Save Athabasca Campaign

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AthabascaRegina Public School Board voted to close Athabasca School in June 2011. The Save Athabasca School Committee sought support from RealRenewal members from across the city. Save Athabasca School conducted research and developed strong arguments for the retention of smaller neighbourhood schools. Although they were not able to keep their school open, their experience is shared on this site.

Athabasca Meeting Flyer

Research report released

Sept. 2011 – The Save Athabasca School Committee, in partnership with the University of Regina Community Research Unit, is pleased to present the report ‘Exploring Schools as Community Hubs‘ by Dianna Graves, a graduate student in the U of R Faculty of Education. The report provides much food for thought for communities seeking alternatives to school closures.

Contact

Save Athabasca School Committee – Volunteers needed!
Contact Bob Hughes at hughes.scar28@hotmail.com

Action

Updated July 2011

Presentation to Board
Gord Chuback and Bob Hughes made a presentation to the School Board on June 21. They asked the board to place a moratorium on disposal of the building, and to consider a proposal to turn the school into a community hub school.

June 21 Presentation to Board

Petition
A petition calling on the board to rescind the closure of Athabasca School and place a moratorium on future closures is being circulated. You can help by downloading a copy and gathering as many signatures as possible.

Athabasca Petition

Ribbon Campaign
Yellow and green ribbons – representing Athabasca’s school colours – have begun to appear on trees around the neighbourhood, as well as window signs. You can help by decorating your own tree. See photo above.

Survey
Please take a moment to fill out RealRenewal’s survey about the latest school closure process. All are welcome to provide their opinions and observations.Pass the link on to others.

Survey Link  http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/53HLK6W

Leaflet: What Good is a Small School?

Background

Athabasca School has been cited for closure in June 2011. It is located in River Heights, a pleasant pocket neighbourhood south of Wascana Creek and west of Elphinstone Street.

The school has many attractive features:
– It’s a school children can walk to.
– It’s next door to a high school, offering smooth transitions through the system.
– It offers special needs education for 20 children in a well-integrated, much-appreciated small school environment.
– It’s in a pleasant, affordable neighbourhood that is lately attracting many young families.
– There are 9 students in Grade 1, 13 in kindergarten and 22 in pre-school – the sign of a growing school population.
– The building is in good shape.

Enrolment
In September enrolment was reported at 147, up to a maximum of 149 depending on the day. The board’s official count is 142. Enrolment patterns appear to be trending upward. There are 7 students in Grade 2; 9 in Grade 1; 13 in kindergarten, and; 22 in preschool (source: RPS Student Enrolment and Trends, 2010-2011).

Population
The number of children aged 1 to 13 in the school area is projected to increase 26 per cent by 2014 (Source: RPS Athabasca School Profile, Aug. 2010). This reflects wider population trends in the city. There has been a 17 per cent increase in Regina births over six years (source: Derek Murray Consulting report to the City of Regina 2010), as well as record levels of inter-provincial and international migration to Regina (Source: CMHC Regina, CMA housing report, 2010). In the context of a citywide housing crunch, River Heights has become an attractive, affordable location for young families pushing strollers.

Receiving Schools
The closest designated receiving schools are Lakeview, with 219 students (1.1 km away) and Connaught with 344 students (1.5 km). The third school, Argyle, has fewer students at 154, but is further away, at 2.4 km. School board policy provides transportation for distances over 1.2 km, and 0.6 km for kindergarten students. Davin School, 1.7 km away, has not been named as a receiving school.

Costs
The 10 Year Plan projected a very modest annual administrative cost savings of $113,000 as a result of the closure plan. Depending on where students live in relation to receiving schools, this savings will be greatly reduced by bus transportation costs, pegged at $1,000 per student annually (Source: RPS 10 Year Renewal Plan, 2007).

