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Parents critique Faith in Our Future plan at open house

We want your alternatives, says board chair
GSACRD Open House CC 3644
ESSMY high school students Kennedy Prodahl, Grade 10, left, Katie Bauer, Grade 11, Taryn Leverman, Grade 11, Ryan Babiuk, Grade 10 and Jaden Babiuk, Grade 12 look over feedback forms during an open house at St. Albert Catholic High School on Wednesday evening on the Faith In Our Future plan by the Greater St. Albert Catholic School board, which proposes to shuffle hundreds of students between five area schools. The students spent much of the evening questioning board officials about the proposal. CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

Correction
The Oct. 2 story on the Faith in Our Future proposal said board officials had been working on it since April 2018. Work actually started in April 2019. The Gazette apologizes for the confusion.

 

Parents and students had plenty of questions for Catholic board officials this week at an open house on a proposal to shuffle students between five different school sites.

Hundreds of St. Albert-area parents and students were at St. Albert Catholic High Wednesday night for an open house on the Faith in Our Future proposal, which the Greater St. Albert Catholic board tabled Sept. 30.

In the works since April of this year, the proposal, if approved, would see École Marie Poburan students moved to École Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d’Youville (ESSMY), ESSMY’s high school students sent to St. Albert Catholic High, the St. Gabriel distance learning school and GSACRD district office moved to the Marie Poburan building, and École Father Jan rebuilt at a new site in Riverside by 2024.

This proposal is meant to address a number of fiscal, safety, inclusion and growth challenges faced by the district, said GSACRD board chair Joe Becigneul.

We know the parents at EMP don’t like this current proposal,” he said, but it was a conversation starter, not a finished plan. The board wanted to hear what parents thought of the idea and what other ways it could address the challenges it faced.

“Do you have suggestions on what we can do differently?”

EMP parents skeptical

Legal resident Sam Kluthe was concerned the Faith in Our Future proposal would force her child out of Marie Poburan – the merger with ESSMY would raise that school’s use rate to 95 per cent, which is the point at which most schools close their doors to out-of-area students like her daughter.

“I think this decision is being made just to get the new school in the Riverside location,” she said (the plan states that raising district utilization rates will make it more likely that the district will get a new school site in Riverside for a new Father Jan).

While she supported the idea of moving ESSMY’s high school students, Kluthe said the board should consider renting a shared space for its district office and St. Gabriel students instead of moving Poburan students. She also said she was convinced the board had already decided to implement this plan, and was arranging to move her child to the St. Albert Public district.

Poburan parent Jonny Sirman said this proposal seemed like an “underhanded scheme” to “gerrymander” utilization rates to justify construction of a new school – one that did not address the underlying problem of underutilization.

“In Alberta, people have a choice as to where we send kids to,” he said, and these underused schools aren’t parents’ first choice.

Sirman said the board seemed to be picking on Poburan and ESSMY as “low-hanging fruit” while ignoring other schools that were in worse condition or less used, and didn’t have answers for key questions like what it expected to get from selling the old Father Jan site. He said he’d seriously consider moving his two kids to another school district if this proposal went ahead.

“I don’t know if I can trust having my kids in a division that deals this way.”

Father Jan mixed

Father Jan parent Jacquie Curtis said she supported the proposal.

“That’s the oldest school in the district and it’s going to need massive renovations in the next few years,” she said of Father Jan – building a new school was the better option. Combining district office and St. Gabriel at Poburan was a “fantastic” idea that would save money in the long run. As for ESSMY, its high school population has been falling for years, and students could still get a bilingual diploma at SACHS.

Everyone loves a new school, but parents don’t want the new dual-track Father Jan proposed in the plan, said Jackie Froment, president of the Friends of École Father Jan Society.

“They want single-track French immersion. They want a school that immerses students in French language and French culture.”

Chris Turner, president of the Father Jan school council, said he wants to see Father Jan rebuilt on its current location with its students moved to nearby schools during construction. He also said critics had raised excellent questions about Faith in Our Future, and wants to see the board come back with some answers.

“How are they going to deal with the overpopulation of ESSMY? How are they going to get an allocation of funds for a new school during a (provincial) budget that’s cut millions of dollars?”

Becigneul said people could comment on Faith in Our Future online at www.gsacrd.ab.ca/faithinourfuture by Nov. 14. School community meetings for the five schools involved in this proposal would follow in January, as would a second open house on Feb. 13, 2020. The board would likely make a decision on the proposal next spring.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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