Area schools prepare for big changes

The book opens on a school year of many firsts in Central Alberta next week.

The book opens on a school year of many firsts in Central Alberta next week.

The 2012-2013 school year officially opens when thousands of students and teachers head back to classes on Tuesday.

There’s new programming in the schools, including the launch of G.H. Dawe Community School’s Spanish immersion program and the full-day kindergarten program at St. Teresa Avila in Red Deer, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys in Innisfail and Holy Trinity Catholic School in Olds.

But there’s also the highly anticipated ground breaking on four new schools in Central Alberta — two elementary schools in Red Deer, a kindergarten to Grade 12 Francophone school in the city, and a Grade 7 to Grade 12 school in Penhold. And Premier Alison Redford has promised to build 50 new schools and renovate another 70 over the next four in the province.

And there’s Jeff Johnson, the new Education minister, who will visit Central Alberta schools for the first time on Sept. 25.

School board trustees and superintendents will have some face time with the new minister.

“We’re looking forward to another exciting year,” said superintendent Paul Mason of the Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools. “The focus for the schools for the next three years is literacy, inclusion, faith and technology. It’s a really exciting time for us with innovative practices being implemented in the classrooms.”

An estimated 7,000 or more students will attend Catholic schools in the region.

This year, the Catholic division will delve into social media by using Twitter and Facebook to engage the public. In early October, there will be an official launch.

More than 10,000 students are expected to stream through the doors of Red Deer Public School Division schools on Tuesday.

“The baby boom that happened a few years ago is starting to come into our schools,” said superintendent Piet Langstraat of Red Deer Public.

The largest intake of kindergarten students in recent years is part of the equation, with 896 new students compared to 870 in the 2011-2012 school year. There will be about 539 full-time teachers, compared to 509 teachers last year.

Over the summer, the work on the new Outreach School Centre in the old Park Plaza building wrapped up.

“Some of our most vulnerable students now have a state-of-the-art place to go to school,” said Langstraat. “We had students there in the spring but now it’s completely finished. I am thrilled they have a great place to go to school.”

With the new kindergarten to Grade 5 school in the works in Timberlands, the division will move forward with changing school boundaries. There will be an online engagement strategy and open houses in the fall.

The division also has a visiting Chinese teacher, who will teach Mandarin classes at West Park and Eastview middle schools for the first time.

With schools in communities such as Blackfalds, Ponoka, Lacombe and Rimbey, Wolf Creek Public Schools’ hallways will be streaming with 7,000 students on Tuesday.

Superintendent Larry Jacobs said it will be an interesting year ahead with a new education minister, talk about the new Education Act and the premier’s election promise that may bring new schools to Central Alberta.

Across Wolf Creek, all staff will delve into the three-year professional development strategy geared to meet new students’ needs, based on 12 ideas including broadening learning environments in the schools, recognizing different learning styles and adapting them to the needs of different students. The Understanding 21st Century Learning (U21C) project was designed to allow students to develop a deeper understanding of the digital world and what it means to be good digital citizens. This year, the division will expand its use of technology practices in the classrooms in the schools.

“We are also looking at how do we provide new, more adaptable programming for FMNI (First Nations, Metis and Inuit) students,” said Jacobs. “We are starting to look and that. I will be setting up a team in the next few months to look and analyze different ways to modify our learning environments to ensure that we are inclusive of all students, including the cultural needs and other needs of our FMNI students.”

School started six days earlier, on Thursday, for students in Chinook’s Edge School Division.

Superintendent Kurt Sacher said the division is looking forward to the work getting underway on the three capital projects, including the new Penhold school and the gym modernization projects in the Innisfail Junior-Senior High School in Innisfail and at Hugh Sutherland School in Carstairs.

“Both of those will not only benefit the schools but also the community,” said Sacher. “It is our hope all three get started this year.”

A French immersion co-ordinator will oversee the French immersion programs for the first time in Innisfail, Sylvan Lake and Olds. There’s also a new co-ordinator in the area of assistive technology who will work with staff in schools to provide supports for students with unique needs.

“This is a benefit for all students in the jurisdiction,” said Sacher.

The division is also looking at implementing a Students Matter committee to engage students across the division in a structured way.

Construction on the new schools is expected to get underway sometime in the fall and the new schools will open in September 2014.

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com