came from the 1,200 families in Poppy and Aldergrove areas, with 515 students currently enrolled in ACSS and 711 at Poppy.

Although parents and students from Poppy were very active, ACSS was also affected, and the consultations were not always positive for that community.

Aldergrove stands against stigmatization

Ultimately, ACSS principal Jeremy Lyndon said a “single-story” narrative reared its head as a result of consultations, one where Aldergrove students and teachers were seen as “less-than.”

The principal witnessed what he called “a tale of two schools” where ACSS was seen as having problem children that might lure Poppy students into drinking alcohol or being bullied.

“These are not easy things to hear,” said Lyndon, “and students and staff began to internalize it.”

Lyndon defended ACSS, a school he grew up attending, finishing with: “I know that our school is second to none.”

Superintendent Gord Stewart, a former ACSS principal “can’t stand the thought” that a loud few from the Poppy community voiced “’I don’t want my community around those kids.’”

“We have an obligation as a [Langley School District] community to address that.”

Other board members, like Coburn, were also affected by feedback in emails they received regarding consultation options.

Coburn “never expected to have emails so inappropriate that they can’t be included in a package,” she went on to explain.

“My colleagues and I are human beings – I find it hard that I have to remind people of that.”

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