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Fort Macleod meets to discuss future of schools

Fort Macleod residents are ready to fight the trend of declining enrollment in their schools.
Establishing a center of excellence at F.P. Walshe school and working with parents who send their children to private schools to keep them in Fort Macleod are just two of the ideas presented last week.
People were asked at two meetings last week for input on the plan to modernize W.A. Day and F.P. Walshe schools and close G.R. Davis school.
The meetings were organized by Chelsie Wolff, Cathie Harris, Liisa Gillingham and James Coast, who are parents of children attending Fort Macleod schools.
“This is a big deal what we’re facing coming up in September,” Wolff said. “We want to make sure we have as much parent input as possible.”
People had the chance to answer a brief questionnaire at the meeting.
They were also invited to submit written comments to ftmacleodparents@hotmail.com.
“We want to be able to come up with some ideas and come up with an action plan,” Wolff said.
Wolff, Harris, Gillingham and Coast planned to attend the Livingstone Range School Board meeting on Tuesday to present their findings.
Wolff told the 30 people attending the meeting Wednesday night at the library it is important that Fort Macleod residents have input on the future of the schools.
“It’s to make sure the decisions the board are making are the absolute best for our community and represent the needs of the students and parents,” Wolff said.
The province announced earlier this year it will fund the modernization of W.A. Day and F.P. Walshe schools at a cost estimated at $18-million.
At present, the three Fort Macleod schools are operating at just 40 per cent capacity. That will increase to 85 per cent when the modernization work is completed.
The construction work is to begin in September.
Once the two-year construction project is completed, Kindergarten to Grade 5 will be housed in W.A. Day school.
F.P. Walshe school will be home to students in Grade 6-12.
G.R. Davis school will be closed. Any future use of the building has not yet been determined.
Wolff said while it is obvious that one school will have to close, trustees are basing their decisions on the projection that enrollment will continue to decline over the next 25 years.
Wolff said while the trend across the school division is one of declining enrollment, Fort Macleod is proving to be an exception.
As of Sept. 30, which is the cutoff for official enrollment, W.A. Day school had 191.5 students, up 21.5 from projections and seven more students than last year.
F.P. Walshe school had 344 students, up six from projections and five from last year.
G.R. Davis school had 147 students, up five from projected but down eight from last year.
Wolff said modernizing the schools so capacity is 85 per cent does not allow for growth.
People at Wednesday’s meeting expressed the opinion that more needs to be done to increase enrollment in Fort Macleod schools.
The suggestion was made that a meeting should be arranged with parents of Fort Macleod children who attend private schools.
At such a meeting a discussion could take place on steps that might be taken to have those children attend one of the Fort Macleod schools, rather than a private school.
Schools in Warner and Vauxhall were also cited for coming up with creative ideas to boost enrollment.
At Warner, a girls’ hockey school was developed while Vauxhall created a baseball academy.
People suggested finding an area in which Fort Macleod could specialize, such as the arts or agriculture, and using that to create a center of excellence.
People also suggested that a strong offering of trades and technical courses would convince some parents to send their children to Fort Macleod schools.
“Fort Macleod really is a great place to live,” Wolff said. “An absolute great place to live.”
There was discussion about the decision to move the Grade 6 students to F.P. Walshe, rather than having them at W.A. Day with the other elementary grades.
Some parents expressed concerns about having children that young interacting with high school students. Others saw it in a positive light, with the older students becoming mentors and role models.
Chris Baxter, who is a parent as well as a teacher at F.P. Walshe school, said there are changes coming to the curriculum that will provide for creation of a “middle” school of Grade 6-8 students.
Meeting organizers were pleased with the discussion.
“I think we’ve had a lot of excellent ideas brought up,” Wolff said.

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