Satinwood School closing its doors

There could be more to come. I’ve seen a lot of passion from this community. I’d like to give it another chance.” Donna Peterson, Trustee

After activating the school closure process last fall, Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) board of trustees have made the decision to close Satinwood School, effective June 30 of this year.

A small, rural school located near Blackfalds and Clive, Satinwood is attended by only 39 students and its population has been on the decline since 1996.

This year the board of trustees saw triple grading; in the next five to six years, had the school remained open, numbers were expected to drop to 30.

Due to the steadily dwindling student body, the majority of council no longer saw keeping the school open as a feasible option.

Because of the small number of students, it costs WCPS almost $14,000 per student to provide education at Satinwood. Average cost in the division ranges between $6,000 and $9,000.

Satinwood has depended heavily on a subsidized framework and isn’t a small school by necessity because of its proximity to Clive and Lacombe schools, which have the ability to accept the students.

With the school now closing, approximately $185,600 that was going to the school can now be diverted and split between the schools students will begin attending in the fall.

Board chair Trudy Bratland, trustees Bob Huff and Barb Walker, Lacombe and Blackfalds trustees, and Ponoka trustee Lorrie Jess voted in favour of closing the school.

Satinwood’s trustee Donna Peterson and Bentley-Eckville trustee Pam Hansen wanted to delay the decision to give the Satinwood community more time to save the future of the school.

In cases of school closures, a decision has to be made within a year of the closure process being activated.

However, in exceptional cases, the Minister of Education can grant a board an extension if he deems trustees didn’t have enough time or information to fully review the situation and make the most educated choice possible. Peterson wanted to attempt to gain an extension, delay the board’s decision, and keep the school open one more year.

“It’s a high performing school with great parental involvement,” said Peterson.

The majority of the trustees didn’t meet her request with favour. Nor was it liked by secretary-treasurer Joe Henderson and superintendent Larry Jacobs, who told the board delaying their decision would rob them of any choice. “If you do decide to keep the school open, he (Education Minister Jeff Johnson) will force you to keep it open for a number of years.”

Walker believed requesting the extension from the minister was only delaying the inevitable and making the emotional process more difficult for the students, teachers and parents of the school.

Despite having enacted the closure process last fall, and the school’s community approached the board with three major proposals to bring more students to the school in that time, Hansen felt they should be given more time. “I think they need a little time to come up with an idea.”

“There could be more to come. I’ve seen a lot of passion from this community. I’d like to give it another chance,” said Peterson.

Peterson and Hanson both mentioned the subdivision slated to be developed near the school in the future. They believe there’s a chance it will attract the families needed to increase the school’s population.

“There is a proposed housing development that could come to fruition, the Nova Plant is expanding by 40 per cent, and you’d think there would be some spinoff from that,” said Peterson.

However, Jacobs says the school would need a minimum of 50 more students to make it viable again.

“If we need 50 to 55 students, where are they going to come from?” Huff asked.

He feels relying on the subdivision in any way isn’t a responsible choice for the board because it is only conceptual at this point in time.

“I think we have to give them the opportunity to let the young people come,” said Hansen.

Bratland says Satinwood has been brainstorming since 2011. “How much more time do we invest in the viability of the school? How much money would it take at the expense of our other students?”

She says she’s seen rural subdivisions built before, near Mirror and Bluffton, and they’ve mainly attracted seniors. “I have to think with my head, not my heart.”

In the past the Satinwood School community proposed to attempt to attract students residing in the WCPS division but are attending schools outside the division.

Jacobs said the idea never held enough appeal to make a significant change in the school’s population. It also concerned other WCPS schools that felt Satinwood’s idea would lure their students away from those schools.

“It was students in the Blackfalds and greater Lacombe area taking advantage of transportation to Red Deer,” said Jacobs.

Satinwood community also proposed to have students in home-schooling programs register with the school, so it could obtain the registration fees, but still allow the students to continue their home schooling. The idea was looked at with interest until it was discovered if the students registered with WCPS they would have to strictly follow the Alberta curriculum, something they currently don’t have to; with that all interest fell.

Had the proposal worked, Satinwood would have gained the registration of approximately 600 students. “The registration fees would flow back to Satinwood, something in the neighbourhood of $60,000,” said Jacobs.

The third idea was to simply expand Satinwood’s catchment area. However, that’s been a route the board has historically avoided because of the affects it would have on the grade numbers in other nearby schools.

The decision to close the school was made and met with heavy hearts, as Satinwood School community members and a portion of the trustee board wept as the decision became final.