Merger plan
The closure plan was initially introduced in the context of a new school rebuild at Argyle School, projected to cost $8.05 million (Source: RBE 10 Year Renewal Plan). However, in the past three years the cost estimate has ballooned to $18.68 million (Source: B1 funding application to provincial government, Oct. 2010). At this rate, it would take 165 years for the anticipated administrative savings to pay for the capital costs of the merger. To date the board has not been able to deliver on promised construction projects as scheduled in the 10 Year Plan. The Argyle build has been listed as a Priority 2 on the provincial list, standing behind many Priority 1 projects province-wide. Recognizing the situation, the board passed a motion last year that effectively changed Athabasca from a planned ‘merger’ with Argyle to a straight closure with parental choice of receiving schools, although the word ‘merger’ is still used in correspondence with parents and the public.

Building condition

When considering the fate of Athabasca School, some trustees who voted for closure made reference to the terrible shape the building was in. RealRenewal has obtained the itemized list of recommended facility repairs. For the record, here is the list. Notably, there do not appear to be any major or structural repairs required. The only structural item listed is the replacement of a basement slab at $5,000 per slab, for a total of $50,000 over 10 years.

RealRenewal’s position is that these types of details should be fully and publicly disclosed during school closure consultations.

Athabasca 2007-2010 School Profile Reports

Facility Repair List

Special needs children excluded

By Faith Savarese, The Leader-Post February 26, 2011

Since 1952, the Regina and District Association for Community Living has been working to ensure that individuals with intellectual disabilities are not only seen, but valued as citizens contributing to our community. With respect to education, we have advocated for children to attend school in their own neighbourhoods with their siblings and the kids down the street -because it is when you are part of your community that you can contribute to it.

The idea that all children can attend their neighbourhood school is widely accepted. However, there are still many children with disabilities who are unable to attend their neighbourhood school. These children are bused to various locations in the city to attend school in segregated programs. To add insult to injury, they are not even counted as part of the school enrolment.

We have seen this recently with the decision to close Athabasca school. There are approximately 45 children with disabilities who attend Athabasca school, but they were not counted as part of the enrolment when the closure decision was made in January. If the public school board cannot see fit to have children attending schools in their own neighbourhood and included in regular classrooms, perhaps it could at least recognize them as part of a school community.

When the closure was discussed, their non disabled peers were given options to attend other nearby schools, but, children with disabilities and their families have no choice as they will all apparently be moved en masse to a new school wherever it is deemed appropriate. For many of these children, this will not be their first move to a different school.

Because these children are segregated and not valued as part of the school community, yet another small school will close and the most vulnerable students will be the most adversely affected.

FAITH SAVARESE
Savarese is executive director, Regina and District Association for Community Living.
Regina
© Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post

Five Reasons to Keep Athabasca Open

The following was sent to trustees in a series of open letters in January 2011.

Dear Trustees,

Next week you will be called on to make decisions that will permanently impact our city.

The members of RealRenewal realize not every school program is viable or enjoys broad community support.  But we also know decisions are too often made without full valuation of a school’s strengths, and without recognition of the alternatives.

And we know it’s difficult to stand up for a school community when the tables are tilted toward closure. With this in mind, between now and Jan. 11 we will send you a series of open email letters, each one providing a solid reason to back up a vote to keep Athabasca School open. The emails will include links to further information and alternative policies to help you support this position.

Our comments are informed by our members, who include members of the Athabasca school community as well as all three proposed receiving school communities. We are further informed by a rich research base in support of smaller schools as welcome, successful alternatives within systems that have the good sense to embrace and value school diversity.

Below is our first reason to vote in support of Athabasca School. We hope you find the information in this and other emails enlightening and useful.

Reason #1: The economic landscape has changed.

The closure of Athabasca School was originally proposed within the context of a 10 Year Plan to merge schools into larger rebuilt and new facilities. The Plan’s budget was based on annual mill rate increases and estimated capital costs of $8.05 million per merger. Since that time, the board has lost its power to set the mill rate, cost estimates have soared to approx. $18 million per merger, and the new provincial funding formula remains uncertain. Promised new schools have not materialized as scheduled, placing closures within an entirely different context than what was presented to the public.

Until the 10 Year Plan is publicly re-costed and recalibrated in a manner that is transparent to taxpayers, the only responsible option is to place school closures arising from the Plan on hold. While this may be disappointing for some trustees, the changed fiscal reality must be faced and accounted for first.

