IPS needs to alter its strategy to become financially sustainable. In essence:
- it needs to build an asset base to ensure financial independence
- it needs to grow and reach a sustainable critical mass
As a trigger (the school’s current lease with the Smooth Stones Foundation expires June 30th, 2012) the Head, IPS Board, and community members have been looking at potential new sites on Bowen Island on which to build a school and expand the IPS program.
IPS is a niche player, specializing in middle school education. Early adolescence is a time of rapid social, cognitive, and physical change. For some youth, these changes can make this period a vulnerable point in development. Adding to the stress, some students transfer from an elementary school to a comprehensive high school.
Middle schools are seen as an intermediate step between elementary school and high school. Research demonstrates that sending adolescents to middle schools eases the intellectual and social challenges involved in the transition to a higher level of education. While the impact on youth of moving to a higher level of schooling has been the focus of intense research and debate in the United States, surprisingly little research has been conducted examining how Canadian youth make this transition within the context of Canadian schools.
In a research paper conducted by Statistics Canada entitled, ‘Making the Transition: The Impact of Moving from Elementary to Secondary School on Adolescents‘ Academic Achievement and Psychological Adjustment’, two important findings were communicated. The first was that middle school students may use indirect or socially directed aggression less frequently than students who remained in elementary school (Lipps, 2005). The second was that students transferring directly from an elementary school to a comprehensive high school appeared to experience some negative emotional consequences. Specifically, youth who moved directly from an elementary school to a high school reported greater symptoms of physical stress. Furthermore, female students who directly transfer to high schools at ages 12 and 13, reported higher levels of depressive affect than female adolescents who remained in an elementary school (Lipps, 2005).
Some 70 public middle schools operate in BC (2007 enrolment: 40K students or 7% of the overall public school enrolment), but there are only two dedicated private middle schools. Bowen Island belongs to School District 45, which has no dedicated middle schools. Most students reaching grade 6 stay at their elementary school and switch straight to high school in grade 8.
A growing number of schools are offering the International Baccalaureate as a leading edge educational program (more details at www.ibo.org). The IB system recognises the special needs of middle year students and has developed the Middle Year Program for grades 6-10. Worldwide, some 670 schools have adopted the IB MYP. In the Lower Mainland only 3 schools offer the MYP at this time: King George and Lord Roberts in Vancouver; and Meadowridge in Maple Ridge. A number of schools such as Mulgrave in West Vancouver, Balmoral in North Vancouver and Stratford Hall in Vancouver are candidates for the MYP. Most of these schools offer the Middle Year Program as part of a full K-12 experience. IPS is a candidate MYP school, expects to achieve full accreditation in 2009 and will become the only stand-alone private MYP school in the province.
School enrolment in BC has been declining for the last few years, and the trend is expected to continue for the next ten years. Enrolment in grade 6 is expected to drop from the current 46,000 province-wide to 43,000 by 2013 and will then remain roughly flat for the following five years. In our primary catchment area (North Shore, Sunshine Coast and Howe Sound) grade 6 enrolments will likely decline from 2455 in 2008 to 2200 in 2013 and 2140 by 2017.
Bowen Island’s population of around 3,700 typically results in 30-35 students entering Grade 6 each year. IPS captures roughly one third of these potential students, which is far in excess of the average 13% market share for private schools in our catchment area, and the 11% market share province-wide. The Bowen Island student population is expected to decline slightly, in line with the surrounding catchment area.
IPS offers a home-stay program for international students, as do many private and public schools. Altogether, some 4% of the students in our catchment area are international students (2% province-wide). A small number of private schools in BC offer full residence programs, typically starting in grades 7 or 8. Altogether some 1200 students are enrolled in residence programs in BC. Fees for such boarding programs are around $44,000 per year for international students, or $33,600 for BC residents. IPS currently charges home-stay students $200 per week, or $6,000 per school year, in addition to the normal tuition fees.
Students in middle schools are generally within three years of age of each other. Having a homogenous group of adolescents in the same school, who are undergoing the same set of cognitive, social, emotional, and physical changes, away from older youth, allows teachers to be in a better position to meet the unique needs of students.
The National Association of Middle Schools (NAMS) identifies six characteristics of successful middle schools. Successful middle schools provide:
- Curriculum that is relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory. An effective curriculum is based on criteria of high quality and includes learning activities that create opportunities for students to pose and answer questions that are important to them. Such a curriculum provides direction for what young adolescents should know and be able to do and helps them achieve the attitudes and behaviours needed for a full, productive, and satisfying life.
- Multiple learning and teaching approaches that respond to their diversity. Since young adolescents learn best through engagement and interaction, learning strategies involve students in dialogue with teachers and with one another. Teaching approaches should enhance and accommodate the diverse skills, abilities, and prior knowledge of young adolescents, and draw upon students individual learning styles.
- Assessment and evaluation programs that promote quality learning. Continuous, authentic, and appropriate assessment and evaluation measures provide evidence about every student’s learning progress. Grades alone are inadequate expressions for assessing the many goals of middle level education.
- Organizational structures that support meaningful relationships and learning. The interdisciplinary team of two to four teachers working with a common group of students is the building block for a strong learning community with its sense of family, where students and teachers know one another well, feel safe and supported, and are encouraged to take intellectual risks.
- School-wide efforts and policies that foster health, wellness, and safety. A school that fosters physical and psychological safety strives to build resiliency in young people by maintaining an environment in which peaceful and safe interactions are expected and supported by written policies, scheduled professional development, and student-focused activities.
