In the Grade 1 hallway at Keenooshayo School, children who finished kindergarten not three months ago were familiarizing themselves with desks and their cubbies.
While some clung to their parents, one boy asked his looming father, “Are you leaving yet?”
Jennifer Grovestine, whose daughter Maren is also starting Grade 1, laughed as she left the class.
“After asking for five more minutes of sleep, she promptly got up and got dressed, which is unusual, and then made her way downstairs to eat her breakfast,” Grovestine said. “She got her teeth brushed, her hair brushed and by 7:30 was sitting at the door, waiting to come to school.”
That friendly, excited atmosphere greeted every student in all three St. Albert districts as school officially began Tuesday. This school year, however, is different from any before locally, thanks to the provincial government. Gone is St. Albert Protestant Schools — now St. Albert Public Schools, officially the public district. Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools is now the separate school district and the Sturgeon School Division now has an actual public school in the Town of Morinville.
“It’s looking really good,” said Morinville Public Elementary School principal Wayne Rufiange. “The teachers have done an excellent job of making it warm and inviting.”
Formerly Georges P. Vanier School and once part of the Catholic division, the school now belongs to Sturgeon School Division, so Morinville residents have a secular, public elementary school option.
“We’ve had a great deal of interest and parents were understandably waiting to have a facility,” said superintendent Michele Dick. “They said, ‘We need to have a school and then make up our minds.’”
Enrolment to date stands at approximately 270, with 200 students in kindergarten to Grade 5 alone, roughly what Rufiange was hoping for.
“Now we just need to continue to grow, and not necessarily in enrolment, but as we establish ourselves, what makes us unique and what makes us a school and growing with the students as to what they want to do,” Rufiange said. “How do they want to make it their own?”
The Catholic division also hailed the move as a success, which saw, in less than a month, five new portables moved into place at Notre Dame Elementary School in Morinville, as well as the parking lot and road connectors paved.
“We’re ecstatic that plans have worked out so well for Morinville,” said superintendent David Keohane. “We had no choice but to put a lot of faith in our people that this would happen.”
School principal Marlene Pelletier said day one was going well, considering the school now teaches 500 students compared to 365 in years previous.
“I’m sure, like in any new situation, there’s an adjustment for the community, the students and staff, but I’m looking forward to serving the community as a Catholic school division and getting to know the staff and students,” Pelletier said.
Besides costing the division some extra money in changing letterheads and changing signs, St. Albert Public Schools superintendent Barry Wowk said the name change and designation as the public school board should pose few problems.
“It’s going as well as can be expected,” said Wowk, who added enrolment numbers look a little bit higher than usual for the year. “It was an expensive proposition but we’re moving down that line and hopefully Alberta Education helps us a bit.”
For St. Albert’s two francophone schools — Ecole la Mission and Ecole Alexandre Taché — it is surprisingly business as usual, though superintendent Henri Lemire is worried about funding, given the province’s fiscal state.
“I’ve been using the word ‘sober’ to describe this year,” Lemire said. “Parents and teachers are realizing there is not as much money as they thought, so you will see larger classrooms, more combined classrooms and fewer teacher aides because there is not as much money as in the past.”