It’s worth noting that the experience of the United States revealed significant hidden costs and administrative inefficiencies associated with school mergers, as well as negative social consequences for students, their families and their communities. For this reason, a number of states have since mandated that school districts look toward maintaining and investing in existing facilities as a first option, rather than a last resort.

For examples of alternative renewal policies, visit: Athabasca 2007-2010 School Profile Reports

NGA Center for Best Practices:
Fixing it First

Ontario Ministry of Education:
Good Places to Learn: Renewing Ontario’s Schools (pdf) 

U.S. National Trust:
Model public policies

While these examples are state and provincial policies, there’s no reason local trustees can’t lead the way by example.

Reason #2: The population has changed

When Athabasca School was originally placed on the list of potential closures, the population of school-aged children in the area was anticipated to decline by 11 per cent by 2013. In three years’ time, that decline has been transformed into a projected 26 per cent increase. A combined 37 per cent upward adjustment in the school-aged population is highly significant, and cannot help but impact local school enrolment beyond the modest adjustments made in Athabasca’s latest facility review. Indeed, while grade sizes have fluctuated over the years, Athabasca’s 2010 enrolment profile reveals a clear ‘hockey stick’–shaped upward trend emerging in the younger classrooms, with 7 students in Grade 2, 9 in Grade 1, 13 in kindergarten and 22 in pre-school. The projected pre-K population for 2014 is 29, nearly triple the 2007 projection of 11 students.

This should not be surprising. Regina’s population is rising, with sharp increases in births, interprovincial in-migration and international immigration expected to continue in 2011. Demographic projections are at best extrapolations from past trends; it will take some time for our new neighbours to make their appearance in the data. It will take less time for their children to make their appearance in our schools.

Now is an opportune moment to reinvest in a well-built facility like Athabasca, improving and expanding services to attract new families to the school community.

For more information on the changing population outlook, visit :
http://www.realrenewal.org/dbdocs//4d1cb00181d62.pdf

Saskatchewan Population Trends

CMHC fourth-quarter report for Regina 2010

Reason #3: Smart Growth for a Liveable City

Cities across Canada, including Regina, are embracing Smart Growth planning principals that envoke walkable, sustainable, cohesive neighbourhoods. These principals recognize that sustainability involves much more than constructing ‘green buildings.’ More important measures include reducing transportation needs, taking advantage of existing compact urban buildings, and stabilizing neighbourhoods with small-scale walkable public services like schools.

Casting your vote in support of Athabasca School will be a significant first step toward joining hundreds of North American school divisions that now encourage ‘Smart Growth Schools,’ defined as schools that:
– involve the community in school facility planning
– make good use of existing resources, such as historic school buildings
– are located within neighborhoods and fit into the scale and design of the neighborhood
– act as a neighborhood anchor and community center
– are usually small in size.

Promoting smart growth schools will benefit your decision-making across a wide range of issues, by providing an overall policy framework that is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. Observed outcomes for students include reduced transciency and social dislocation. Students are more physically active, socially engaged and ready to learn within a stable, supportive neighbourhood environment.

Another potential benefit is a deepened working relationship with the City of Regina’s Planning and Sustainability Division. Our city’s urban development plan aims to “encourage the revitalization and redevelopment trends of inner city neighbourhoods” through “promoting a compact, balanced urban form that minimizes travel distances.” Co-involvement in sustainable urban planning will open up conversations about combined city-school services, which city officials have said they are keen to develop. More importantly, it will give your decision-making an extra layer of vital information about the planned growth of neighbourhoods  – something bare-boned demographic statistics can’t capture.

For more information and policy ideas:

National Trust:
Smart Growth Schools Fact Sheet

Council for Educational Facility Planners International:Smart Growth and Community-Centered Schools
– impacts on student achievement and community well-being.

