A review of outreach and traditional high schools along with a focus on small rural high school operations in Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) division might lead to some changes come next school year.
Staff and administration undertook a comprehensive review of the present model for the three WCPS outreach high schools and their interaction with the traditional high schools in Ponoka, Lacombe and Rimbey, with the task force coming out with recommendations in eight areas that will better align the programs with a consistent set of guidelines and procedures, according to WCPS superintendent Jayson Lovell.
The WCPS board of trustees were provided an update on where the division stands with the review at their last meeting on March 17, where all of the recommendations were well received.
Lovell explained the recommendations will help bring together the best practices from all three outreach schools and build on better coordination between them and the traditional high schools through programming, but especially in the area of communication.
“The first four recommendations are all basically about working more closely together and enhancing that level of communication,” stated Lovell.
Those recommendations – student eligibility, program offerings, staff/student attendance and access – will mean the high schools will need to work better on processes to enhance communication on these issues and ensure that guidelines and standards are being applied equally throughout the division.
“There is a sense there is a need to pull together and communicate better between schools,” Lovell added.
“While the flexibility is needed at the outreach schools, there also needs to be that similar access and support for them as it is at the traditional high schools. Also, there needs to be the capacity, sharing and coordination so programming isn’t duplicated and we have the best site for that particular course.”
The division will be eliminating the assistant principal positions in Ponoka and Lacombe outreach schools due to looming challenges in the next budget. However, he explained, the division will be working with the schools on what those changes will ultimately look like.
The final recommendation has WCPS looking at moving toward programming that will be more digital in nature.
Lovell said it is their belief these kind of resources are becoming for prevalent and will really augment the current programs. Implementation will likely start slowly over the school year with some of the division’s teachers – who are experts in this field – taking the lead in this area.
“The trustees were really curious about this idea and I think we are obligated to explore this exciting area as a pilot and work on development over the next year,” said Lovell.
Small high schools work
Digital and alternative programming options were also part of the discussion as the board and administration began looking into how to maintain the viability of high schools in Alix and Bentley.
Lovell stated both schools have been challenged by low enrolment and that digital or alternative delivery methods could be ways to enhance programming and strengthen learning opportunities for students.
“Bentley has already begun work an alternative delivery model that is more seminar-based,” he said.
“Students want access to a variety of courses and we need to figure out how to create and develop those options.”
He added it’s going to take some time to do that and find out what it could look like, which is something that will be done over the next school year.
“There are a number of other divisions in the province doing this and over the next year we will be trying to understand what is out there and how it may work here. We have a commitment to do the best for our students and there shouldn’t be a disadvantage simply because you’re a student at a small rural high school,” Lovell said.
“The reality is small rural schools face challenges, but it is our job to work with them to enhance programming options in a fiscally responsible way. This is one way to invest in students with them and get feedback, honouring their voice and ensuring all stakeholders are part of the process.
“And if we develop this properly, this will benefit all high school students in Wolf Creek with a focus on a longer term solution. There is strong evidence, from other school boards, that this makes schools viable. Although, we are not going to rush it.”