Georges P. Vanier to go to public division this fall

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Two-and-a-half months after then Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said a decision on public and Catholic school accommodations would be made in a matter of days, the decision has been made by his successor, Education Minister Jeff Johnson. Effective July 1, École Georges P. Vanier School in Morinville will be transferred to Sturgeon School Division and will serve Morinville families as the public school option in the community.

Morinville’s other schools: Georges H. Primeau, Morinville Community High School and Notre Dame Catholic Elementary will continue to be operated by Greater St. Albert Catholic.

In a press release issued Friday morning, the province said Johnson determined the transfer to be the best solution based on input from the affected school divisions, parents and area residents. The Education Minister praised the two school boards for putting Morinville students first by contributing to the solution. “I recognize this has been a challenging and emotional issue for the community, but this change is important to provide all parents the choice and voice they deserve,” the minister said in the release.

Vanier will be ready for students in time for the upcoming school year and additional modular classrooms will be added to Notre Dame Catholic Elementary to accommodate students from Vanier. The to be transferred school currently has a student population of 384, and Notre Dame Catholic has 357 students this school year.

The decision will see a number of students relocating across town to Notre Dame, a situation GSACRD Board Chair Lauri-Ann Turnbull said will result in the division’s full support. “We recognize this announcement will result in a change and challenge for many in our community,” Turnbull said in Friday’s release. “It is our commitment to work with families to ensure that all children will be supported during this transition period.” Turnbull went on to say GSACRD would continue their tradition of providing outstanding faith-based education in Morinville.

GSACRD Superintendent David Keohane said Friday afternoon there is a possibility Grade 5 will shift from Notre Dame to Georges H. Primeau. That possibility will be discussed with GSACRD parents Monday and Tuesday evenings in sessions to be held at each school. “That is part of the plan in terms of making the required spaces that we have work,” Keohane said. “The key piece here is that one of the opportunities that comes with this change to GSACRD is it allows Primeau to operate more like a middle school than it has in the past.”

The superintendent said middle school philosophy holds that a Grade 5 student in age and stage of development is more like a Grade 8 student than they are a Grade 2 student. Similarly, a Grade 8 student is more like a Grade 5 student than they are a Grade 9 student.

“Vic Pedersen, who is the principal, has done a lot of work this year in advancing the middle school culture there, and their staff will be dedicated to advancing it even further with this kind of grade configuration,” Keohane said. “The opportunity is it becomes more like a middle school functioning as a [Grade] 5 to 8 school.”

Parents react

Morinville father Christian Rondeau was not pleased with the news the school his two children currently attend would no longer be operated by GSACRD. “Initial reaction – pissed off, angry,” he said, adding he has concerns about his youngest son who is autistic. “He’s been there for three years. Change is hard on him, very hard.”

Rondeau said he finds the situation frustrating for both his sons and other students. He has heard from some parents that they will stay at Vanier even though the school will be under Sturgeon’s jurisdiction. “Some parents just like having the school there and some want to be in the public school,” he said. “I know a few of the parents are staying there because they live a block away.”

The father of two said while he may not agree with the parent’s decisions, he respects their right to make those choices. He is uncertain if transferring Vanier to Sturgeon was the right decision.

“Ultimately, the numbers will be the guide for whether it was the right decision or not,” Rondeau said. “From my own personal perspective, and from a lot of people I’ve talked to, it’s not. I think Notre Dame is going to end up being way overcrowded for our kids. I think a lot of parents are going to stay with GSACRD because they like the system.”
The potential for an overcrowded school is something the father is concerned about, particularly where his autistic son Dominique is concerned. “If you jam too many kids into one spot, and you’ve got a kid like Dominique, then it becomes harder for him to be in a normal school. For his development, for his needs – special needs kids need to be with ‘normal kids’. They need to see that behaviour so that they can learn. They can learn from adults, but kids are a better model for them because they see someone their size. You jam them too tight, Dominique is going to be so overwhelmed by all the sounds and noises and lights coming at him that it may get to the point where he doesn’t get to learn from their behaviours.”

Despite his concerns, Rondeau is going to keep his son in the GSACRD school and is hoping everything will work out for all Morinville’s children. “I want these parents to have their choice,” Rondeau said. “From the beginning it has been let them have their choice. I don’t have a problem with that. I have a problem if, let’s say 150 kids end up in that school and there’s 600-and-some kids in Notre Dame. How is that the right choice?”

Morinville mother Rayann Mennard, who has long fought to have a public school in the community, was elated Friday after hearing the news. “My thoughts are that all of the hard work and the effort that so many people have put into this has finally paid off,” she said. “Morinville finally has public education with voting rights and infrastructure. It’s going to grow and thrive. I’m thrilled, I’m elated, and I cannot believe that it’s happened.”

But while thrilled that Sturgeon School Division will have a full school where Mennard can send her children along with those of families who choose the public education option, she is empathetic to those faith-based education families at Vanier who will move their children to Notre Dame this fall.

