Parents have their say on Stettler schools proposals

An open house and online survey conducted this week gave parents and other residents one more opportunity

An open house and online survey conducted this week gave parents and other residents one more opportunity to have their say on the future of public education in Stettler.

The public was invited to an open house held in the cafeteria of William E. Hay Composite High School on Monday, Jan. 19 to consider three potential options for the grade configuration of the town’s four public schools.

After reading through information provided by Clearview Public Schools, discussing the issues at hand and considering the available options, attendees were asked to complete an online survey, either at the open house or later at their convenience.

Clearview superintendent Peter Barron said he will consider the results of that survey — which closed at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 21 — before he makes his final recommendation to the board at its regular meeting on Jan. 29.

The goal of the open house, he told the Independent, was to allow parents to consider not just how to deal with the challenges facing the schools, but to imagine their potential and to dream about what could be.

The school division has consulted with parents, students and staff numerous times over the past few years on the subject, dating back well before Barron’s arrival at Clearview in July.

“The difference tonight versus the other consultations is that we’re down to some specifics,” explained Barron, who was tasked in October with reviewing the issues facing the schools.

Currently, public school students are divided over Stettler’s four schools as follows: Kindergarten to Grade 5 at Stettler Elementary School, grades 6 through 8 at Stettler Middle School, grades 9 through 12 at William E. Hay, and selected high school students at Stettler Outreach School.

The current configuration has been blamed for various issues, such as budgetary concerns, problems with sharing of resources and facilities, and an awkward transition into high school for students arriving from the division’s smaller rural schools.

Parents at the open house on Monday were asked to consider three options for the distribution of grades:

• Middle school amalgamates with grades 6 through 8 joining the high school;

• Middle school amalgamates with Grade 6 joining the elementary school and grades 7 and 8 joining the high school;

• Maintaining the status quo with grade configuration remaining as it is today.

Barron said the board has asked him to make a specific recommendation for one of the three options. He added that both he and the board recognize there are many factors to consider in making their decision.

“It’s the board making a decision, knowing that every option will have challenges,” he said.

The open house lasted two-and-a-half hours, with just over 40 people signing in during the first hour and additional guests trickling in over the remaining time.

Barron said he was pleased with the turnout and the discussions that followed, explaining, “It’s important that people read the material, but also that they have a chance to converse and interchange.”

In addition to Barron, several division staff were present, including associate superintendent Peter Neale, administrative and instructional support co-ordinator Rob Rathwell and director of technology Steve Meyer.

All three Stettler principals — Sharon Fischer, Norbert Baharally and Roe Desrosiers —were in attendance, as were local trustees Dave Goodwin and Staci Gerlitz and board chair Cheri Neitz.

Bristol boards were posted on the walls of the cafeteria. Attendees were invited to write their thoughts on Post-It notes, in order to spur further reflection and discussion.

The notes offered some insight into their thoughts. Of those who chose to express their opinions, eight said they preferred the third “status quo” option, while no one indicated a preference for options one or two.

Others suggested that a different division of grades — with the high school incorporating only grades 10 to 12 — would be the best option.

Kim Stonehouse, whose 10-year-old twins are in Grade 5 at Stettler Middle School, said the idea of her children starting high school next year — as would be the case under option one — was worrisome to her.

“In high school, there’s drugs, there’s pressure, there’s bullying,” she said. “I just don’t think they’re mature enough to be in that environment.”

In her hometown, junior high ran from grades 7 to 9 and high school covered grades 10 to 12, and she said that still strikes her as the best arrangement. Of the three options offered, she said she liked the third one best.

Stonehouse said she appreciated the open house format but expected to see more people in attendance.

Jamie Copeland, who has two children in the elementary school and one attending the middle school, said that talking to trustees gave her a better idea of why they presented the three options for consideration on Monday.

That said, she believed the “status quo” option was the best of the three for parents and students, echoing Stonehouse’s comment that younger students aren’t ready for an early transition into high school.

“Mentally, emotionally, they’re just not there yet,” she said, noting that for her daughter, the transition between grades 5 and 6 was “the hardest year of her life.”

Copeland said that adding younger grades to the high school could result in an increase in bullying and dropouts, explaining, “Middle school is a safe place for them.”

Of Monday’s open house, she said she had expected a presentation format with an opportunity for a Q&A session, which she would have preferred.

Barron acknowledged that some in attendance weren’t satisfied with the options presented, noting that the division would take that feedback into consideration.

Even if the division moves forward with the “status quo” option, he said there would still be changes as the board looks to address the issues present within the Stettler schools.

For instance, the proposed third option calls for the inclusion of separate principals for the elementary and middle schools, which are currently overseen together by the same principal.

“It tells us what we have to pay attention to,” he said. “They may not get the configuration they’re looking for, but we’ll address the reason (behind it).”