EIPS Board Chair Speaks Out

EIPS Board Chair Speaks Out

Michelle Pinon
News Advertiser

Elk Island Public Schools Board Chair Trina Boymook discussed the board’s May 14th decision to close junior high classes at Andrew School in a telephone interview on May 19. The board of trustees decision will take effect on June 30, 2020.

Q. How long has the board been thinking about making this decision?

Well, last year, starting in the fall of 2018 we started having the conversation, quite an extensive conversation with the community members and families and students of Andrew School. Initially, the recommendation to the board by the superintendent was to look at the junior and senior high programs together.

Trustee Holowaychuk, who is the trustee for the area, had asked that it only be focused on senior high and that motion went through. But in that consultation, we actually engaged everybody, and it didn’t matter what grade your kids were in. Even the elementary parents also were consulted because the idea is that they are eventually going to be in high school and carry on staying with the school is certainly our hope.

So the conversation was quite extensive and went from the fall into the spring of 2019. So there’s been many different kinds of conversations, whether it was with village council, as well as members from Lamont County. Councils were invited to be part of the conversation rather than current parents of the school, future parents of the school, and all of those kinds of things. We also reached out to some parents who had chosen to take their children outside of Andrew and register them with other schools to reach out to understand that decision.

So, basically, what we had looked at last year, we were expecting to have 18-20 students in junior high this year, and we felt we would be able to do a good job for that. Unfortunately, in September we actually only had 11 students registered for junior high. There were two students in Grade 7, seven in Grade 8, and one in Grade 9. Looking at the year ahead of us coming up this September five students in Grade 7, two in Grade 8, and three in Grade 9.

So when we look at the attendance area, we’ve got about 39 students that are living in the Andrew attendance area for K-Grade 9 that are choosing to register their kids at other schools instead of Andrew. So, I think that now that our numbers are certainly lower for junior high students the concern was raised by whether we could continue to provide a junior high program that’s in the best interests these kids in Andrew. So that was how this came forward.

What we heard from junior and senior high students was the desire to be included in larger classes. That they would have a teacher delivering a single level of instruction and that’s what they said they would benefit from. That’s what their learning would be benefitted more from. There was a strong interest in taking option courses. And at this point, the viability of us to provide options for 10 kids in junior high is extremely challenging, and just being a part of the school community was expressed by the students and we had included the junior high students into that because the idea is that you know they will be going into senior high, so what is it that you’re looking for and how do you learn best. So we explored alternative learning models of ways of delivering, and so basically they have said their learning would benefit from larger classes with a teacher teaching at one grade level as opposed to multiple grade levels.

Q. When did the discussion come in with the board switching from the high school to the junior high level?

A. So one of the things that was mentioned in the debate in 2018 when we were initially looking at junior and senior high and the motion got amended, one of the concerns that was vocalized was that this could very well impact the junior high students and that they would want to move with their older sibling, and that there was a possibility of that. And so we had approved a motion to take the junior highs out of it but with the idea that we would be watching what would be happening at the junior high level. And so we had anticipated we that would have 18-20 students. We felt very comfortable with that for the junior high.

But, unfortunately, half of them chose not to remain and moved on. And of those students that did move on and register with other schools for junior high only two of them had older siblings in high school. So, it certainly makes it challenging. It’s our responsibility to ensure that that we are able to effectively to provide education to all of our students, and quite frankly we have reached a point that we have a program that is no longer viable. There is just not enough student population to support having a junior high program there.

At the April 23 board meeting Trustee Stadnick from Fort Saskatchewan brought forward a motion requesting that the superintendent put together a report on the junior high program and that it would be provided to the board prior to its public meeting. That was shared with the board and then the board set up a special meeting to make the decision and be able to debate that.

Q.Had there been some discussion that there should have been some public consultation regarding the junior high closure before a decision was made?

A. So when we look at Board Policy 15, what is different from last year to this year is that we are no longer under the school act, we are now under the education act. The School Act previously stated if you close three or more grades at a school it is considered a school closure. Under the Education Act, it is actually defined as moving students from one school to another school. So it does not require the same kind of work that goes into a school closure, and so the requirement that goes in moving students from one school to another, which this is what this falls under, that you provide notice to the parents, and you notify particular members in the community. (Written notification to parents and any other person in the municipality or community organization that may be affected.) So those letters did go out to the parents as well as municipal council, village council, and I believe the county council of Lamont.

A motion came forward on April 23 to notify that a decision would be made at a special meeting on May 14 to consider the recommendation and parents were provided information on how they could provide a delegation, and/or provide any thoughts to the board. (Boymook said no requests by parents were sent to EIPS prior to the May 14 special meeting.) The school did hold a school council meeting on May 11 and this was on the agenda. Trustee Holowaychuk was at that meeting and so she shared with the board what she had heard from there. I believe we received two communications from parents.

Q. Did that involve any request from the board?

A. I think there was an expression of concern from two parents.

Q. Was that ever followed up on?

I believe the superintendent did follow up on at the time. So we did live stream the meeting and they were notified.

I know and understand that the decision is a disappointing one to many people. But our mandate as a board is to ensure our students have access to an education that will meet their academic needs, and that we set them up for success after graduation. And so you know this is a difficult one. I know there isn’t any community that welcomes a decision such as this, but you know, we again have to look at the viability of the programs, the costs associated with it, and around the funding we receive. This has been a real challenging one for all of us, and I know absolutely there is no expectation that there would be any parent that would be happy with this. But these are the difficult decisions that a board must make and that many boards across this province are making these very same decisions in light of the new funding commitment by the province, and so it’s unfortunate.

Q. Even though the school board was not mandated to hold a public meeting, why did you choose not to hold one on the junior high classes?

A. Well, like I’ve said, we did an extensive, full year-long consultation with the community, and we looked at the whole school.

Q. Because of that evaluation you didn’t think it was necessary to take that step for a public meeting?

A. Well, again the requirement for moving students from one school to the next is simply written notification to those affected, and that was done.

Q. Was there any request by the parent council to have a meeting with the school board or make a presentation at the special meeting?

A. We did not receive any requests for a delegation.

Q. Is there an avenue for parents to appeal the decision?

A. This is not an appealable decision to the minister. This is the authority that falls under the board. This is very similar to boundary changes. This is a gray reconfiguration of the school and that falls under the authority of the board.

Q. Can parents appeal to the school board to re-examine or reverse the decision?

A. I suppose that’s always something. But the decision has been made. This would be very difficult. There is a process for that. It could be a petition, Policy 25. Unfortunately, we do not have a large enough student population to make this viable and we are not able to provide the best education they deserve to receive, and we can do it at Lamont Junior Senior and at Vegreville Composite.

Q. At this point how concerned should people be about the school board looking into closing the school?

A. We feel we can do a good job with K to Grade 6, and we have no concerns at this time.

Q. So it’s not something you would entertain for the coming school year?

A. No. It comes down to the parents registering their kids at the school. If families are choosing to take their kids elsewhere it puts the school in a difficult spot.