School board moving forward on SRO changes

A new plan designed to provide stability and continuity to an important school-based program has been approved.

A new plan designed to provide stability and continuity to an important school-based program has been approved.

Trustees of Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) passed a motion at their meeting on Thursday, Jan. 20 that will see the division work on establishing a new three-year agreement for its school resource officer (SRO) program in Lacombe, while giving the superintendent the authority to enter discussions with the Ponoka and Red Deer County RCMP detachments on putting together new agreements of similar length.

Discussions about making changes to the way the program was operated and administered have been ongoing between the division, its principals, the Lacombe Police Service and the RCMP for several months, which included meetings where details were hashed out that would make the program better for students, officers and the division.

Trustees heard in December from the chief of the Lacombe Police, Steve Murray, about how the program works in schools in their coverage area along with some suggested improvements. They once again heard from Murray at this latest meeting as well as from their own superintendent Larry Jacobs on the subject and what the principals want to see done regarding the program.

“All of the principals are very pleased with what’s been happening in the SRO program,” said Jacobs.

However as Murray explained to trustees, the program is in need of a better time frame so that it can make it easier to monitor progress and better work on what should be the program’s top priority.

“Our number one goal is about building relationships with students and with a one-off year-to-year approval, it’s challenging to do that and to manage the staff,” he said.

“We need to have that longer vision on the horizon, it’s not fair to the schools, the students, the officer, so that’s why you should consider a minimum of a three-year appointment.”

Administration will now work with both police services in establishing the new agreements as well as looking into how each SRO is funded and suggesting changes when the issue comes back to trustees later this year.

Class size

Assistant superintendent of People Services Jayson Lovell presented trustees with a report on how the division is doing with regards to the size of classes throughout all its schools and grades, explaining there is really only one area of concern.

“There is a cause for celebration on one hand and also on area that we need to focus on,” he stated.

On the positive side, the size of classes in Kindergarten to Grade 3, Grade 4 to 6 and Grades 10 to 12 are mostly within the range that is acceptable, while the growth in the Grade 7 to 9 area has seen nearly all of the division’s school see class sizes rise beyond what they would like to have.

Lovell stated a lot of resources upwards of $600,000 last year and about 30 teachers over the past few years have been put towards reducing the size of classes in the Kindergarten to Grade 6 levels since smaller classes there provide a reasonable measure of success for students in later years. However, a closer look at the Grade 7 to 9 levels is needed since the trend in demographics is showing there will be pressure for years to come in this area.

Trustees didn’t discuss the topic, but directed administration to look at options for trustees to go over during their discussions into the budget for the next school year.

Policy update

A brief update was given to trustees on the status of the request from the provincial government regarding school divisions having procedures or policies in place surrounding the issues of gender identity in schools.

Jacobs told the board the division’s current administrative procedure in place for two years was one of several Alberta Education has used to develop the framework it would like to see on the topic, a procedure that leaves a lot of flexibility for schools to provide a safe environment for students deemed vulnerable.

What Jacobs added was that several divisions, including Wolf Creek, are looking to the province to provide more concrete strategies and specifics on numerous items in their request so that divisions can better develop potential improvements to their present procedures.

Alberta Education is looking for at least a draft document on the topic from divisions by the end of March, something Wolf Creek already has. No deadline has been put in place for a school boards to have a finalized, comprehensive procedure or policy in place.

Adding one member

Trustee Barb Walker proposed a motion that passed unanimously for the division to look at possibly added another trustee to school board.

She asked that administration compile a report on the existing board composition and ward system, due to the tremendous growth and expansion in the Blackfalds area.

“I’d like to see the number of students and percentage of population in each ward compared to the last election and see what scenarios are there, specifically about adding a seventh trustee for the Blackfalds area while keeping the two Lacombe area trustees, and any other options that might be available,” she said.

Administration was not provided a timeline for a report to come back to the board, but time isn’t of the essence at the moment with the next election not taking place until the fall of 2017.