A rural school east of Red Deer cherished by parents and students for its intimate feel will close at the end of the school year.
The board of Wolf Creek Public Schools voted four to two on Tuesday to close Satinwood School, a more than 30-year-old institution in the open country east of the Joffre Nova Chemicals plant. Parents of students loved the school for its small class sizes and friendly atmosphere, but the dwindling enrolments that allowed for those traits ultimately led to the school being seen as untenable.
This year, the kindergarten to Grade 6 school has had an enrolment of 38 students, down from 54 only two years ago. Parents may have loved the school’s coziness, but trustees had to wrestle with the fact that it cost twice as much to educate a student at the school than at other schools in the division.
For Lisa Stewart, who has a daughter in Grade 5 at the school, the decision came down only to money. Satinwood students have performed better than their peers at other division schools academically, and Stewart said they benefit from a school environment where everybody knows everybody else.
“I understand, we have to use dollars and cents, but as a parent you want the best for your child and Satinwood was the best for my child,” said Stewart, who heads the school’s parents association.
Though the school division has been considering options to make Satinwood more viable for the last three years, Stewart criticized the formal school closure process — invoked last fall — for making too much of the real nitty gritty happen so late in the game. A public meeting was held last month with parents, community stakeholders and division authorities, and trustees received information packages regarding the school’s operations on Tuesday morning, before making their decision on its future in the afternoon.
“As a parent, to be honest I felt like they were shooting at our feet for three years and making us dance. It was just a very frustrating process,” she said.
Wolf Creek superintendent Larry Jacobs said closing a school is not something a superintendent, or a school board, wants to do, but sometimes it is reality for small rural outfits. The division also closed Mirror School in 2010 when it had similar enrolment issues.
He said the closure process worked well, with trustees taking the time to make sure they understood every nuance. He added that trustees have long known the general situation facing Satinwood; the reason they got the information package on the day they voted was to ensure they had the absolute latest details about the school’s operations.
“We want to make sure that the commentary, the questions asked, those types of things, are relevant to the latest amount of information we have,” said Jacobs.
Over the years, proposals that considered expanding the catchment area for busing students to Satinwood or adopting a modified, year-round school calendar have been explored to increase the school’s viability, but neither bore fruit. Now, current students will likely head to school in either Clive or Lacombe come September.
Jacobs said that along with more money per student going into Satinwood than other division schools, split grades were a reality with teachers having to prepare multiple lesson plans every day. That meant less time for extracurricular opportunities and less focused attention on each grade level.
Stewart said some parents are quite upset with the decision and have spoken about appealing to the minister of Education. She said even if the school does close in June, she would like to see the closure process change to ensure proponents of other small schools have more time to make their case.