by Leslie-Ann Kroeker
Ten years ago, more than 14 Regina public schools were on the chopping block and may have had to close their doors forever. Today, it’s an entirely different story, according to the returning School Board chairperson.
“The demographics in the division have changed. Different schools that had lower enrolments now have higher enrolments…. The discussion is no longer focused on (closures),” said Katherine Gagne, the returning chairperson for the Regina Public School Board, who won her subdivision comfortably in Wednesday night’s vote.
The new Regina Public School Board, which was voted in Wednesday night, will have a whole new set of issues to face, completely different than three years ago.
One of those issues will be revamping the ‘10-year plan’, which planned to close schools under a certain enrolment number. As Regina continues to grow, so do the projection numbers in the elementary schools and therefore board members no longer see school closures as a pending issue.
“When that plan was written, it was a much different time in the province and the city as of right now. We’re in a period of growth, while it was written in a period of decline,” said Gagne.
This new growth does not erase the seven schools that were previously closed under the plan. The pain of losing a community school is still there, according to the Ward 5 candidate Bill Gray, who fought keep Haultain pubic school alive. The school closed this past winter.
“It was a sad day. Whenever you lose something like that it does affect a community,” said Gray.
Incumbent trustee for Subdivision 5, Carla Beck, went on the record opposing the closure of Haultain and Dieppe schools, which also closed last winter.
“I think we’re at a point where we’re looking at over-crowding and meeting maximum capacity. I think (closure) is less of an issue,” said Beck.
But according to Gagne, closing schools in the past were beneficial. Aging infrastructure, low enrolment and inadequate programming were the main cause of the closures.
“We really wanted to get (them) into an environment where the teachers could collaborate and look at how students are achieving in a different way,” said Gagne.
Along with the issue of school closures is the issue of proper provincial funding; something both Gagne and Beck said is the most important issue the board faces this term.
According to Beck, 600 new students were added last September, most of them requiring additional language support. Beck said this creates a strain.
“There’s a need to get funding to the front line of the classroom when those (new) students show up… these kids are completely welcome in our system and valued but there needs to be (funding),” said Beck.
As new schools like Douglas Park and Arcola are being built in the city and older schools are hanging on, the future looks bright, according to Gagne.
But Lauren Numrich, who was the lone candidate that ran against Gagne, isn’t so optimistic. She believes closing schools and using experimental methods to open new ones isn’t the way to go.
Douglas Park school is using an ‘open concept’ method, which means that separating classrooms with walls is a thing of the past. Numrich’s two sons attend the school.
“I don’t approve of my children being experiments… I disapproved of that the first day I read about it,” said Numirch.
Whether the new board chooses to keep existing schools open, or retracts to it’s original 10-year plan, the trustees no doubt have an interesting four years ahead of them as Regina’s population continues to increase and more young children come into the system.