Par­ents fret as sub­urb schools hit ca­pac­ity

More than 40 high schools al­ready full with no plans to build new un­til 2023

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - EVA FER­GU­SON efer­gu­[email protected]­media.com

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.

GAVIN YOUNG

Cen­ten­nial High School in south­east Cal­gary is al­ready op­er­at­ing above 100 per cent ca­pac­ity.

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