As public high schools continue to overflow in the suburbs and empty out in the inner city, the Calgary Board of Education will consider ending specialty programs in some schools to balance enrolment.
After more than a year of public engagement, CBE officials are announcing two possible scenarios which eliminate arts programming in Grades 10 to 12 and consolidate French Immersion, Spanish Bilingual and interbaccalaureate (IB) in fewer schools.
Parents can provide feedback on the scenarios through online surveys and virtual discussions until March 17 before a final decision this fall and changes kick in for the 2022-23 school year.
“We believe these scenarios are the best way to balance enrolment while providing equitable learning opportunities for all our high school students,” said CBE Chief Superintendent Christopher Usih.
“The perspectives and feedback we will collect during this phase of engagement are critical to the final decision we will make, so we encourage all of our parents, staff, students and members of the public to participate.”
In a report to CBE board of trustees Tuesday, officials explained that the majority of public high schools are either over or underutilized, with only six schools currently at or near the preferred 85 to 100 per cent utilization rate.
But scenario A or B would bring 15 schools to preferred utilization rates, but only at the expense of losing some programming.
In Scenario A, IB would move from five to four schools, with John Diefenbaker High School losing its program.
French Immersion would be maintained at four high schools. But Spanish Bilingual would move from two to one school, with William Aberhart losing its program.
Arts-centred learning would be discontinued at both of its two existing high schools, James Fowler and Lord Beaverbrook.
Scenario B would see even more consolidations, with an additional high school losing French Immersion, Robert Thirsk. And both the Spanish Bilingual and French IB being completely discontinued,
Sarah Bieber, spokeswoman for the Kids Come First parent advocacy group, says its disappointing that the CBE has only come up with program discontinuations as an alternative for a problem they have seen coming for some time.
“We have known this high school enrolment crunch has been coming for more than six years,” Bieber said.
“And all we see here is less choice. The school board could have done more work to create robust programming in the inner city, but instead a lot of students will be forced into regular programming.”
Bieber says she is also concerned the proposed scenarios will also see boundary changes that could send up to 20 per cent of high school students to different locations.
And grandfathering siblings into the same school will no longer exist, Bieber added, which could mean huge tranportation challenges for families.
“We are in a crisis in this province, we have to expand industry and we have to diversify,” Bieber said.
“So we need to offer students more of a jumping off platform which means more choice in programming, not less.
“We need our students to be able to compete on an international level. If we’re not providing those opportunities, they won’t be set up for success.”
An detailed overview of the CBE’s new high school scenarios can be found in this document.