National Clearing House for Educational Facilities:
Smart Growth and Schools Resources
http://www.edfacilities.org/rl/smart_growth.cfm

Oregon Public Schools:
Schools Cycle Back int the Heart of Neibourhoods
Schools Cycle Back Into the Heart of Neighbourhoods
http://www.osba.org/Services/Service/~/media/Files/Publications/Critical%20Issues/cineighborhood.ashx

National Trust/BEST:
Recommended Policies for Schools as Centers of Community
http://www.21csf.org/csf-home/publications/modelpolicies/SchoolsCentersCommunitiesSectionMay2005.pdf

Berkeley Center for Cities and Schools
http://citiesandschools.berkeley.edu/

Smart Growth Network Online: Smart Growth
http://www.smartgrowth.org

Reason #4: Smaller is Better

Decades of research points to one conclusion: students thrive in small schools. The smaller the school, the better the outcomes in:
–    overall academic achievement
–    student participation
–    parental involvement
–    reduced bullying and violence
–    healthy walking habits
–    integration of new immigrants
–    integration of special needs programming
–    graduation rates
–    school success for minorities and disadvantaged students
–    attendance
–    teacher job satisfaction
–    standardized literacy and numeracy test results

Tracking studies have consistently shown that when students are moved to larger merged schools, these key measures decline. In response, some school administrations have instituted Smaller Learning Communities and Schools-Within-Schools, with mixed results and a few administrative conundrums. Although such programs do offset the negative effects of mergers, they haven’t been able to fully match the success rates and efficiency of actual small schools.

The benefits of small schools are very well documented. Meanwhile, there is no comparable evidence base to support the statement that schools of 200 or more students are required to create smaller learning communities and professional learning communities. In fact, just the opposite seems to be the case: much of the literature on learning communities notes that small schools – including schools of fewer than 150 students – form a natural environment for the close professional collaboration and one- on-one instruction that are the hallmarks of successful learning communities. As well, teachers and administrators benefit from closer school-community connections, which bring extra volunteer hands and resources into classrooms.

Regina is fortunate to have smaller neighbourhood public schools like Athabasca School. They are of enormous value to our children and our communities. Such schools are the envy of other cities, and for good reason.

For more information about small schools:

Education Canada:
Cohesive Communities, Improved Outcomes: A Case for Small Schools.
http://www.realrenewal.org/dbdocs//47af87d2ea983.pdf

Chicago Public Schools:
Small Schools Get Results

http://smallschools.cps.k12.il.us/

Simon Fraser University research review:
Does School Size Matter? A Social Capital Perspective
http://www.realrenewal.org/dbdocs//4d29d8bc97ecd.pdf

Small Schools Workshop:
What is a small school?
http://smallschoolsworkshop.wordpress.com/small-schools/
Small Schools: The Numbers Tell a Story
http://eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED386517.pdf

Coalition of Smaller Preparatory Schools:
White Paper: Smaller Schools, Very Big Gains
http://smallschoolscoalition.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Small-Schools-white-Paper.pdf

BC Education Coalition:
Small/Rural Schools
http://stopeducationcuts.org/communities/small-schools/

Reason #5: It’s the right thing to do

You did not become a trustee to break up school communities, cause grief and defend a bureaucracy. You became a trustee because you felt change was needed and you wanted to represent the views of ordinary citizens.

That’s precisely why we have school trustees. Whether elected or acclaimed, you were chosen via an open electoral process. This isn’t the same as being appointed to a charitable board, where responsibility ends at attending public events and advising on broad policy directions. Voters expect their trustees to at times take difficult positions that challenge the status quo. This requires courage and clarity of thought.

No matter what you hear to the contrary, education bureaucrats do not know better than citizens. Citizens know their children, and know what works best for them. Over the past several weeks, you have heard a clear, united message from members of the Athabasca School community and the wider public. Your public consultation revealed Athabasca is a successful school that people feel is worthy of continued support and innovative improvement. There is no grave financial pressure to close the doors. By all accounts, the students are doing very well and the surrounding community is happy with the school. These are the things that truly matter – and the voices to whom you are ultimately accountable.

We urge you to stand strong and represent what you’ve heard from the community. It may not be easy – but it’s the right thing to do.

Presentations to the Board

The following presentations were submitted to the Regina Public School Board on Dec. 14, 2010. They discuss the potential closure of Athbasca School. Also distributed to the board was a letter from Premier Brad Wall that appears to support the parents’ position that special needs children are part of core school enrolment.

