~ Community sustainability at risk with possible school closure

International Baccalaureate program may not be given chance!

Greater Hardisty is once again battling the potential closure of a neighbourhood school and area residents are being asked to stand up and protect the future of their community.

Before Christmas the Edmonton Catholic School District identified St. Gabriel School for potential closure, just five years after agreeing to save the school from consolidation with the new St. Brendan school in Ottewell.  Laura Mercier said support from parents and the community in general is needed to rally behind the Capilano-area school that has educated several generations in the area either as elementary or junior high students.  “Schools are the backbone of a community,” said Mercier, the mother of two boys, who also serves on the boards of both the school’s advisory council and Capilano Community League. “Communities with schools are vibrant places to live and are a key attraction for new residents looking to relocate into the area.”  She said the proposed closure is just another blow to the area which lost its long-time grocery store in December — TGP.  “Residents need to stand up for services in their area if they want their communities to thrive,” said Mercier.

“This issue matters to everyone, not just current students and people of Catholic faith,” added Kris Cramer, president of the Capilano Community League.  She said community members need to consider the impact on the neighbourhood, including the loss of recreational space as well as what the school will be used for after the closure.  “This seems to be shortsighted; the demographics in Capilano and surrounding neighbourhoods are changing. Families with younger children are moving in because of our amenities.  If we lose a school what will this mean for our community in the future?”

Parents from the elementary school are particularly frustrated that they are battling the closure just before the globally recognized International Baccalaureate Organization’s (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP) is poised to officially kick off this fall.  IB is known for teaching critical and independent thinking skills with the goal of helping students become well-rounded individuals and engaged world citizens.

“After St. Gabriel was saved from closure in 2014, the school advisory council recognized they had a role to play in rejuvenating interest in the school and suggested ways for the district to boost enrolment at the school,” said Mercier.  SAC recommended PYP as an opportunity to serve southeast central Edmonton students interested in IB programming.  The district supported the move.  In turn, it committed financial support to train at least two different groups of teachers to meet the new guidelines; assigned a teacher to spend a portion of their day as PYP coordinator for several years; made significant changes to the interior design of the school; and hosted other IB PYP schools at St. Gabriel for IB training and share St. Gabriel’s PYP progress.  Mercier said it’s baffling that the district would turn its back on the school just before possible certification in the acclaimed IB program is officially approved this spring.  Unfortunately, the transition to PYP was delayed over the last few years due to several unexpected administration changes at the school that had an impact on enrolment, she noted.

The board is expected to vote on school closure in March, just before approval for PYP is anticipated.  Anyone interested in the sustainability of their community is encouraged to contact or write letters to area representatives: Edmonton Catholic School District trustee Alene Mutala at alene.mutala@ecsd.net;  Edmonton city councillor Ben Henderson at ben.henderson@edmonton.ca; and Gold Bar MLA Marlin Schmidt at edmonton.goldbar@assembly.ab.ca.

For more information on the community’s lobbying efforts, contact Mercier at laura.mercier@icloud.com