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School board eyeing French immersion 0

By Nathan Taylor, Orillia Packet & Times

French immersion could be coming to the Simcoe County District School Board.

If trustees approve the recommendation from the program standing committee, French immersion will begin at one school in the southern part of the county in the 2011-12 school year.

The program would then be extended to three schools in the second year and the ultimate goal of nine schools over the following few years, accommodating an estimated 2,500 students.

The program would have participating students immersed in 100% French instruction in grades 1 and 2. English instruction would be gradually introduced in grades 3 and 4 and would make up 50% of the day in grades 5-8.

The move would be a huge programming change for the board, which currently offers extended French at some schools, as well as its regular core program.

The matter sparked a lengthy discussion and debate at Wednesday's program meeting. At the heart of the debate was the cost of transporting students to the immersion sites.

Once the program is fully implemented, it would cost nearly $2.9 million a year.

Trustee Caroline Smith said it was "too costly for a small number of children."

"We couldn't even get money to teach children how to read English," she said, referring to last year's divisive budget issue, the reading recovery program.

Reading recovery, which provides one-to-one support for Grade 1 students in need of intensive instruction, was on the chopping block last year. The program was sustained, however, with funding from reserves.

Smith wasn't ready to commit to a move that would require the board to find $2.9 million in savings from the budget without first knowing what would be cut.

But the board might not have to carry the whole load, said Jodi Lloyd, trustee for Ramara, Severn and Tay townships.

The board's transportation consortium is undergoing an "efficiency and effectiveness review" by the Ministry of Education, Lloyd said. If it receives a "high-efficiency" rating, the ministry could fund the transportation completely.

While a high-efficiency rating isn't expected for the current review, Lloyd is confident it will come in a few years, when the program is in its early stages.

"If we're not going to provide transportation, it's not worth doing," she said.

Despite the financial constraints, Lloyd said French immersion is needed as soon as possible. The existing core and extended French programs don't meet the needs of all students, she said, noting core French instruction doesn't start until Grade 4, and extended French covers grades 4 to 8 at select sites.

The impact on this year's budget would be nominal in comparison to future years. Associate director Carol McAulay said it would cost the board about $45,000 this year to prepare for the program.


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