Athabasca School Community Council (pdf)

Marie Karner Presentation (pdf)

Bob Hughes Presentation (pdf)

Connaught School Community Council Presentation (pdf)

Brad Wall Correspondence (pdf)

An Athabasca parent speaks

January 2011

Dear honourable members,

I wish to express my disappointment at your final decision to close Athabasca School. I understand the reasons, yet I can’t get my head around the fact that a building in good condition is going to be demolished and another built a short distance away. If we were ecologically conscious of what we are doing this sort of thing would be unheard of. I speak for the young families who have not yet moved to the River Heights area but will soon. I suspect the Athabasca school land will be developed for condos or housing, and this will only compound the argument for keeping a school in the area, as the resulting influx of population will require a school even more. My point is, pushing down buildings and re-building to cater to short term population spikes in the target demographic is a losing battle. You can never hope to keep up with the ever changing population. To try to build a school every time a new neighborhood is built does not make financial sense. Leaving solid infrastructure in place in the long term will serve our city just as well and cost much less over time. I hope this cycle of waste ends in my lifetime. It makes me sick thinking about the money that is being wasted and I hope a better solution can be found in the future.

– Gordon Chubak

There is a better vision

From the Regina Leader-Post:

I write to commend the board of the Prairie South School Division for its forward-looking and community responsive policies. I have heard from people in some of their school communities that their board is actually establishing a “small schools” policy and that they are meeting with parents and school community councils to assure them that their efforts will be focused on keeping their schools open, not on closing them.

And why wouldn’t that be the focus, especially in light of our growing provincial population? I have even heard that this board is concerned enough about the after-effects on students (when a school is closed and they are moved to a school out of their natural community), that it is going to study those effects.

I find such actions by the Prairie South board to be so refreshing, and light years ahead of what we are stuck with from the Regina Public Board of Education. Our board is trudging along on its “10-Year Plan”,, which includes closing 13 elementary schools and two high schools. My grandchildren’s school, Athabasca, is the latest to be voted by the board for closure. Can anyone tell me what sense it makes to close a perfectly sound school in the middle of a neighbourhood that is changing over to young, growing families?

I call on all Regina families to join with us at Athabasca to overturn this wasteful and ridiculous decision and to stand together to ensure that we, too, can establish progressive policies such as they have in the Prairie South School Division. We meet at the Elphinstone Street bridge every Wednesday at 5 p.m.

MARGARET PELLETIER
Regina

Board must stop closing schools

Feb. 2011

Anyone confused about the plan for Regina’s public schools need ask just two questions: How many new schools have opened under the 10-year plan? How many have closed? The answer to the first question is zero. The answer to the second question is four, with a fifth under way.

The only “shovels in the ground” are two pre-plan projects that were to have been completed in 2008 and 2009. All other proposed constructions remain unrealized, amid ballooning cost estimates and tight provincial purse strings. Meanwhile the board marches on, closing schools where they are the most needed.

Athabasca School was cited on the basis of an anticipated 11-per-cent decline in the area’s school-aged population. This has since reversed into a projected 26-per-cent increase within the next three years.

The facility audit shows the building is sound. During consultations, there were no complaints, only praise, about the education received. There’s no evidence of substantial associated savings, nor evidence of pressing financial need, with a $6-million surplus posted this year. Shutting Athabasca is an unnecessary folly that must be rescinded. There’s nothing better awaiting these children down the road.

Make no mistake: this is a schoolclosure plan. It primarily affects midto-low income neighbourhoods at the city core, where populations are burgeoning and children’s needs are high. No matter where you live, the health and social sustainability of our city is at stake.

Vancouver and Edmonton recently declared closure moratoriums. We must demand the same for Regina, effective immediately.

TRISH ELLIOTT
Regina

Disappointed parent

January 2011

As the parent of a pre-school aged child, I am was very disappointed in the Board’s decision to close Athabasca School. I attended the public meeting at Athabasca School in November and, based on the discussion and information presented at that meeting, am very surprised at the Board’s final decision. I would, however, like to thank the 2 Board members who voted against closing Athabasca School for their vision, open-mindedness, and critical evaluation of all the facts.