“I’m thrilled that all the hard work myself and so many others have put in has paid off, but I’m apprehensive and nervous about what this means for a lot of families that I care about,” she said. “I love a lot of the families that are in that school and have invested in the same way I have invested in Morinville Public. I’m hopeful that everyone gets what they want.”

Mennard said while she hopes some current Vanier families will continue to send their children to the public school, she knows those who prefer to stay faith-based will receive excellent education under the roof of Notre Dame Catholic Elementary.

“I really, really hope that the transition is smooth for everybody,” she said. “I have kids and I’m empathetic to all the other families with their kids. I know what it’s like. I know all about the hustle and bustle of having young, school-aged children. It was never ever anybody’s intention to make somebody’s life harder. I really hope this is a smooth transition for everybody and that everyone is able to bury the hatchet, and we’re able to look to the future and do the best that we can for our kids.”

School will not be overcrowded

Keohane said Friday Morinville Catholic schools will not be overcrowded, something he has discussed already with staff. “We will be among the lowest classroom / teacher ratio in our Morinville schools that we do in the school division,” he said. “We’re planning for that because we realize that one of the messages … is that schools will be overcrowded. The correct way of looking at it is the classroom spaces will be fully utilized, but the number of seats in the classroom will be in the low 20 range, which will be among the best standard that we would have within the school division. We have no appetite to announce we’re going to have this kind of programing with classes that are perceived as being overcrowded. That’s simply not the case.”

The superintendent said at this point in time staff cuts do not look likely. “We believe that attrition, which is the natural evolution of staffing through retirement or temp contracts running their course would take care of staffing needs that we have,” Keohane said, adding in the rare event they would have to reduce staff, Morinville teachers would not be prejudiced. “Teachers are signed to a collective agreement. They’re hired to the school jurisdiction and then they’re deployed to our schools. We have to honour seniority and programming need throughout the jurisdiction. That is a commonly misunderstood piece that teachers are hired by schools. We hire them to the jurisdiction and then they’re deployed, and we don’t prejudice their status in the school division by how long they’ve been involved or the program they’ve provided within a specific school.”

A staff reduction, seen as unlikely at this time, would impact teachers throughout the division as much as it might any individual teacher currently at Vanier. “We’re not getting the read right now that we would need to go there,” Keohane said of the thought of cuts.

Change in public designation

In addition to passing Vanier to Sturgeon School Division, GSACRD will no longer be a public division this fall. The St. Albert and Sturgeon Valley School Districts Establishment Act passed during the spring Legislative session and was proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor on May 31. The Act comes into effect July 1, the same date Vanier changes hands. At that time Sturgeon School Division’s jurisdiction will expand and the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division and the St. Albert Protestant School Division will dissolve, to be replaced with the establishment of the Greater St. Albert Roman Catholic Separate School District and the St. Albert Public School District.

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  1. I understand why the decision is made and why Vanier is being converted to a Public school BUT MY HEART ACHES for both teachers and students! Im not opposed to this change, but was this really the *right* solution? Im nervous to see Notre Dames’ enrolment and how they are going to accommodate a wide flow of kids to an already full school. My friends agree that Primeau will equally be full to the rim as they now will be housing another grade. They already have two portables attached, what more can they do?

    I hope, (sincerely hope) that Vanier becomes known as home to a vast quantity of kids. Otherwise the town will only further be divided at an exponential rate. A part of me hopes to see good numbers in Vanier so that this massive change, with all this displacement, wasn’t all for nothing. But in the slight hand there are very minimal numbers in the *Converted* public school, then silently I will know that the old system was better before government intervention.

    Im nervous for September…

  2. Congratulations Ladies.
    Job very well done.


    Thomas Kirsop

  3. Interesting. Too bad this will just only encourage more parents to pawn off their parental duties to the government. Imagine what would happen if we were all this lazy and ignorant.

  4. I’m still confused why they aren’t giving all the schools to the public board and seeing what the opt in is to the religious school? Isn’t that how it is supposed to work?

  5. I second Colette’s comments.I hope the numbers warrant the transfer of Vanier to the new public system. Our government has once again proved the old saying “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”. Make me sad to think that those parents that did not want to bus their kids to a different school have now forced the busing of most children remaining in the Catholic system. Also think of the cost of relocating the portables to Notre-Dame and Primeau, these funds could have been better utilized in the education system.
    Well I for one know were my tax dollars will be going, definitely not in support on the new public system.

  6. Tom;

    By pawning off my responsibilities, are you perhaps referring to having a publicly funded institution teach my beliefs to every child in attendance regardless of their own theological preferences?


    Thomas Kirsop

  7. It’s too bad that this all happened the year that my child starts Kindergarden. We were thinking that we would send our child to French Immersion program at Vanier, but now with all the turmoil and confusion, we have chosen to keep her out of this ‘mess’ and send her to another town altogether, where things are not so divided. Who knows we may end up moving too.

  8. All this shows is how majority has to bend over for a minority, and have to pay for it. Town council should be ashamed of them selves wasting money on the community center and the over buget town office. They could have spent it on a nice new public school.

