Parents meet to look at changing face of Catholic education in Morinville

Modulars, installed on Vanier grounds in January, will be moved to Notre Dame Catholic Elementary school this summer along with five more to be completed at the factory in July. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Three days after Education Minister Jeff Johnson announced École Georges P. Vanier School would be transferred to Sturgeon School Division effective July 1, parents of that school’s children met for a three-hour meeting to ask questions about the changing face of Catholic education in Morinville. The central message in that presentation, the first of two this week from Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division (GSACRD), was that while the logistics of infrastructure would change, the quality of education will not.

“I know for many families represented here tonight, Friday’s decision to transfer the school came as quite a surprise and a disappointment to many of you,” said a choked up GSACRD Board Chair Laurie-Ann Turnbull Monday night. “As a community resident passionate about the education provided in our town, I also struggled.” The board chair said the division did not want to give up Vanier, but the passing of Bill 4 required a facility be available to Sturgeon School Division in Morinville for Sept. 1, one with a gymnasium and a library. “Faced with challenge and change, what will remain constant is a focus on your children, providing the best education possible to each of them, and putting together a plan for the students within the timelines we have been given,” Turnbull told parents. “I want to assure you we are committed to your children in making this a smooth transition.”

Grade shuffling key

The plan for that transition and the remaining three GSACRD school facilities in town is to move current Vanier students to Notre Dame Catholic Elementary School, which would operate as a Kindergarten to Grade 4 elementary school. Grade 5 will transfer in the fall to Georges H. Primeau, which will operate as a Grade 5 to Grade 8 middle school. Pre-school, depending on enrollment numbers, could be split between Notre Dame and Morinville Community High School, the latter providing an opportunity for high school students interested in early childhood education to have some hands on learning beside actual early childhood educators.

Primeau Principal Vic Pedersen told parents the school once had more students in it than it will have next year with the addition of Grade 5. “We’re going to be able to make this work,” he assured parents, adding his staff is excited about the inclusion of Grade 5 next year. “Our goal will be to make it a true middle school where they are going to find success, where they’re going to enjoy coming to school, and where they won’t get beat up by the Grade 8s.” Pedersen’s final comment resulted in a good round of relieved laughter.

Leadership roles for Grade 5s, something both Vanier and Notre Dame engage in, will continue to be present for students attending Primeau in the fall. “I had one student ask me this morning if a Grade 5 student could be president of student council,” Pedersen said. “I get a sense they’re not afraid. They’re coming with excitement, so we want you to know we’re going to do everything we can.”

Pedersen noted half his school’s student population will be new next year as both Grade 5 and 6 students will be coming to the school. That newness will also include educators as Grade 5 teachers from both Vanier and Notre Dame will transition to Primeau. “You are going to have the same teachers and they’re going to bring their understanding and knowledge of what makes Grade 5 work to us, and I’m excited about it,” Pedersen said. “I think it is really going to work.”

Modulars coming

Transitions will also take place as elementary students from Vanier relocate. Accommodating the additional elementary school students at Notre Dame will be accomplished through the addition of seven modular classrooms: the two recently installed at Vanier to house Morinville Public Elementary School, and five additional units set to roll off the assembly line in Southern Alberta July 7. GSACRD Superintendent David Keohane said the placement of seven modular classrooms will be adjacent to the existing school but those units would not be connected to the main school in the first year of operation. Bathroom facilities for the modulars will be within the new modular configuration.

Although the school could see a strong increase in student numbers, Keohane reinforced his earlier comments the division’s elementary school in Morinville would not be overcrowded. He anticipates classroom sizes at Notre Dame to be in the low- to mid-20s and in the mid-20s at Primeau. It is anticipated Notre Dame would have four classes of each grade level, including French Immersion which will continue as it has.

Alberta Education confirmed Monday night the cost of each modular unit is approximately $150,000, and that it cost another $100,000 for delivery and installation of each unit. As such, the addition to Notre Dame will be in the neighbourhood of $1.7 million. Those infrastructure costs are covered by Alberta Education and not by the school division.