I have not spoken to one member of the public who supported closing the school. How unfortunate that no children who live in the River Heights neighbourhood now, or in the future, will ever walk to school and will not benefit from the close community ties that result from attending a neighbourhood school.

I have a friend whose daughter is enrolled in Discovery Preschool and lives about 5 blocks from Athabasca. As she does not have an older sibling at Athabasca, her parents have no choice as to which school she will attend in the future. She will likely be bussed to school for her entire school career, rather than walking to and from school with friends and going home for lunch.

As for me, seeing how the Regina Public School Board had made decisions over the past few years makes me seriously consider whether I will send my child into this system. I am aware of the Board’s plans to eliminate traditional classrooms through the Structural Innovation model. I will not send my child to a school that employs that model based on the failure of similar models in other jurisdictions.

Furthermore, I have seen the Board leaving students and parents on edge for years about school closures, sticking to the tired mantra of school closures amidst a Baby Boom and with a booming provincial economy, using unreliable enrollment projections, closing schools rather than using creative problem-solving, and a having seeming disregard for the opinions of the citizens who elect the Board….I’m not Catholic, but surely the Catholic School Board must be better than this!

One final note:
I also strongly oppose the Board’s decision to remove English programs from schools with French Immersion, such as Massey School for the following reasons.

When a school offers only French-Immersion….

(1) Children who switch from French to English must leave their school, friends, schoolmates, familiar teachers and staff. When I was in French Immersion at Connaught, several of my classmates switched to English but were able to maintain ties with their old friends and classmates during the transition and beyond.

(2) Siblings who are not both in French Immersion (for whatever reason) cannot attend the same school. This is unfortunate for the siblings as well as for their parents who must arrange seperate transportation for each child (ex. the older child cannot walk the younger child to school, and is not there to support their younger sibling).

(3) Children may not benefit from meeting children who were not in French Immersion. In my experience, students in French Immersion and those in English often came from different socio-economic backgrounds.

I implore the School Board members to chart a more positive vision for Regina’s public schools for the sake of their students!

If we managed to keep schools open during the Depression, surely we can keep them open now. If the Boards reasons for school closures are financial, then the Board should be obligated to crack open the books to public scrutiny. As we all know, the Boards’ enrollment projections benefited greatly from public scrutiny. Again, thank you to the two board members who voted in the best interest of students and of the public in the case of Athabasca School.

Regina Public School Board voted to close Athabasca School in June 2011. The Save Athabasca School Committee asks RealRenewal members from across the city to support their school. See below for actions you can take, and provides background information about the school.

Communities historically have difficulty fighting school closures because each school tends to stand alone. Let’s help break that pattern! 

Research report released

Sept. 2011 – The Save Athabasca School Committee, in partnership with the University of Regina Community Research Unit, is pleased to present the report ‘Exploring Schools as Community Hubs‘ by Dianna Graves, a graduate student in the U of R Faculty of Education. The report provides much food for thought for communities seeking alternatives to school closures.

Contact

Save Athabasca School Committee – Volunteers needed!
Contact Bob Hughes at hughes.scar28@hotmail.com

Action

Updated July 2011

Presentation to Board
Gord Chuback and Bob Hughes made a presentation to the School Board on June 21. They asked the board to place a moratorium on disposal of the building, and to consider a proposal to turn the school into a community hub school.

Presentation to the Board (pdf)

Petition
A petition calling on the board to rescind the closure of Athabasca School and place a moratorium on future closures is being circulated. You can help by downloading a copy and gathering as many signatures as possible.
Petition

Fundraising
RealRenewal is collecting donations for the campaign.
Donate Online

Ribbon Campaign
Yellow and green ribbons – representing Athabasca’s school colours – have begun to appear on trees around the neighbourhood, as well as window signs. You can help by decorating your own tree. See photo above.

Survey
Please take a moment to fill out RealRenewal’s survey about the latest school closure process. All are welcome to provide their opinions and observations.Pass the link on to others.
Survey Link  http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/53HLK6W

What Good is a Small School – Athabasca campaign brochure (pdf)

Background

Athabasca School has been cited for closure in June 2011. It is located in River Heights, a pleasant pocket neighbourhood south of Wascana Creek and west of Elphinstone Street.

