Faith In Our Future: Phase One Report to the Community

The Board greatly appreciates the scope of public involvement dedicated to the Faith In Our Future Proposal. Since its adoption in September, 2019, six separate mediums of seeking feedback were part of public engagement. Whether participating in the Thoughtexchange online survey, the community open house, responding to the frequently asked questions, providing presentations to the Board, asking questions of the Board, or engaging through school council meetings, we are extremely grateful that approximately 1500 residents associated with our schools and greater community were able to provide perspectives through these mediums. 

As the Board has always promised through the Faith In Our Future Consultation process, we have listened to what you have said and three themes have emerged that the Board is pleased to comment upon at this time.

We will begin with the first two themes:

  1. People want to slow down and learn more about different options, presented in enough detail, so that they can provide meaningful feedback without the pressure of having to worry about where their children are going next year. 
  1. Division Office and Outreach are seen as drivers that can be solved without affecting schools (i.e., choose an under-utilized school or office space for both).

Thank you for sharing these perspectives. To this end, the Board will be taking no further action to financially invest in capital planning or site readiness for the amalgamation of the EMP and ESSMY elementary communities during the current school year. However, it will investigate this option along with other multiple solutions that have now been illuminated through the consultation process and the extent to which all alternatives will address (or not) the drivers of the Faith In Our Future Proposal. 

For practical purposes, this means that the previously scheduled open houses for January and February will be cancelled. We will therefore undertake an engagement process that extends from Spring 2020 through to the early stages of the 2021 – 2022 school year so that by the 2022 – 2023 School Year, meaningful solutions that more fully solicit community feedback can be in place for that school year.

While slowing down is necessary at this time, we want to emphasize that we do have time constraints related to pressing drivers, namely growth and health and safety as they apply to the replacement of École Father Jan. This school has a limited lifespan and, therefore, in very real terms, the need for current and future families to have a place to relocate in the future is significant. As well, in the future, the ongoing growth of our division depends on utilizing our space in schools in fiscally responsible ways and ensuring that when Riverside grows into a community of 13,000, that we are well positioned to serve our Catholic families in a new school site. If no further effort takes place to increase the utilization of our St. Albert Schools, we could not anticipate to obtain a new school for EFJ regardless of the state of that school’s building envelope. As long as utilization within our St. Albert Schools is not addressed, the government will expect that the school joins its population with existing school space in any of our schools.

The second reason for not slowing down our consultation process beyond what has been stated earlier is that the division, with a current in-year decline in funding being 3.7 million dollars, will already be making significant cuts that are purposefully designed to limit impact on the classroom. As such, the existing drivers behind the first proposal presented to the community will be expanded by one more variable. This is the ongoing budget shortfalls that we and all other divisions will be facing for at least the next four years due to a new provincial budget strategy. Of course, we are committed to be able to address these through our vision and realization of excellence in our schools. We have in the past and will continue to be determined to overcome change due to funding and legislative changes in remarkable ways. But our path forward in doing so will need to be one of “thinking differently” about how we provide service and the efficiency of providing these services according to demands and needs for programming. Therefore, relevant to our initial proposal, and responding to this approach in practical terms, the Board will delay for this and the next school year its plans for seeking a new Division Office and Outreach space. Having said this, we will remain interested in pursuing the possibility of including solutions for these sites within any proposal adopted in the future.

Finally, it is important to address the third prevailing theme from the research which has become increasingly important due to our current budgetary shortfall:

  1. There is support and understanding about the need to move duplicate programming at ESSMY for grades 10 – 12 students to SACHS. That said, the stakeholders most impacted by this change want input into how the transition would be completed.

Given the “new reality” of our financial picture and Board policy regarding the transfer of students from one school building to another school building, Policy 15 — School Closure / Transfer of Students, the Board will proceed with a process to inform parents of this possible change and consult with them in early January 2020 and decide upon whether or not to transfer the high school students from ESSMY to SACHS prior to Open House events in February 2020.

At this time, the Board wishes to stress the importance of public participation with respect to the organization of learning in the Division, the evolution of programming needs, and the location of new schools in the future. Further to its policies, the Board greatly values the role of public participation in its decisions while recognizing that in the end, it is legislatively entrusted to make relevant planning decisions and assure the future viability of Catholic education on behalf of all students and their families currently enrolled within, and those yet to be part of our excellent school system. Our Division could not have evolved and thrived over 155 years if “faith in our future” was not part of the governance mindset.

On the basis of the information previously provided, the following Board motions were adopted at the Special Meeting of the Board on December 2, 2019:

THAT on the basis of the feedback provided from the public to date and the addition of the significant funding challenges facing the division, that the Board direct the superintendent to update the Faith In Our Future Business proposal to reflect the “What We Heard: Phase 1” consultations as of November 14, 2019 and the interests of the Board regarding future timelines for deciding on a plan for implementation.

THAT the Board of Trustees consider the transfer of French Immersion grade 10 – 12 High School programming from ESSMY to SACHS to commence for the 2020 – 2021 School Year and direct the Superintendent to engage in a consultation process further to items 4 – 5 of Policy 15 with expected conclusion of the feedback from this process to be presented to the Board for its February 2020 Regular Meeting.

THAT further to Board Policy 15, the Board will vote upon a resolution to transfer the French Immersion grade 10 – 12 High School program from ESSMY to SACHS to commence for the 2020 – 2021 School Year at the February 2020 Regular Meeting.

View the full Faith In Our Future Phase One consultation report.

For additional updates on the Faith In Our Future consultation process, please check our website.

Thank you for your thoughtful participation in the Phase One Consultation, and we look forward to continuing to work with our school communities to further illuminate the best path forward for Faith In Our Future.

 

Thank you and God bless,

Joe Becigneul

Board Chair

Greater St. Albert Catholic School Board of Trustees

Posted: December 2, 2019