Parents fret as suburb schools hit capacity
More than 40 high schools already full with no plans to build new until 2023
As parents embark on a four-year process to address crowding in public schools, many worry that within that time their kids could still be squeezed out of overcapacity schools in their communities.
Officials with the Calgary Board of Education released a new report this week confirming that up to 40 schools, many in suburban areas, are operating at more than 100 per cent capacity, well over the 85 per cent the province considers full.
But there are also inner-city schools falling below capacity, and they will be considered for boundary and program changes as part of an engagement process with families to include open houses, data analysis and decisions for change by the fall of 2022.
Suburban high schools like Centennial, Ernest Manning and Nelson Mandela are well over 100 per cent capacity with no plans to build a new high school until 2023 at the earliest.
At the same time, inner city high schools like Crescent Heights, Lord Beaverbrook and Bowness are below capacity, even after adding unique programs like sports training and distance learning to attract more students.
Parents in communities including Signal Hill, West Springs and Cougar Ridge are concerned their junior high school-aged children may not get into their neighbourhood high school. With Ernest Manning now at 117 per cent capacity, they could be sent to nearby lower capacity schools like Bowness just down the hill, or Central Memorial in Altadore.
“I am hearing from many parents who worry that because Ernest Manning is over capacity, they may not be able to get their kids into that school in the next few years,” said Sarah Bieber, with the Kids Come First parent group.
“I’ve spoken to families whose kids are in Grade 8, and they live in all different areas, and they ’re very worried about where their kids will go to high school.”
Bieber said a four-year waiting process for parents to get final decisions on boundary or program changes is too lengthy to wait for solutions on schools overflowing now.
Lisa Davis, public school trustee for Wards 6 and 7 which includes Ernest Manning, wants to see plans to accommodate students before the fall of 2022, as more grade schools open to students who will flow into high schools in only a matter of years.
“Ernest Manning is currently at 117 per cent of capacity, and we recently opened three new elementary/middle schools in the area,” Davis said.
“With a projected completion for high school accommodation in September 2022, there is a need to review — in the interim — how we can accommodate incoming students, that will not result in large class sizes for core classes.”
Numbers released by Alberta Education this summer showed as many as 45 to 47 students per class in several core high school courses across Calgary. The alarming 201718 data was posted in response to last spring ’s scathing auditor general report criticizing the province for failing to monitor class sizes in spite of more than $293 million in funding last year.
Core courses at the CBE showed class sizes as high as 47 students in Math 30-1 at Ernest Manning and Physics 30 at Crescent Heights High School, as well as 46 for Science 30 at Forest Lawn High School and 44 for Social Studies 30-1 at Robert Thirsk High School.
Administrators have also said they would not rule out limiting the number of credits high school students can earn before they graduate in an effort to reduce burgeoning class sizes.
But Barb Silva, spokeswoman for Support Our Students advocacy group, says putting limitations on high school courses goes against every principal of public education.
“We should be encouraging students to learn across a varied scope, without limitation,” she said. “Instead, we’re actually looking at forcing students to just come in, do the minimum, and get out. It’s like an assembly line, rather than an opportunity to explore.”
Silva argued that instead of reacting to a constant flow of families and students to suburban areas, the CBE should work with municipalities to encourage construction of affordable housing in the inner city.
“School boards need to be visionary instead of reactionary. Why do we keep making it more and more difficult for kids to get to their schools?”
Silva worries older schools like Crescent Heights, a historic brick building opened in 1928, is on a path to closure because suburban students are just too far away.
CBE officials have said boundary changes could affect elementary, middle and senior high schools, but changes could also involve the movement of increasingly popular alternative programs such as French immersion and Spanish bilingual.
Last year, enrolment increased 1.4 per cent, or 1,729 students from 2017 to 2018, the 11th consecutive year enrolment has spiked at the CBE.
Since 2015-16, the CBE has opened 28 schools, but the majority are elementary and middle schools.
Althea Adams, trustee for Wards 3 and 4, has advocated for a new high school in north Calgary, near the communities of Panorama and Harvest Hills.
But she expects even if the province grants the full funding necessary for construction to be complete by 2023, that school will also be at capacity.
“It’s desperately needed. But as soon as it’s built, and opened, it will be full.”
Education Minister David Eggen said the province has worked to prioritize funding the best it can during difficult, recessionary times.
“Our government is playing catch-up after years of neglect and cuts, (and is) taking prudent steps to build new schools, support classroom education and reduce fees for parents.
“We work closely with school boards to identify their priority projects and build our capital list based off of theirs.”
I’ve spoken to families whose kids are in Grade 8 ... and they’re very worried about where their kids will go to high school.
Centennial High School in southeast Calgary is already operating above 100 per cent capacity.