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Seycove parents say elite hockey academy is offside

More than 150 Seycove Secondary parents showed up to a meeting this week to voice concerns over the prospect of an elite hockey academy being established at their school.
Seycove parents

More than 150 Seycove Secondary parents showed up to a meeting this week to voice concerns over the prospect of an elite hockey academy being established at their school.

Lack of consultation with parents, fear that a sudden influx of out-of-district students will overwhelm the small high school, and concerns that problems that prompted West Vancouver’s school district to sever ties with the program could be repeated were issues voiced in a two-hour meeting Monday night.

“It all feels like this is being steamrolled in,” said parent Paul Kevener, whose son is due to start at Seycove in September. “This is a business that had its contract terminated with West Vancouver school district. Why is this not being investigated?”

North Vancouver school trustees endorsed the plan to take on the elite hockey academy “in principle” at their regular board meeting Feb. 25.

The program would add 76 elite hockey players aged 13 to 17 to the school’s current enrolment of 521 (which includes 48 international students) and with that an estimated $700,000 in provincial funding into school district coffers. Students – who come from all over the Lower Mainland – would attend classes at Seycove in the morning and do on-ice training in the afternoon.

But Seycove parents say they’re shocked they didn’t have a chance to ask questions prior to trustees’ endorsement of the program.

And a large crowd that showed up to a meeting Monday let school district officials know they aren’t happy about that.

Last month, a letter to parents in West Vancouver referred to “concerns about academic success, and other challenges such as student programming and scheduling” as among reasons for the split.

Chris Atkinson, assistant superintendent in North Vancouver, told parents staff had looked into those issues. “There were challenges,” he said at the meeting. “Academic challenges, behavioural challenges.” But Atkinson said he believes with extra support the program could be successful.

Atkinson added it isn’t fair for parents to assume players would bring problems to the school. “There seems to be a lot of conversation about people who aren’t here,” he said. “These are students who are successful on and off the ice.”

Some teachers who came to the meeting also voiced concerns. “It’s easier to say that than to be a member of staff here who actually have to deal with those concerns and address them,” said one.

Renee Willock, president of the West Vancouver Teachers’ Association, said in an interview teachers at Sentinel did have more problems with the hockey program than with other academies, noting students were leaving class early every day to make their ice time and there was pressure on teachers to make sure they could catch up later.

There was also pressure on teachers to change the students’ grades in some cases, she said.

“The students are paying a lot of money to be here. I think there was an expectation they would be successful,” she said. “It was this whole idea that this was an elite group  ... that was entitled to special treatment.”

Nathan Fischer, who operates the academy, said in an email hockey staff never contacted teachers. Academics were all handled by academy staff at Sentinel, he said.

On Monday night, Seycove parents also questioned what the influx of an all-male sport group from outside the community would mean to the small high school.

“This would be like bringing 200 students to Windsor or 300 students to Carson Graham,” said parent Tiffany Britton following the meeting.

Others questioned why a public school is joining forces with a private enterprise that parents will pay upwards of $22,000 to enrol their children in. “Where do we draw the line between a public school and a private school?” asked one parent.

Both Atkinson and school board chair Christie Sacré told parents the hockey program would boost flagging enrolment at the school, which operates at about 75 per cent of capacity.

“It’s great to be the little school at Seycove,” said Sacré, but warned the spectre of possibly having to close the school one day is a concern. “We don’t want to shut it down,” she said.

Atkinson said Seycove is the only school with space for 76 new students. He told parents the hockey program is not a done deal. “There is no agreement,” he said, adding consultation has just begun and trustees can always change their minds.

In an email to the North Shore News after the meeting, Sacré said the school district will continue to consult with parents, which will include answering questions and meeting again in person.

The Spartan Sport Group also met this week with parents of the prospective academy students.

Fischer said in his email there is “a lot of untrue misinformation and untrue comments” being spread about the players. He added that players have contributed to food banks and toy drives and pointed to 40 per cent of players finishing the year with a 90 per cent grade average.

If a final agreement is reached between Spartan and the North Vancouver School District, the program could start at Seycove in September.