  9. My husband brought up a very good question to me yesterday. He wondered if all the Morinville parents of the students who currently attend the outlying SSD schools will be forced to move their children out of the schools they’ve gone to for the past years and into ‘Vanier/MPES’. That is one way that the Morinville Parents can guarentee moderate enrollment numbers. I wonder if those kids/parents will be happy about the change. Or maybe it’s only the parents of the 40 current MPES kids that are happy. Hmm….

  10. I agree with Maurice! Our community will now offer secular education at the expense of quality education. As this process evolved, it became less about student needs and more about parent needs.

  11. While it is unfortunate that any children have to be moved again, there will still be 3 Catholic schools in Morinville. Nobody will need to be bussed out of town, and the school boards have made it clear that there will be no over-crowding. Having one public school to represent the appearant public minority in town seems fair. Students in other SSD public schools will are welcome to stay in their school of choice, as has always been the case. Non-catholic families will be welcome to stay in the Catholic schools if they prefer the programming. This decision by the Minister was made to provide the same choices to our growing community as in any other across the country. With 160 registrations at MPES as of early last week, before there was a school to go to, it looks like it will be utilized to capacity very quickly. Of course, only time will tell.

  12. First, congratulations to the parents who refused to be bullied and bus their kids out of town for a public education. That was clearly unacceptable. Your strength was inspiring.

    And it is also regretable that children from the Catholic program will have to go into portables, but at least they will still be going to school in their home town. They could always be bussed to a Catholic school in St Albert…After 2-3 moves in one year, I’m sure the parents of the town’s small but mighty public school can provide some advice on how to cope with unusual school arrangments, such as no gym or library. My apologies for being somewhat petty and I do not wish anyone any ill will, but my point is that such arguments are easy to make when you are not affected personally by them.

    We will never know what was said behind closed doors, but I suspect that if both sides had been willing to make real concessions and work hard with the public board (not just throw them a portable or two), the Catholic system may not have had to lose a school. Is this how the Stettler Catholic School started?

    Finally, the Catholic program, one that has a history of translating religion into political clout, has been getting the grease for some time. The public voice, the one which has been paying for Catholic schools that not everyone wants, is finally getting a bit of attention. What is criminal is that the parents who wanted a public school in a town that already had four schools paid for with public dollars had to go to the province to get it. Building a new public school for the Catholic system to keep four would have been fiscally irresponsible.

    In five years, this should all be a bad memory…so what’s our next issue? Anyone want to talk about zeros?

    • Before we go down this portable path yet again, let us be clear that what is being proposed for Notre Dame are modulars. Modulars classrooms attached to a brick and mortar building are the norm with respect to how schools are built today. This is how schools are expanded in Alberta today. So let’s not be mistaken that the province is going to stick a couple portables raised up on blocks in the parking lot.

      It simply is not true and does a disservice to GSACRD and their superintendent’s commitment to keep class sizes in the low 20s.

  13. Although I am aware that there is a commitment to keep class size small, I am worried about the hallways being overcrowded at dismissal time, the playground being overcrowded at recess, the gym being overcrowded for assemblies and performances, and the parking lot being overcrowded for drop-off and pick-up (as well as the buses!). Right now, it is hard to find a space or a seat at the aforementionned times so I expect it to be more difficult with so many additional children. A new school building should be started immediately if it takes 3 years to build (as per former Minister Lukasuk at the town hall meeting).

  14. I’m thrilled that Morinville families finally have a choice in schools and education. And I’m sorry for those who will have some disruption in their school commute, though it’s not near the struggle the children of MPES survived over the past year – with remarkable resilience! The new arrangement will be routine by mid-September.

    But what bothers me most in this whole issue is the negative, unchristian-like attitude that some of the Catholic community have demonstrated and are passing down to their children … “I won’t play with you ’cause you kicked us out of our school”. Excuse me??? Wouldn’t it be a more christian approach to understand that … “we are lucky to have so much and other children don’t even have a school, so it’s right that we should share with others” … ? And please, let’s not go back to the argument that they should come to the catholic school – we know that’s not a fair option for those who choose not to follow the catholic doctrine, and they do deserve to have the same choices the rest of the country enjoys.

    So, WWJD? I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be as petty the stories I’ve heard. And I’m also quite sure he would encourage cooperation within the community. Let’s all show a little bit of tolerance – it could go a long way to growing a positive, healthy community. This negative bullying will be sure to create a future of intolerance, and gangs, and untold troubles.

    Congratulations to the “little school that could” – I hope you continue to grow and thrive with your positive attitude of tolerance and understanding and openness to all, regardless of color or religion. And I commend the good Catholic people of Morinville who understand that a public school should BE a public school, and that choices are a good thing – please share your open-mindedness with others who are having a hard time with change. Thank you.

  15. This could have all be avoided if they built a school instead of that Taj Mahal community center. The sucking sound generated by that facility will drown out the sound of whinning parents in no time. What a mess! Talk about screwed up priorities. Someone put that parent delegation group to work on issues that bring the town together instead of dividing it. Maybe the smell from the dog food plant can be their next pet project. Then they can get rid of a stink instead of making one. Oh never mind, they all left town…..

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