By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – After being selected as the partner to offer a non-faith-based education to the children of Morinville families, Sturgeon School Division did not waste any time in getting to the task of holding a public meeting to show parents what that choice would look like for their children and their parents.
After a week of intensive advertising, placing signs and posters around the community, and hiring people to hand out leaflets door to door, an open house was held at the Morinville Senior’s Rendez-Vous Centre June 14. The event drew approximately 100 people.
Sturgeon School Division Superintendent Dr. Michéle Dick told parents the division had a 72-year history of providing education in the area and that they offered a diverse education.
Dick said the division has a number of goals but a few priorities. Those priorities include creating critical thinking skills in all students, something the division believes will make confident and competent learners. The division’s second priority is embracing uniqueness; something Dick said included all students. “We are all responsible for all of our students,” she said. “We have to come to know them. We have to honour their uniqueness. It is in that way that we get to develop the diverse programing that will help them to be successful and to achieve all that they can achieve.” Sturgeon’s third priority is creating environments for learning, focusing on safe, caring and respectful environments. “Students – really all of us – can only reach our full potential if we are in an environment where we feel cared for, respected and safe,” Dick said. “Those are the kinds of environments we try to create in each one of our schools. We want them to feel welcomed and we want children to feel nurtured every day that they come to school. ”
The Sturgeon Superintendent said she realized providing a public secular education in Morinville was going to take work, but she was confident that with the help of parents and the community something special could be created. Dick pointed out some facts to Morinville parents about the realities of the non-faith-based choice.
Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division would remain the resident school division but would not provide the non-denominational program. An education service agreement is being developed between the two boards through the assistance of Alberta Education. “The agreement will also cover funding issues but both boards agree funding for education should flow directly to Sturgeon School Division,” Dick explained, adding there are always additional costs above and beyond basic funding. “Some of those costs are still under discussion and deliberation.” The services agreement will also deal with the new school’s location, access to auxiliary spaces and bussing.
The division is working with Alberta Education’s capital planning department to select a location for the new school. “In the early years of building a new school community such as we are together, there are as number of possibilities,” Dick said, adding options could include renovating an existing building, sharing space with another school division, accessing modular classroom space, bussing students to an existing school in a neighbouring community or a combination of any of those options. “One consideration Alberta Education has referenced is providing a suite of modulars that would be comprised of classrooms, washrooms, office space and library space. Younger children don’t necessarily require a gymnasium so much as an open space for physical activity, but older children certainly do. I know that is an issue some parents have brought forward.” One way of overcoming the lack of gymnasium could be accomplished by using one of the existing gymnasiums in Morinville or another community space, perhaps the Parish Hall.
Alberta Education has targeted having a suite of six to eight attached modular in place and ready for students in September. The favoured area is by the tennis courts next to the Morinville RC Parish Hall. “It is actually an area GSACRD had highlighted as a possibility because it had portables there in the past and so all the servicing is there,” Dick said.
Alleviating concerns on modulars
Dick told parents she, too, would be concerned about the modular concept and understood the questions they were having about what it would look and feel like. The superintendent said she visited a facility that had six modular being used as a school and spoke with several teachers working there, all of whom attested to the fact the modular were large and spacious. After showing images of the modular school, Dick went on to say modular construction is being used throughout the province.
Educational programing offered through the non-faith-based alternative is likely to include Head Start to Grade 12; however, Dick said they are also considering Reggio-inspired and gifted and talented programs currently offered in some of their existing schools. The mix could include French Immersion. “We have been interested for many years in the French Immersion program,” Dick told parents. But she cautioned parents that although all are programs her division is interested in offering Morinville families – their availability will be dependent on registration.
A survey conducted by Pivotal Research Inc. on behalf of GSACRD showed between 106 and 272 were possible registrants for a non-faith-based option. Sturgeon School Division will be making their programming decisions based on enrolment numbers they have as of June 30. Provincial education funding is based on school enrolment as of Sept. 30.
“Once we know what the student registrations are, we will be better able to determine specific programs and grade levels,” Dick said.