The school has many attractive features:
– It’s a school children can walk to.
– It’s next door to a high school, offering smooth transitions through the system.
– It offers special needs education for 20 children in a well-integrated, much-appreciated small school environment.
– It’s in a pleasant, affordable neighbourhood that is lately attracting many young families.
– There are 9 students in Grade 1, 13 in kindergarten and 22 in pre-school – the sign of a growing school population.
– The building is in good shape.

Enrolment
In September enrolment was reported at 147, up to a maximum of 149 depending on the day. The board’s official count is 142. Enrolment patterns appear to be trending upward. There are 7 students in Grade 2; 9 in Grade 1; 13 in kindergarten, and; 22 in preschool (source: RPS Student Enrolment and Trends, 2010-2011).

Population
The number of children aged 1 to 13 in the school area is projected to increase 26 per cent by 2014 (Source: RPS Athabasca School Profile, Aug. 2010). This reflects wider population trends in the city. There has been a 17 per cent increase in Regina births over six years (source: Derek Murray Consulting report to the City of Regina 2010), as well as record levels of inter-provincial and international migration to Regina (Source: CMHC Regina, CMA housing report, 2010). In the context of a citywide housing crunch, River Heights has become an attractive, affordable location for young families pushing strollers.

Receiving Schools
The closest designated receiving schools are Lakeview, with 219 students (1.1 km away) and Connaught with 344 students (1.5 km). The third school, Argyle, has fewer students at 154, but is further away, at 2.4 km. School board policy provides transportation for distances over 1.2 km, and 0.6 km for kindergarten students. Davin School, 1.7 km away, has not been named as a receiving school.

Costs
The 10 Year Plan projected a very modest annual administrative cost savings of $113,000 as a result of the closure plan. Depending on where students live in relation to receiving schools, this savings will be greatly reduced by bus transportation costs, pegged at $1,000 per student annually (Source: RPS 10 Year Renewal Plan, 2007).

Merger plan
The closure plan was initially introduced in the context of a new school rebuild at Argyle School, projected to cost $8.05 million (Source: RBE 10 Year Renewal Plan). However, in the past three years the cost estimate has ballooned to $18.68 million (Source: B1 funding application to provincial government, Oct. 2010). At this rate, it would take 165 years for the anticipated administrative savings to pay for the capital costs of the merger. To date the board has not been able to deliver on promised construction projects as scheduled in the 10 Year Plan. The Argyle build has been listed as a Priority 2 on the provincial list, standing behind many Priority 1 projects province-wide. Recognizing the situation, the board passed a motion last year that effectively changed Athabasca from a planned ‘merger’ with Argyle to a straight closure with parental choice of receiving schools, although the word ‘merger’ is still used in correspondence with parents and the public.

Building condition

When considering the fate of Athabasca School, some trustees who voted for closure made reference to the terrible shape the building was in. RealRenewal has obtained the itemized list of recommended facility repairs. For the record, here is the list. Notably, there do not appear to be any major or structural repairs required. The only structural item listed is the replacement of a basement slab at $5,000 per slab, for a total of $50,000 over 10 years.

RealRenewal’s position is that these types of details should be fully and publicly disclosed during school closure consultations.

Athabasca facility recommended repairs (pdf)

Athabasca school facility reviews for 2007 and 2010 (pdf)

Special needs children excluded

By Faith Savarese, The Leader-Post February 26, 2011

Since 1952, the Regina and District Association for Community Living has been working to ensure that individuals with intellectual disabilities are not only seen, but valued as citizens contributing to our community. With respect to education, we have advocated for children to attend school in their own neighbourhoods with their siblings and the kids down the street -because it is when you are part of your community that you can contribute to it.

The idea that all children can attend their neighbourhood school is widely accepted. However, there are still many children with disabilities who are unable to attend their neighbourhood school. These children are bused to various locations in the city to attend school in segregated programs. To add insult to injury, they are not even counted as part of the school enrolment.

We have seen this recently with the decision to close Athabasca school. There are approximately 45 children with disabilities who attend Athabasca school, but they were not counted as part of the enrolment when the closure decision was made in January. If the public school board cannot see fit to have children attending schools in their own neighbourhood and included in regular classrooms, perhaps it could at least recognize them as part of a school community.

