Future of Satinwood School in question

Staff, parents, and students are hoping to make the 2013-14 school year at Satinwood School its best yet, because it may well be its last.

Staff, parents, and students are hoping to make the 2013-14 school year at Satinwood School its best yet, because it may well be its last.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Wolf Creek Public School Division board passed a motion to direct superintendent Larry Jacobs to explore the ongoing operations of the rural kindergarten to Grade 6 school and present a report back to the board in the spring. The board would then have three options relating to the school’s future — leaving the school open, closing it or modifying its grade structure.

Jacobs said the invocation of the school closure process does not always result in a school’s closure. In compiling his final report, Jacobs and division administration will be examining aspects such as population demographics and busing requirements and will encourage community engagement in the process.

Lisa Stewart, whose daughter is in Grade 5 at the school, said it is “incredibly sad” that this point has been reached. She said the school — with an total enrolment of 38 students, down from 54 in 2011-12 — is one where students score high marks on provincial achievement tests and teachers know every student, and vice versa.

“It’s pretty much like sending your child to a private school for your basic school fees,” she said.

The school is located about 15 minutes east of Blackfalds near the Joffre Nova Chemicals plant. Stewart, who leads the school’s parent association, had proposed changing the busing catchment area in the division to bring more students to the school and alleviate some pressure from fast-growing Blackfalds, which has full schools.

“We feel as parents that we have presented a lot of possible solutions to the board but they don’t seem to be budging or willing to make changes for us. It’s frustrating,” she said.

If the school is slated for closure, its students would be bused to Clive or Lacombe starting next fall.

The province allocates money to divisions to give to schools on a per-student basis and, with an enrolment of 38 students, Jacobs said that funding would allow for less than two teachers and no support staff for Satinwood School. But this year, the school has 3.7 teachers, plus support staff, which makes it about two times as expensive to educate a student at Satinwood as compared to other division schools.

“Communities never like to lose their schools and superintendents don’t like to be part of a process that closes them, but it’s a recognition of the world we live in and the things that can happen sometimes to small rural schools,” he said.

Jacobs said he expects the local resistance to closure has softened somewhat over the years as alternatives have been explored. He said the school community has been very proactive in attempting to find solutions and has been a partner through the whole process up to this point.

The division has provided $212,572 over the last four years to the school for support as options for long-term sustainability were examined. One of those options looked at was a modified calendar that would have had the school open nearly year round, but that plan never came to fruition.

Other avenues explored were introducing Christian programming into the school to draw students, becoming a registrar for homeschool students, and funding the building privately to free up funds for the hiring of staff.

In June, the school council passed a motion saying it would accept the school closure process in exchange for one more year of funding.

“I think the community feels validated in the effort they put forward to investigate all possibilities. Once you’ve been given that opportunity and been a partner, it’s easier for you to say at a certain point, ‘We’ve tried everything,’ ” said Jacobs.

The superintendent’s preliminary report presented at Tuesday’s meeting cited the decline of young people getting into farming and the attraction of larger communities as demographic factors working against the school. But it also mentioned a proposed 265-lot subdivision with an 18-hole golf course for the area, a project for which there is no known timeline at present.

The division closed Mirror School in 2010 after its kindergarten to Grade 8 population dwindled to 44 children.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com

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