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Student move to solve space crunch

Nickerson, Gish to get portables, move one class

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 06:00 am

SCHOOL POPULATION PLAN – Crowded classrooms at Elmer S. Gish school will be alleviated by the installation of two portables and by allowing junior high students to move to Lorne Akins.
SCHOOL POPULATION PLAN – Crowded classrooms at Elmer S. Gish school will be alleviated by the installation of two portables and by allowing junior high students to move to Lorne Akins.
FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

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Some Elmer S. Gish students could move to Lorne Akins this fall as part of a plan to solve overcrowding at two local public schools.

Leo Nickerson and Elmer S. Gish school parents learned this week by letter how the St. Albert Public School board plans to solve a space crunch at their respective schools.

Superintendent Barry Wowk briefed the board on the plans at a meeting Thursday.

Gish and Nickerson are amongst the most crowded public schools in St. Albert, a report to the board suggests. The schools have utilization rates of 104 and 105 per cent, respectively.

That means they have 28 and 20 more students than they should under provincial standards, Wowk explained in an interview.

“We’re using every little space and we have some larger class sizes.”

Wowk noted that the district itself is at about 88 per cent utilization, which is one of the highest rates in the province.

Lois E. Hole Elementary is supposed to handle much of this pressure, but it’s not set to open until 2016.

In the meantime, the district is expecting high enrolment next fall, Wowk told the board. These plans are meant to address overcrowding at these schools in the next two years.

“We’ve tried to have it so that it would have the least amount of negative effects on the least number of students.”

Board staff presented nine possible solutions to parents earlier this year. That got winnowed to three per school through a series of polls, from which Wowk picked one per school.

Portables and movers

The board is getting six new portables this fall, Wowk said. Nickerson and Gish will each get two as part of the board’s plan.

“To us, this is already stretching it,” Wowk said, as these schools cannot handle any more portables without the addition of bathroom space.

Expect to see gyms used as classrooms if the portables aren’t ready by this fall, he added.

The two portables should be enough to handle Nickerson’s issues for a year, he continued. The school might need to tap a third portable already on the school grounds that’s currently used by a daycare, however.

The daycare will not leave the school if that happens, Wowk said in a later interview. School staffers are already looking for an alternate space in Nickerson that the daycare could use if they needed to tap the portable.

At Gish, board administrators plan to ask the parents of Grade 8 and 9 students enrolled in the school’s global (i.e. non-Logos and non-Cogito) program if they want to move to Lorne Akins, Wowk said.

“We’ve always had a number of parents every year ask if they could go to Lorne Akins in junior high,” he said – a request the board has traditionally denied in order to keep Gish’s population viable.

Staff decided to move the global students because they were the minority at Gish, Wowk explained. The hope is that they’ll get enough volunteer movers to solve the space crunch.

More change to come?

These plans depend on what happens this fall, Wowk said. If there’s more enrolment than expected, or not enough Gish students move, then the board will have to bring in backup plans such as moving Nickerson’s Grade 6 French immersion students to Sir George Simpson or creating a new Cogito class at another school.

None of these steps would have been necessary had St. Albert’s new school been ready for this fall, said board chair Gerry Martins.

“We need to have new schools on a more timely basis. It just doesn’t make sense that we have to go through all this.”

Board staff will meet with Nickerson parents this Tuesday and Gish parents this Wednesday at 7 p.m. to discuss these plans, Wowk said. Changes take effect this fall.


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