French Immersion committee in works

The Northwest Catholic District School Board is creating a French Immersion committee to help deal with the difficulties the program is having in Fort Frances.
At its first regular meeting of the new school year, held Saturday at Our Lady of the Way School in Stratton, the board discussed the mandate of the committee, as well as possible members.
“We have to give them some direction and a mandate,” said chairman Gerry Rousseau.
“I think we should start with reviewing our French Immersion policy,” said Fort Frances trustee Harold Huntley. “Is this meeting our needs today?”
As an example, he suggested looking at whether senior kindergarten was the best grade in which to begin an FI program.
“We need to do more to highlight our French Immersion program to our ratepayers,” said Dryden trustee John Borst. “I think we need to create some kind of strong promotional campaign.”
The board suggested capping the number of people on the committee at 10, including two trustees, some parents, and some teaching staff.
Fort Frances trustee Anne Marie Fitzgerald and Huntley volunteered to sit on the committee.
Rousseau suggested asking a teacher from Dryden to sit on the committee since St. Joseph’s School there has a successful French Immersion program.
“We’ll be pulling from them some of their best practices that we can put to use down here,” he said.
Rousseau also suggested asking Dan Maltais, president of the Northwest unit of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, to sit on the committee.
Marie Brady, president of the Fort Frances chapter of Canadian Parents for French, attended the meeting. “I’m looking forward to getting this committee going,” she said.
The Catholic board has considered cancelling its FI program due to low enrolment for the past two years. Both times, parents lobbied the board to keep it alive.
The new committee will look at different strategies to help make the program flourish in Fort Frances.
In other news, the search for a new director of education continues. The Catholic board retained a consultant, Patrick Slack, in early July to assist in the hunt.
While the board held interviews over the summer, none of the candidates were selected.
“There were interviews held, and the board has decided to continue the search,” noted Huntley.
At a special meeting Aug. 16, the board passed a resolution to extend its contract with acting education director John Madigan until Dec. 3, 2005, “or as mutually agreeable to both parties.”
Madigan was the director of education here from 2001-04. He was replaced by Laurie Bizero last August, but she tendered her resignation in May, which took effect June 30.
Since then, Madigan has been acting as education director from his home in Barry’s Bay, Ont. He visits the district personally about once a month.
Also at Saturday’s meeting, the board reviewed its preliminary enrolment report for the new school year.
Overall, enrolment is down by 16 students compared to numbers in June. The biggest drop was at St. Joseph’s in Dryden, where there were 22 fewer students this month than there were in June.
St. Michael’s and St. Francis both saw a slight increase in enrolment of five and four students, respectively.
Meanwhile, the board passed a balanced budget for the 2005-06 school year at a special meeting last month.
In the minutes for that Aug. 16 meeting, Chris Howarth said, “in order to achieve a balanced budget, it is estimated that funds will have to be transferred from the Reserve for Classroom Expenditures to the Revenue Fund.”
“This is due to the significant cost of the Ministry of Education initiatives involving student data collection and the increase cost of salaries and benefits,” he noted.
Also at Saturday’s meeting in Stratton, the board:
•heard a presentation from principal Brendan Hyatt on Our Lady of the Way School;
•reviewed a draft of the 2005-06 Strategic Plan; and
•agreed to review it governance policy on a regular basis.