- Multifaceted guidance and support services. Developmentally responsive middle level schools provide both teachers and specialized professionals who are readily available to offer the assistance many students need in negotiating their lives both in and out of school.
Starting from the assumption that IPS continues to focus on the middle years, the Bowen Island demographics can realistically only “yield” 50 students for the coming 5-10 years. This is not a sufficient base to build a sustainable school. For years the school has worked hard to attract students from the surrounding areas, but with declining demographics and a number of MYP options becoming available on the North Shore, IPS cannot expect to attract many day students from North and West Vancouver. IPS therefore needs to find new avenues to attract students:
- Lower Mainland students: None of the MYP schools in the area offer a resident program, yet many families in the Lower Mainland have both parents working in extremely demanding professional careers, leaving little time for attending to the needs of fast-evolving teens. We believe there is an opportunity to develop a resident program for this market.
- Home-schooled students: There is a significant group of home-schooled students on the more remote islands in Howe Sound and the Strait of Georgia which would benefit immensely from a middle year program.
- Sea-to-Sky corridor: Contrary to the rest of the Lower Mainland, the Sea-to-Sky corridor offers very few private education options, especially in the middle years. A resident program at IPS offers a very viable option to these students.
- International Students: we have been successful attracting international students with our current home-stay program. A full residential program will increase the appeal of IPS to this market.
The IPS Value Proposition
Based on the above, we have identified a school concept that combines the excellent & rich academic program (including IB-MYP) that IPS has been offering for years with the unique location of the school on Bowen, close to BC’s major urban hub yet isolated by virtue of being on an island with a unique & vibrant community.
A four-day residence program provides BC families with an opportunity for their children to attend IPS. The unique advantage of the program is that students not only benefit from a quality educational experience by attending an IB-MYP authorized school, but they also have the best of both worlds by boarding with local Bowen families four nights of the week only returning home on weekends and holidays.
In addition, IPS intends to expand its current 4-year program to include Grade 10, thereby offering the full IB MYP program. This by itself is a unique product with vast appeal, and combined with the 4-day residence program should be uniquely positioned to attract students from our off-island target groups.
Finally, IPS intends to use its unique location on Bowen Island to include three key components to its curriculum:
- Marine Science: That IPS is located on Bowen Island, which in turn, is located in Howe Sound, provides the school and its students with an exceptional opportunity to establish a marine science program. Given the school’s close proximity to the Vancouver Aquarium, UBC, and SFU it would be entirely feasible to establish learning partnerships with each institution.
- Agricultural Program: Bowen Island residents have identified a pressing need for sustainable agricultural practices and products to be developed. IPS could be involved in growing produce, herbs, raising chickens for eggs, and fruit bearing trees for local residents.
- Arts Program: The artisan community of Bowen Island is well established and extensive. It includes: writers, potters, glassmakers, weavers, musicians, singers, painters, and master carpenters to name but a few. These artists could develop program in concert with IPS to awaken in students a love and appreciation of aesthetics.
Business Model and Needs
This expanded IPS would of course require larger premises and more staff. This in turn drives the need for a larger student body to ensure a sufficient funding base. Our preliminary business model is based on five classes (grade 6 to 10) with 20 students per class, i.e. 100 students in total. Half of these students would be Bowen residents, the other half being in residence.
In a first phase IPS can use its current premises to accommodate up to 72 students. Since we only expect 50-60 local day programme students, our initial target is to attract an additional 10-20 resident students. These students would be lodged in separate premises. IPS is currently investigating the opportunity to lease a property that would allow the accommodation of 10 resident students with minimal investment, or 20 students with more significant building upgrades. The property could eventually be acquired and be used as a base for a new school building in addition to the currently existing residence.
Our preliminary business plan indicates that with 10 resident students and yearly residence fees of $18,000 for BC residents or $23,000 for international students, the residence program could break even.
For this first phase IPS would employ a resident couple of caretakers managing the residential property, complemented by a part-time teaching assistant helping resident students with homework. A part-time relief caretaker would be required if the group includes international students enrolled for full-time residence.
Community Involvement and Benefits
IPS has always been strongly connected to the Bowen Island community. The vast majority of students live on the island, as do most if the staff. Many island residents have been involved in some way with the school over the years.
The plan presented above would offer significant benefits to the Bowen community:
- IPS would be one of the largest employers on Bowen Island with a projected 28 staff.
- The school would build a number of facilities that can be of use to the community, such as an assembly hall, a gymnasium, etc.
- By establishing a solid financial foundation, the school will be able to offer local Bowen residents a world class education at their doorstep, with a very significant bursary program (that even today exceeds by far the Canadian average)
- By offering a residence program for off-island students, potential disruption from increased traffic is reduced to a minimum.
- The school would become internationally renowned as one of the premiere independent schools, putting Bowen Island on the map.
IPS is uniquely positioned to become an internationally renowned school. Presently, the board and Head are committed to making IPS become “the best middle school in Canada”, but the possibility exists of expanding the IB-MYP to incorporate both the IB-PYP and IB-DP programs. To date the school has not leveraged the natural and physical resources of this island jewel in ways that expand and broaden the reputation of, not only Island Pacific School, but of Bowen Island as well.
Chair, Kim Brooks
Report prepared by Boudewijn Neijens (Retired September 12, 2009) & Michael Simmonds