Parents and supporters of Satinwood School near Blackfalds have been granted another month or so to recruit enough students from other school divisions to help keep the school open.
After a presentation Feb. 19 by two parents and a student, trustees and superintendent Larry Jacobs are now giving supporters a little more time to find students who would be willing to return to the Wolf Creek school division and attend Satinwood.
However, it’s been stipulated students cannot be recruited from within the school district, especially Blackfalds. Satinwood’s committee already held a meeting in Blackfalds looking for students.
“That meeting had a low turnout, and we did ruffle some feathers,” said Lisa Stewart, one of the parents who represented Satinwood at the school board meeting.
The trustees have made a new school in Blackfalds one of their top capital priorities and they know if Blackfalds loses students to Satinwood there’s less chance a school would be built.
Blackfalds Mayor Melodie Stol attended the school board meeting to present a petition with 650 signatures from an organization called High School for Blackfalds.
While a high school may be a popular choice, Stol wants a kindergarten to Grade 12 solution in Blackfalds, which becomes less likely if their elementary student numbers decrease.
“We see those pressures at every level,” said Stol.
During her presentation, Stewart also told trustees what Satinwood School means to her.
“I sought out Satinwood School, even though my area is zoned for Lacombe,” she said.
Stewart wants to ensure her children received the education that comes with attending a rural county school. “Satinwood is a place where the children run into the arms of the staff on the first day of school, where the principal greets each student by name and there every child gets a high-five on the way out the door after school.”
“The staff and other parents have become an extension of my home and it’s become the heart of my community,” she added.
Ken Chessor, the second parent who represented the school, talked about the devastation that’s happened when other county schools were consolidated. “Most of those small county schools are just a rock with a plaque. The hub of the community is gone. I really just want to stress this point, it’s a community you’re going to be affecting.”
Isabel Deutcher, a Grade 5 student at Satinwood, told the trustees what her school means to her.
She feels the school is important because each student is treated as an equal. “People love this school.”
Satinwood encourages students to expand their personal perceptions of the world by being involved in charities, as well as exploring their individuality through academics; something smaller schools with the ability to provide individual attention to students can afford.
“I think we should not totally give up on the fighting for the school but do school activities . . . Things the students can help with,” said Deutcher. “Satinwood is small but great.”
Deutcher also told the board about her younger sister, who has Down Syndrome. She says her sister, no matter where she goes, is always treated with pride, kindness, hugs and high-fives by former Satinwood students.
Stewart feels, because of the state of the provincial government, the limited number of modulars being built and other school projects being pushed back, that it could be years before Blackfalds receives a new school, and Satinwood is a good option to alleviate overcrowding.
She is concerned even more students will decide to leave the school division because of crowding, meaning some students could be subject to a 1.5- to two-hour bus ride each way. “For every student that goes to Blackfalds one goes to Red Deer or Lacombe.”
Stewart wants to bring back the students opting for Red Deer.
However, trustee Karin Engen feels many students from the Wolf Creek division go to Red Deer to attend schools of faith. Re-entering the division to attend Satinwood would hold no appeal for them.
Chessor agreed with Stewart, saying Satinwood is a good way to alleviate pressure in Blackfalds and having Blackfalds students attend Satinwood would need to take affect for only five to six years, until a new school is built.
He also asked the board, if, with so much overcrowding in Blackfalds, they have the room to teach the students effectively.
Trustee Donna Peterson wanted to know what would happen to Satinwood when those five to six years are up.
“I think that we have to communicate that our job as trustees is we have to be proactive and visionary, and we don’t want to make a decision like this that’s only going to be productive for five years,” said trustee Bob Huff.
Stewart asked the board to create new bus routes that would bus some Blackfalds students to Satinwood, which she feels would be cheaper than modulars.
However, according to trustee Trudy Bratland, the school division would have to pay for the new bus routes themselves without financial assistance.
The board is also refusing to adjust the catchment areas of the schools and without that there aren’t enough students to make another bus feasible.
Bratland says Blackfalds parents aren’t going to want to pay for their children to be bused away from their hometown, where the school and other aspects such as sports and other extra programs are conveniently close.
The idea of sending town students from Blackfalds to Satinwood was rejected by the board because it would be too difficult to delegate which students would have to leave their hometown to attend a county school.
“To them, the solution to this problem is us. It’s simple, move the catchment area,” said Huff. The board doesn’t want to be the solution and mandates the Satinwood parents do the work and find the numbers to increase the population of their school.
According to Stewart, Satinwood needs 45 to 60 students to keep Satinwood feasible.
Satinwood has 46 students and if more don’t arrive the school could be looking at triple grading the classrooms next fall.