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Fort Assiniboine senior high school program may cease to exist

The fate of the senior high school program at Fort Assiniboine School will be decided in the spring. Pembina Hills Regional Division No.

The fate of the senior high school program at Fort Assiniboine School will be decided in the spring.

Pembina Hills Regional Division No. 7 has set forth a recommendation to shut down the senior high school program at Fort Assiniboine School effective Sept. 1, 2011. The final decision on whether or not to close the senior high school program indefinitely will be made March 16.

The school has been identified under Critical Minimum Enrolment for grades 7-9. Minimum enrolment is set at 40 students, but the school has 23 students in total across those three grades (eight students in Grade 7, 11 students in Grade 8 and four students in Grade 9). There are currently 46 students scheduled to graduate this year; however, forecasted enrolment for senior high school students each year will be 25 in 2011-12, 26 in 2012-13, 21 in 2013-14, 25 in 2014-15, and 24 in 2015-16. Students residing in the Fort Assiniboine attendance area will be transported to Barrhead Composite High School.

PHRD Superintendent of School Egbert Stang told trustees that enrolment projections at Fort Assiniboine appear to be stable. However, following the graduation of the existing Grade 12 class this year, the projected enrolment will be in the mid-20s for the foreseeable future. Fort Assiniboine School has sufficient funds to cover their 2010-11 projected deficit, but the reserve fund will be depleted in the 2011-12 school year, and the school will begin to experience operating debt, compounded by annual operating deficits.

“Offering a full high school program to enrolments of this level for a period of time is not educationally sound for students, given the available resources,” Stang said. “The continued operation of the school will create excessive costs to the school division.”

Representatives of the Fort Assiniboine School council attended last week’s board meeting to voice their concerns, and to offer up possible solutions that will forestall a complete closure. Council chairman Peter Keulken said in an attempt to prevent a complete closure of Fort Assiniboine’s senior high school program, the council devised a plan on Dec. 9 to pursue the feasibility of the re-establishment of the program at the end of a three-year period. He said his council has realized the school does not have the available resources to offer a full and educationally viable high school program with its current enrolment projections without jeopardizing the educational and financial viability of the entire school, but the complete loss of the program would be devastating.

The school council was made aware of the impending situation two years ago, Keulken said, and has been diligently working on a solution.

“As a school community, (the closure) is an inconvenient truth,” Keulken told PHRD trustees. “It has been a pretty emotional journey over the past two years, and we made some discoveries that really bring into question as to how we perceive education to be. We really believe this decision is based on economics and criteria. We sympathize with the school board, but when you hear the words ‘what’s best for kids,’ we would like to add on to that ‘given the economics, criteria and resources we have,’ because in our view as a community, this is not what’s best for our kids.”

Keulken said the Fort Assiniboine School community truly is unique in the province of Alberta, because it has such a strong group of people who are wholly committed to keeping their social fabric alive. The parent committee has raised more than $350,000 to keep the school going strong, he said. Furthermore, the school developed a forestry and energy program.

“That is an incredible program, and it is a part of who we are,” Keulken said, adding there are students who will have 170 credits when they graduate, because they recognize the credits they accumulate throughout their education go towards paying for educators. “I can guarantee you won’t find another community in the province that has contributed as much as this community.”

There is something wrong with the education system, he said, because there are schools that have no parent contribution, that have nothing going into the coffers to keep their programs alive, and they are still up and running.

Keulken also identified a gap in communication as an issue that needs to be addressed. He said that if the school council hadn’t taken the initiative two years ago to address the upcoming closure of the senior high school program, it would have happened already.

“We need you to know how we feel as a community,” Keulken said. “Our school community feels that from Day 1 we weren’t given any other options other than a school closure. Even though we knew what you had to deal with, and we went through all this work, we didn’t have any other options. We felt that even though we had solutions, it didn’t seem to matter, and that what we were bringing to the table was of no value.”

The council was surprised at how it discovered over the past two years that the education process is treated as a business. There is no other standing of the concept of investment and profit within the definition of education, and that’s something the council really disagrees with, he said.

“If school boards are just balancing books based on income and expenses, and not defining what the outcome should be, then they are not really doing their jobs,” he said.

PHRD will hold a public meeting at Fort Assiniboine School on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. Then, on Feb. 15, PHRD will hold another meeting at Fort Assiniboine School to provide individuals or groups an opportunity to make presentations directly to the Board of Trustees.