Niverville Jumps to Top of List for DSFM school

·4 min read

While it might be too soon to celebrate just yet, local Francophone parents with school-age children may want to start planning the party. According to the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine’s (DSFM) board of trustees, a French school for Niverville has been bumped to the very top of the division’s request list to the province.

Bernard Lesage is chairperson for the DSFM board and has been a trustee with the division for the past 20 years.

He says the province recently approved new DSFM schools in the Sage Creek neighbourhood of Winnipeg and another in Brandon. Sage Creek has gone to tender for the build and plans are under development for the Brandon school.

At the end of this month, the DSFM board will submit their newest capital plan list to the province. Niverville, Lesage says, tops that wish list.

In November 2022, The Citizen published an article entitled “A French School for Niverville, S’il Vous Plait?” At the time, the general director for the DSFM, Alain Laberge, shared the DSFM’s five-year capital plan which put Niverville second in line, following the proposal for a new build in Île-des-Chênes (IDC).

Since then, priorities for the DSFM board have changed. Now the hope is that the province will approve a Kindergarten to Grade Eight school in Niverville first and, shortly afterward, a new French high school for IDC.

“Right now, there’s a lot of kids from Niverville already going to Gab-Roy,” Lesage says. “But there’s a lot more kids that have the right to be in a Francophone school and when you have a school of proximity, that will be why parents choose a school. So that’s why we’ve put École Niverville [first] and then we’re going to work on the high school [in IDC].”

Once the new IDC school has been completed, it will serve as a regional French high school, inclusive of students from the surrounding communities, including Niverville.

The current École Régional Gabrielle-Roy will transition to an elementary and middle school.

The reason for this strategy, Lesage says, is because high school students generally appreciate the idea of switching to a larger school with amenities and social structures that focus solely on their demographic.

Regardless of priority, though, Lesage says the need is great everywhere right now.

“We know that the whole region around Niverville, Île-des-Chênes, and Grande Pointe is really growing fast,” Lesage says. “We’ve been adding portables at Gab-Roy for the past few years, so obviously there’s already a strain.”

With the most recent census data, Lesage says they’ve been much more successful in determining exactly how many Francophone families live in each region of the province.

He adds, though, that even when there are French school options in nearby communities, many parents opt to send their children to the school that’s closest in proximity to their home.

So while the DSFM could choose to expand on École Régional Gabrielle-Roy in IDC and keep bussing Niverville students there, they know, based on census numbers, that there are enough Francophone residents in Niverville to expect stronger support if there was a local school.

“Just like in Winnipeg, instead of looking at doing a major renovation or a major addition, we’re trying to find out where the kids are and give them that school of proximity,” Lesage says.

What didn’t hurt, he adds, is communication he’s recently received from five Niverville parents who made a formal request for a French school in Niverville.

For this reason, the DSFM expects to hold an informational meeting in the coming weeks, inviting all right-holder parents to attend. Right-holders are those families where at least one parent can identify as a French minority.

Any way you cut it, though, new schools for Niverville and IDC are at the mercy of the province for approval, and it’s anyone’s guess as to when or if they’ll agree with DSFM’s analysis.

“Parents should know that… all Francophone students across the province are entitled to French education and we work hard to make sure that can happen,” Lesage says.

If Niverville is approved for a new French school, Lesage says he’d anticipate an enrollment of around 300 students. A Francophone daycare would be included in the plan.

As well, they’d consider building the school in such a way that it would cater to the entire local Francophone community, not just the students. This could mean the inclusion of a larger-than-typical library or gymnasium space.

“We like to build a sort of a community hub inside those new places where we have a Francophone community,” Lesage adds. “So it’s a cultural place where they can all get together.”

Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Niverville Citizen