Board mulls over French Immersion

No decisions were made Tuesday night as the Northwest Catholic District School Board reviewed a special report on the French Immersion program during its regular monthly meeting.
Al Cesiunnas, assistant to the director of education, presented the report, which included everything from the history of the French Immersion program to enrolment levels at St. Francis School and future staffing issues.
“There is a shortage of French Immersion teachers in the province and that shortage will increase in the next five years,” Cesiunnas told the board.
The report noted only a handful of qualified French Immersion teachers are set to graduate from university in 2003.
At Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, for instance, only seven primary and junior division French teachers, and 21 junior and intermediate ones, are in their next graduating class.
Some 40 students are set to complete the French teaching program at St. Boniface College in Manitoba next year, while the University of Ottawa has only eight prospective graduates in the junior and intermediate division and 10 in their intermediate and senior division.
Even if the local school board actively recruits those teachers, there are no guarantees the graduates will move to the north.
“We recently sent two principals to a recruitment fair in Thunder Bay and of the 65 contacts, only four were [qualified to teach] French and only one showed any interest in coming to our area,” Cesiunnas said.
The 25-page report also outlined enrolment levels over the next five years, and also included numbers of students enrolled in the high school program.
The projected number of Grade 12 students expected to receive their French Immersion certificates from Fort High next June is seven.
Cesiunnas told the board that if they had to consider closing the program, the projected loss in enrolment at local schools would be minimal.
According to the report, St. Michael’s School here would lose 21 students, going from 274 to 253 kids, while St. Francis possibly could lose 11 if the board chose to drop the French Immersion program.
“Obviously, this is going to be a challenge to keep the program alive in our system considering the supply of teachers,” board chair Wade Petranik said.
“We will have to look at it on a year-to-year basis to see how long we can continue to offer the program,” he added. “There is not a whole lot more that we can do.”
Education director John Madigan said the report had not been intended to offer any solutions to the current staffing shortage or enrolment issues, just that it was a response to recent discussions at board meetings about the status of the current French Immersion program and the issues that lie ahead.
Petranik agreed no decisions would be made anytime soon concerning French Immersion locally.
“We are not really intending to make any recommendations at this time in terms of cutting the program,” he said. “We want to be aware of the challenges ahead in the future and keep our head up so they don’t come as a surprise.”
Representatives from the local Canadian Parents for French were on hand for Tuesday night’s board meeting.
“It is an excellent report and it is a good idea to prepare for the future,” CPF past president Jean Herbert told the board.
The group did not wish to speak on the issue until it had an opportunity to examine the report further.
Also Tuesday night, the board:
•approved the 2002/03 board meeting schedule;
•heard a report on teacher performance appraisals;
•received updates on enrolment figures and Catholicity initiatives; and
•accepted a letter of resignation from trustee Cheryl Lovisa, who has moved to Thunder Bay.