Independence day for Tsawwassen school
As Southpointe Academy CEO and Headmaster Graham Baldwin proudly led a group of Grade 12 students the final few steps to their newly completed school campus Monday morning (Jan. 16), he couldn't help but feel a sense of accomplishment.
It was just over seven years ago when the Tsawwassen independent school was teetering on the edge of non-existence. The future looked bleak and a long way from the 68,000-square-foot, $17 million building that has risen from the ground on 56th Street beside South Delta Baptist Church.
"Dream come true, yes. Very exciting. A long time coming," Baldwin said after the Grade 12 students walked on a chilly morning from their old, leased school buildings several blocks down the street to the new one.
Baldwin said he arrived on the scene a year or so after the school's parents group banded together to preserve Southpointe and carry it forward to where it now has its own home and the opportunity to offer students an expanded learning experience.
"It (new school) will allow us to do labs in the way we want. We now have more labs—we only had one before. It will allow us to program PE in a more effective way because we now have a large gym, and still the use of the church (South Delta Baptist) gym, too," Baldwin said. "So, we have three gyms for teaching. It will basically allow us space to do what we've been doing, and give the teachers more opportunity to experiment with different teaching methods."
That means a shift towards the model of blended learning—combining traditional classroom instruction as well as some self-guided opportunities.
"It's very exciting all around," said Baldwin, adding previous management of the school had left it in a precarious position.
But while Southpointe was in dire straits on the balance sheet, it was achieving success on the controversial school rankings published by the Fraser Institute.
That is the core of its success, said Baldwin, adding the nice trappings of a new facility mean nothing if it doesn't maintain a good academic standard.
Southpointe Academy was the top-ranked school in Delta in the Fraser Institute’s annual report card of B.C. high schools, released last May, placing ninth of 274 secondary schools in the province.
The fact the school managed to continue operations and progress was due in most part to the efforts of parents, said Shahin Virji who was one of the founding parents at the school and has had two children graduate from Southpointe.
"It was amazing how our community of parents bonded together," she said. "A board of directors got formed almost immediately and we consolidated everything. That way we had a school for the children to come to, staff that would be paid, and a facility, thanks to Century Group."
Century Group provided a year-long delay on paying the rent while matters at the school were sorted out.
"That was really helpful," Virji said, adding the key in preserving the school was a commitment by parents to continue what had been started.
"There was already a relationship with the teachers, we liked the fact that we had an independent school within our own community, and we felt strongly enough that we were going to support it," she said. "We believed enough that this had to succeed."
The commitment was also financial as families loaned the school close to $7 million by purchasing Southpointe Bonds.
On a walk-through tour a few days before the school opened its doors, Baldwin said the aspect he likes the most about the building are the bright and open spaces at the end of some of the hallways backed by floor-to-ceiling windows where quiet study can be done in cozy seating areas.
One of the most visually stunning aspects is the view from the school's fourth floor deck that has a westward vista.
Also on the fourth floor is a 175-seat theatre that can also be used as a lecture hall.
With double the space, Southpointe is looking at increasing its intake of students, but only marginally.
Currently, Southpointe has 430 students. The new building can accommodate 575.
"We want to move to around 500 in the next two years," Baldwin said, adding the demand is there to fill the extra space.
"We think that's doable, the demands seems to be there."