St. Albert’s Catholic school board has officially quashed a controversial five-school shakeup known as Faith in Our Future, but has yet to say what will replace it.
Greater St. Albert Catholic School trustees voted unanimously Nov. 30 during an online meeting to relinquish the Faith in Our Future initiative.
Faith in Our Future was a controversial plan proposed in Fall 2019 meant to save money and get a new school to replace the current École Father Jan building, which is about 63 years old.
In its original form, the plan would have seen École Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d’Youville’s (ESSMY’s) high school moved to St. Albert Catholic High (reducing costs related to French Immersion), École Marie Poburan’s students relocated to ESSMY (raising utilization rates), and district office and the St. Gabriel distance learning school transplanted to the Poburan building (cancelling rent and renovation costs). These moves would hopefully convince the province to build a new Father Jan building in Riverside, allowing the board to sell the old Father Jan and district office sites to give it cash needed to remove 14 aging portables.
The board paused most of the plan for two years in December 2019 in the face of parent and student opposition, but proceeded with moving ESSMY’s high school to SACHS. The St. Gabriel Education Centre later moved to the basement of district office.
Last April, then-GSACRD superintendent David Keohane told the Gazette Faith in Our Future was being reworked, with new consultations planned after the pandemic had passed.
Trustee Serena Shaw moved Nov. 30 that the board officially cancel the plan, saying the board “may have been remiss” in telling people about the plan’s status. Trustee Greg Schell said doing so could provide closure and build bridges with the French Immersion community.
The board sent a letter to parents about the decision Dec. 2, in which it characterized the relocation of ESSMY’s high school and St. Gabriel as “successes.”
Speaking as a parent, Suzanne Morton, who chairs the ESSMY school council, said she was relieved by this decision, which came as a complete surprise to her.
Morton said the months since Faith in Our Future was paused last year have been incredibly stressful. Students didn’t know if their school would close or move, and parents didn’t know if they should bother fundraising for a playground.
“They have disregarded parent requests for months that our schools have a stable future, and that leaves many of us in a perpetual state of worry,” she said.
Families had left the district for other French Immersion programs as they believed Poburan and ESSMY were in jeopardy, Morton said. Father Jan, Poburan, and ESSMY had the biggest proportionate drops in enrolment of all Catholic schools in St. Albert this fall – a drop she attributed to the uncertainty caused by Faith in Our Future.
Morton said the board’s decision to tout the “successes” of Faith in Our Future in its letter to parents “feels like a slap in the face to many people,” as it did not acknowledge the plan’s many failures. It was also disheartening to see how quickly the board was able to find different ways to meet the plan’s goals.
Morton called on the board to apologize for the months of fear and anxiety Faith in Our Future brought to many parents and students, as well as the harm the plan had done to school enrolment.
GSACRD board chair Noreen Radford said the board had seen its best numbers in years when it came to retaining French Immersion students between junior and senior high as a result of moving ESSMY’s high school to SACHS, and saved “huge dollars” by moving St. Gabriel to district office. (The decision involved an $80,000 renovation to the district office’s basement, which was less than the $130,000 annual lease cost of the school’s old home in Mission Hill Plaza.)
Radford disputed claims that Faith in Our Future had caused recent drops in enrolment, as many Alberta schools had seen less enrolment this fall, which could be due to economic factors or a rise in homeschooling.
Radford said the board decided to cancel the rest of Faith in Our Future because its priorities had changed and it wanted to take a new path forward when it comes to its three-year capital plan. She could not, at this point, say what this decision means for the future of Poburan, ESSMY and Father Jan.
“We still need a capital plan that involves the entire division,” she said, and work on that plan would start in earnest Dec. 14.
Radford said the board waited until now to drop the rest of the strategy because it had been focused on the pandemic and student safety.
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re on the right steps.”
In an email, GSACRD superintendent Clint Moroziuk said the board is working with Alberta Education to address its aging portables, and has solved its immediate space and security concerns at district office (two of the drivers behind Faith in Our Future) with renovations and staff relocations. The board’s three-year capital plan would likely be approved by late March.