Parking and other issues a concern

The majority of the evening’s agenda dealt with questions from parents. Several of those dealt not with overcrowding in the classrooms but with overcrowding of vehicles dropping students off at the school. Parent Ted Peacock was one who expressed parking logistic concerns. “Here [at Vanier] at least we have the overflow parking at the Parish Hall,” Peacock said. “Now we’ll have twice as many teachers coming in. We have parent volunteers. We have all these other people that are going to be taking up a two lane road.”

Peacock and the other parents were told the infrastructure plan calls for the construction of a staff parking lot and turnaround lane for parents to drop off and pick up students to the side of the existing school in the area of the existing playground. The parking lot will be gravel the first year and paved the second year. The playground is to be moved in time for the start of school this fall.

Other parental concerns included what would become of the money parents fundraised for a new playground for Vanier, concerns about bussing across town to Notre Dame, the continuation of French Immersion, and the availability of daycare. Parents were assured the funds raised would be dispensed by those who raised the funds, French Immersion programming would continue, and bussing would be available. The matter of daycare is less clear as the service is provided by an independent group to whom space is leased by the school division. Parents were assured answers to that and their other questions would be provided as soon as the information becomes available.

Although the majority of questions asked Monday night centred on logistics of the transition itself, some parents were largely concerned with the Minister of Education’s decision to give Sturgeon School Division a school.

Parent Charmaine Enns said she felt one important question needed to be answered, namely where is Education Minister Jeff Johnson. “We’ve just been hit with this shock Friday,” Enns said. “I can personally speak in saying I have been keeping on top of this matter for a very long time. For well over a year I’ve been updating the information and trying to learn everything I can about this. The decision Friday was a humongous shock and a disappointment to this community, and I’m wondering where is the Minister of Education and when is he coming to speak to us?”

Enns said she felt Education Minister Johnson’s decision was not representative of the sentiments expressed at the public forum held in Morinville in March with then Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk. “I don’t think that this school division deserves the decision that the minister made,” Enns said. “I was at the forum Minister Lukaszuk attended, and I’d like to know if Mr. Johnson watched the recording of that forum.” Enns went on to say she felt the decision has done damage because it was not in the interests of the children to make the decision so quickly. “The meeting with Minister Lukaszuk was on infrastructure. We’re welcoming of the public educational choice,” she said. “That’s fine.” She said GSACRD parents only ask that 700 students not be displaced for what were 100 public students at the time of Lukaszuk’s visit.

GSACRD will hold a second session Tuesday evening between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. for Notre Dame parents. Georges H. Primeau is hosting a barbecue June 11 at 5:30 p.m. to give Grade 4 parents and students an opportunity to see their new school.

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  1. I too was at the INFO SESSION the minister Lukaszuk attended and it was exactly that, an info session. No where in either of the GSACRD letters(Vanier was different than the rest) did it say Rally up the Troops and show the Minister what we think and how we feel. It was exactly opposite of that. It was to give answers to the upcoming change however not a single person stood up and asked appropriate questions directly in regards to infrastructure (Charmaine??? you did not get up to speak publicly, why??)

    During the meeting Lukaszuk mentioned that the BOARDS HAVE COME TO AN AGREEMENT (which would mean …..they figured out a deal)

    He said that infrastructure would have to include a library and gymnasium (which CLEARLY means a school in town)

    He also said if this was not accepted then YOU WILL NOT LIKE the decision that would be made for you(meaning the case would further to a higher court and GSACRD would loose ALL buildings for breaking the law).

    People who are “surprised” at the final outcome should really give their heads a shake as it was CLEARLY spelled out for you at that meeting. YOU chose to hear what you wanted and ignore the rest, that is too bad.

    Time to move on please and thank you

  2. If it is true that 700 students are being displaced for 100, it makes sense now why the decision was delayed and why Minister Lukaszuk was shuffled out of Education. He couldn’t be seen as bringing the bad news to GSACRD and the real disruption this has caused to children and families in the Town of Morinville. I don’t blame Ms. Turnbull for being choked up.

