Hannah Jamieson has been a student at École Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d’Youville since she was 12, and hoped to graduate from it next year.
Instead, on Monday, the Grade 11 student was fighting back tears as she watched Greater St. Albert Catholic School trustees vote unanimously to transfer ESSMY’s high school program to St. Albert Catholic High as of this fall. The vote came as part of the board’s Feb. 10 meeting at district office.
ESSMY currently has about 40 high school students and is a single-track French Immersion school.
Moments after the vote, Jamieson took the signs she was holding, which read “Have faith in our future” and “Protect single-track French Immersion,” carefully tore them in half, and set the pieces on the floor.
“Everything I had hoped for in my trustees, for my school, I felt it was just taken away from me,” Jamieson said in an interview.
Money and faith
Board members had heard that the district could afford to keep ESSMY’s high school open for another year if at least 33 students enrolled in it this fall, but that almost all core classes would have to be split grades, with some having grades 10, 11, and 12 in the same room.
GSACRD board chair Joe Becigneul said in an interview that board members had a “lack of faith” in such an educational model, and also had to consider budget constraints. If five or so high school students dropped out of ESSMY next December, the district would have to start subsidizing the school’s high school program to keep it open.
“We don’t have the dollars to do that,” he said.
Becigneul said the board had a strong French Immersion program from K-9 and would continue to support it. Students who wanted to take French Immersion in high school could still do so at SACHS, which is a dual-track French/English school.
Trustee Joan Crockett said during the meeting it is her duty as a trustee to guarantee students meet learning outcomes set out by Alberta’s education minister, and that she could not do so with a 33-student, split-grade high school.
“As a (former) teacher myself, I could not imagine teaching three high school grades in one classroom,” she said.
Trustee Noreen Radford said it would be wonderful if the board had the resources needed to keep this program going, but it doesn’t.
“It is a difficult choice, but that is what boards do: they think of the entire (school) division.”
ESSMY Grade 11 student Gabrielle Tobisch said the board’s decision was a crushing blow to the school’s students, and that trustees seemed blind to the benefit of Francophone education.
“They say they’re considering us, and I really don’t feel any trust in their words.”
Parent Genevieve Gray said ESSMY families were “devastated” by this decision, and predicted that it would worsen the district’s problem of falling enrolment, as its single-track K-12 French Immersion program had been a selling point.
“They (the board) missed the boat. They’re not seeing the effect it’s going to have overall on single-track French Immersion.”
Jamieson said this decision could be the beginning of the end for French Immersion in GSACRD, as she, Tobisch and many other ESSMY students planned to leave the district because of it.
Tobisch added she and Jamieson would both be of voting age in the 2021 trustee elections and were deeply disappointed in the board’s decision.
“We are future 2021 voters,” she said.
“And we will not stay quiet,” Jamieson said.