Rocky View Schools (RVS) is looking forward to an exciting and challenging year ahead as the public school division prepares to welcome back students and brace for more anticipated growing pains.
Superintendent of Schools Greg Luterbach confirmed RVS is once again expecting perhaps as many as another 1,000 new students again this year.
“Specifically at our high schools, we have again taken some spaces that might have been used for a different purpose,” he confirmed. “We are repurposing them to be classrooms. Unfortunately, we had asked for 32 modular, portable classrooms across Rocky View. We got 10, and none of those 10 have arrived yet. So that is a struggle.”
Luterbach said the space crunch, as usual, will be felt most acutely in the school division’s high schools, and particularly in the larger population centres of Airdrie, Chestermere and Cochrane.
“We need new schools and new construction funding to build them,” Luterbach said. “That will continue to be a major theme across Rocky View Schools this upcoming year … We are taking away learning commons, and we are taking cafeteria spaces and walling them up for classrooms. That is certainly not our desired state, but it is our reality we are facing right now.”
With a new Minister of Education in place in Demetrios Nicolaides, Luterbach said the board of trustees will be hoping to restart the conversation with Alberta Education about the need for construction funding to finally get shovels in the ground for new schools. They will also be hoping local parents and citizens get involved in that advocacy effort.
“Planning and pre-planning are great concepts, but we actually need construction funding,” reiterated Luterbach. “We need buildings. We need shovels in the ground. We need to get going now in all three of our major communities.”
Outside of this acute need for new school buildings, Luterbach said he also hoped the new Education Minister would re-examine the funding formula the province has been using to fund schools under the weighted moving average system. The weighted moving average formula essentially provides yearly funding to school divisions based on an average of students over the last three years. What it means for RVS, like other growing school divisions in Alberta, said Luterbach, is the province is always two years behind in funding actual growth.
“For us in Rocky View what it means is there are approximately 800 students where we are not getting (provincial) funding for any of those 800 students this upcoming year,” explained Luterbach. “That translates to about $5.6 million (short).”
The fact that that growth has to be funded internally, Luterbach acknowledged, has put a significant budget strain on Rocky View Schools.
“It is going to be a challenge,” stated Luterbach, when asked about the upcoming 2023/ 2024 school year budget. “Previously in Rocky View Schools, through the pandemic, we had some reserves grow because there were lots of initiatives that couldn’t happen during the pandemic. Coming out of the pandemic, knowing the needs and supports, we really spent heavily, and the government told school divisions they needed to reduce their reserves between one and three per cent. In this coming school year, we are going to be under two per cent in reserves; so we have really emptied the piggy bank.”
On a more positive note, Luterbach was pleased to be launching the school division’s new four-year education plan. He noted all the great work being done by RVS staff and teachers in preparing to help elevate student learning to a higher level.
“We have a new four-year education plan, and how do we tie all those pieces together to ensure students are successful?” he asked rhetorically. “We know we have better-than-provincial-average on graduation rates. We have very few students drop out. But we have also done a lot of work assessing our students around those really core, essential literacy and numeracy skills. And while many of our students do well, we have a group of students who need some (additional) support there.”
And it’s not only new classroom programs which are needed to elevate the academics of RVS students, said Luterbach, it’s also about bringing in new holistic supports to ensure students are in a good head space mentally and emotionally to excel in school.
“It’s not about one magic program that does that, but it’s about the work that happens day in and day out in schools,” he said. “And then as a division (considering) the additional resources we need to put in there.
“Staff have really embraced this,” Luterbach added. “They are working hard on this, and they think it will pay dividends.”