  3. I agree with Jack, that no one should be surprised by the decision – it was blatantly obvious that the fix was in.

  4. I am extremely happy that this decision has been made. We finally have a choice 🙂

  5. To be extremely happy about this decision is to have no conscience. Too bad a solution could not have been found for both divisions. The problems have been transferred. The students were never doing any harm in either division, but they are the victims of this tug o’ war. I don’t think anyone is truly surprised; they only hoped a for a better solution that would satisfy everyone’s needs.

  6. Deal with the decision princess, the government decided that this WAS the best solution for everyone.

  7. I would have to disagree with you Nik, the government did not decide that this was the best decision for everyone-they said it was a decision that had to be made. If you attended either of the meetings in the last two days, you would have heard the Alberta Rep repeat that although it wasn’t the wish of the majority it was what they decided to do for the minority. So, I have to agree with Kerry, we now have a very large population of students who now have to take the brunt of this. We should be thinking about them. We should be thinking of ALL the kids in this, the 100 or so that will go to the public (congratulations) as well as the 700 or so that are being moved to accomodate a minority (I am sorry this is going to effect so many, this is going to be hard for most of the GSACRD family). To call someone ‘princess’ and attack their position in all of this is a petty. The people who have decided to move with GSACRD shouldn’t be told to ‘just deal’. Their opinions are valid too. You may not like their opinions but that doesn’t make them any less valid.

  8. Well to say that I don’t have a conscience is doing exactly the same thing don’t you think? The decision is final, deal with it.

  9. As a parent with a child in public, please do not think all of us share Nik’s point of view.Her attitude is incredibly immature, I feel for the families. She should be supporting the community, not trying to pick a fight. Check your attitude.

  10. I’m sorry, but where did I attack Kerry’s position? I simply said that I was happy about the decision made. She then proceeded to say that I didn’t have a conscience. If someone was trying to pick a fight, I would say it was Kerry. If your going to make a comment like that be prepared for backlash. Am I happy that all of these kids are going to have to move? The answer is “No”. Do I feel for all of these families “yes”. I am simply saying that the decision has been made, we have to move on whether we like the decision or not.

  11. Nik,
    It was your line “Clearly the best decision for everyone”, I think you will find “everyone” does not agree, and “deal with the decision princess”, is a pretty attack line. So same as you said, prepare for some backlash, if this is how you talk to people.

  12. I am happy a decision has been made, and why does everyone think that all 100% of the students at Vanier will be going to ND??? I talked with 5 families last night alone that are staying at the location Vanier is now occupying, due to location to their home. I really think it is premature to count the number of kids that will be transferring schools. and seriously adding 5 minutes to walk your child to school really isn’t a big deal. Both schools are in walking distance from the residential homes within the town. from where I live Vanier is a 5 minute walk and maybe 15 to ND…I think it’s the parents that are more upset than the kids will be.

  13. Nik, your attitude and comments have been confrontational from the get-go. It’s good a solution was found, even though it’s kind of a crappy for most involved, and I for one am glad and thankful that some people understand how this will affect my life and my kids. Thank you Lee.

  14. I to am glad a decision has been made. There are so many other things that people could be worried about…like our children not getting a decent education. What is fair to one family may not be fair for another. There comes a time in all of our lives that we must grow and accept change. It has happened all across this beautiful country of ours and will continue to happen in the future. Sure people are going to be upset but put your self in the other persons shoes for a moment. How would this be any different than someone wanting a religious school in a public school division? Would the reaction be the same??

  15. @Lee: I’ve looked over what I’ve written, and I just don’t see where I’ve written the words “clearly this was the best decision for everyone”. I stated that the government DECIDED that this was the best decision for everyone”…big difference…don’t put words in my mouth that I didn’t say. So because I am glad that the decision has finally been made (also looks like 15 other people agree with this), it’s ok for Kerry to tell us that we all have no conscience….interesting!!! Maybe if Kerry hadn’t made that immature comment I wouldn’t have made mine. I didn’t start the pettiness “Kerry did”. I guess you must have missed that comment that she wrote.

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