Clearview trustees begin three-year planning process

Board members discuss priorities, principles in brainstorming session

With one year already under their belts, Clearview Public Schools trustees are taking a look at the future to set goals for the remaining three years of their terms.

The school board kicked off the planning process with a brainstorming session at its meeting in Stettler on Thursday, led by new superintendent Peter Barron.

In starting the two-hour discussion, Barron noted that one of the board’s roles is to provide “very clear corporate direction” for the division.

He called Thursday’s discussion the “generative” phase of the planning process, adding it would be followed by reflection and analysis, with finalized principles and priorities to be set by month’s end.

Board chair Ken Checkel said the board was in a good position to begin the process, following the “tremendous amount of consultation” it has done in recent years.

“We’ve got a great mixture of new people and veterans on board,” he said, noting that by the end of September, “we will have drawn some lines in the sand.”

“There were a lot of ideas put on the table,” he told the Independent later. “We’ll return to that list of things.”

In the open discussion that followed, trustees offered their thoughts on the division’s strengths and challenges, and suggested areas in which goals could be set over one, two or three years.

Checkel said that the division’s smaller number of students provided a “sense of family” that could work to its advantage, while Dave Goodwin said a rural perspective sets Clearview apart from other districts.

Cheri Neitz observed that smaller schools allow staff members to give more attention to individual students, and stated that only the public school division works to advocate for all students.

She also suggested that giving students the tools to succeed, whether they pursue a trade, further education or another path, should be a priority.

John Schofer identified the right to a quality education for every child as one of the division’s principles, while Karen Holloway highlighted the efforts of the division’s staff members

“This isn’t a backwater where people come to retire, or just start their career and then move on,” she said. “Kids have to work hard to fall through the cracks here.”

She added later that the division should work to maintain an atmosphere of trust and empowerment for staff.

“We can’t adapt to change if our staff are scared to do something different,” Holloway said. “You have to have faith in the people you work with, and they have to have faith in you.”

The discussion also turned to more contentious issues, such as competition. Vice-chair Dave Goodwin noted that parents have several alternative options, including the Catholic school division, home schooling or online education.

“We also recognize the fact that numbers make a difference,” he said. “You split (enrolment) up too far, nobody’s viable.”

“The competition isn’t resting, we can’t rest either . . . unless we want to be even smaller than we are,” said Checkel. “We’ve seen what the numbers look like in places like Wainwright and Vermilion.”

Provincial funding is primarily based on student numbers as recorded at the end of September, he added, noting that a decline of 10 students means a loss of roughly $65,000 in funding.

Trustees also discussed the issues surrounding smaller schools, and the need for fiscal responsibility in the face of continued rural depopulation.

“If you’re losing students, then the fact is you’re going to lose funding,” said Checkel, noting the need to consistently maintain the division’s funding formula. “We have to be nimble, we have to adjust.”

Meanwhile, Schofer said, the division must also be flexible, as some rural communities anticipate a generational shift and the return of younger families.

“We need to make sure that these schools are there when these kids hit Grade 1 or Kindergarten,” he said. “If you close a school, it’s gone. Period.”

Barron said a degree of balance would be wise to ensure that while the board would seek consistency, it wouldn’t be restricted by its own rules.

Following a review from Barron and other central leadership, the trustees will return to the results of Thursday’s discussion for further reflection at the next board meeting on Sept. 11.