McNally High School students had Morinville Public students wide eyed with their dragon dance routine. – Stephen Dafoe Photos / Video
Morinville – It was a day for dragons to dance Wednesday afternoon, figuratively and literally. Morinville Public Elementary School, home of the MPES Dragons, held its official grand opening in the school gymnasium with Alberta’s Minister of Education, The Honourable Jeff Johnson, and many other dignitaries in attendance.
After a group of local parents fought for a public school in Morinville for roughly two years, the Sturgeon School Division was given jurisdiction and two modular classrooms on the grounds of the former Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools’ École Georges P. Vanier property. After provincial legislation was passed last summer that shifted public and separate designations, the school was given to the division and reopened as a public elementary school last fall. Wednesday’s ceremony was an opportunity to make the school official with the cutting of a ribbon, the cutting of several cakes, and the coming together of students, parents and dignitaries for a celebration of where the school is and where the school is going.
While some speeches reflected on the past, the focus of the 90-minute ceremony was on the future of the school and the students who are part of it.
“I want to welcome you kids to this school which isn’t a new school,” said Minister of Education Johnson during his remarks. “But a school isn’t the building. It’s not the bricks and mortar. It’s not the walls. It’s not the roof. It’s the people that are inside it, and those people are you.”
Johnson touched on the pain community members on both sides of the debate experienced over the two years leading up to the formation of Morinville Public. “This situation in Morinville is a great lesson for the entire province and the entire country,” he said. “We can’t be afraid to wrestle with tough topics and tough decisions if it means we are going to put the kids at the centre of those decisions. I want to commend the community, and that means the parents who helped drive. I also want to commend the Catholic board. They really helped facilitate a solution, because at the end of the day it was about the kids and what’s right for the kids – giving the kids and parents choice.”
Mayor Paul Krauskopf, who was joined at the opening by Deputy Mayor Nicole Boutestein and Councillor Sheldon Fingler, also expressed his welcome to the students and their families. “It’s been a long journey and it was a little rough along the way,” Krauskopf said. “But you’re here. I’d say welcome and thank you to the Sturgeon School Division for bringing that option to parents of Morinville for that education opportunity for their kids.”
Sturgeon School Division Board Chair Terry Jewell took the opportunity to take a light jab at Johnson and his predecessors. “It took three Ministers of Education and only one school board and one school board chair,” Jewell joked, a reference to the school debate starting with former Minister of Education Dave Hancock, passing to former Minister of Education Thomas Lukaszuk, and finally being completed by current Minister of Education Jeff Johnson. Jewell went on to thank Donna Hunter and Gillian Schaefer Percy, two women who were at the forefront of advocating for a public school in late 2010 and early 2011. “The one thing people should be aware of is the people who are in charge of education are not teachers, and they aren’t ministers of education. And they certainly aren’t school board chairs. They’re moms with kids,” he said.
Gillian Schaefer Percy, one of the original advocates for public education Jewell thanked, returned to the community to share in the celebration with those she worked alongside. “I’m really excited about the grand opening of Morinville Public Elementary School,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming and it’s the perfect celebration for something these kids deserve – and that’s a safe, wonderful education experience within a public structure.”
Percy said the group understood at the beginning of the process there was a need for genuine public education in Morinville. “We knew that the numbers were large for that, but it was very difficult to substantiate that without proper physical structure to house them in,” she said, adding the enrolment numbers in the first year in the facility have not surprised her.
Principal Wayne Rufiange in his closing remarks used a story about attitude and perspective to set up his key message to students, parents and staff. “I believe we are the product of our own designs,” he said. “We are going to make the school what we want it to be, and I think we are off to a good start.”
Morinville Public Elementary School has a current enrolment of 278 students and is anticipating approximately 350 in the new school year.
Above left: Alberta’s Minister of Education, The Hon. Jeff Johnson, addresses students during the grand opening.