When the closure was discussed, their non disabled peers were given options to attend other nearby schools, but, children with disabilities and their families have no choice as they will all apparently be moved en masse to a new school wherever it is deemed appropriate. For many of these children, this will not be their first move to a different school.

Because these children are segregated and not valued as part of the school community, yet another small school will close and the most vulnerable students will be the most adversely affected.

FAITH SAVARESE
Savarese is executive director, Regina and District Association for Community Living.
Regina
© Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post

Five Reasons to Keep Athabasca Open

The following was sent to trustees in a series of open letters in January 2011.

Dear Trustees,

Next week you will be called on to make decisions that will permanently impact our city.

The members of RealRenewal realize not every school program is viable or enjoys broad community support.  But we also know decisions are too often made without full valuation of a school’s strengths, and without recognition of the alternatives.

And we know it’s difficult to stand up for a school community when the tables are tilted toward closure. With this in mind, between now and Jan. 11 we will send you a series of open email letters, each one providing a solid reason to back up a vote to keep Athabasca School open. The emails will include links to further information and alternative policies to help you support this position.

Our comments are informed by our members, who include members of the Athabasca school community as well as all three proposed receiving school communities. We are further informed by a rich research base in support of smaller schools as welcome, successful alternatives within systems that have the good sense to embrace and value school diversity.

Below is our first reason to vote in support of Athabasca School. We hope you find the information in this and other emails enlightening and useful.

Reason #1: The economic landscape has changed.

The closure of Athabasca School was originally proposed within the context of a 10 Year Plan to merge schools into larger rebuilt and new facilities. The Plan’s budget was based on annual mill rate increases and estimated capital costs of $8.05 million per merger. Since that time, the board has lost its power to set the mill rate, cost estimates have soared to approx. $18 million per merger, and the new provincial funding formula remains uncertain. Promised new schools have not materialized as scheduled, placing closures within an entirely different context than what was presented to the public.

Until the 10 Year Plan is publicly re-costed and recalibrated in a manner that is transparent to taxpayers, the only responsible option is to place school closures arising from the Plan on hold. While this may be disappointing for some trustees, the changed fiscal reality must be faced and accounted for first.

It’s worth noting that the experience of the United States revealed significant hidden costs and administrative inefficiencies associated with school mergers, as well as negative social consequences for students, their families and their communities. For this reason, a number of states have since mandated that school districts look toward maintaining and investing in existing facilities as a first option, rather than a last resort.

For examples of alternative renewal policies, visit:

NGA Center for Best Practices:
Best Practices in Fix-It-First Policy (pdf)
http://www.realrenewal.org/dbdocs//4addb2664f247.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education:
Good Places to Learn: Renewing Ontario’s Schools (pdf) 
http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/reports/learn/goodplaces.pdf

U.S. National Trust:
Model Public Policies for Older and Historic Schools (pdf)
http://www.realrenewal.org/dbdocs//4addb42a94742.pdf

While these examples are state and provincial policies, there’s no reason local trustees can’t lead the way by example.

Reason #2: The population has changed

When Athabasca School was originally placed on the list of potential closures, the population of school-aged children in the area was anticipated to decline by 11 per cent by 2013. In three years’ time, that decline has been transformed into a projected 26 per cent increase. A combined 37 per cent upward adjustment in the school-aged population is highly significant, and cannot help but impact local school enrolment beyond the modest adjustments made in Athabasca’s latest facility review. Indeed, while grade sizes have fluctuated over the years, Athabasca’s 2010 enrolment profile reveals a clear ‘hockey stick’–shaped upward trend emerging in the younger classrooms, with 7 students in Grade 2, 9 in Grade 1, 13 in kindergarten and 22 in pre-school. The projected pre-K population for 2014 is 29, nearly triple the 2007 projection of 11 students.

This should not be surprising. Regina’s population is rising, with sharp increases in births, interprovincial in-migration and international immigration expected to continue in 2011. Demographic projections are at best extrapolations from past trends; it will take some time for our new neighbours to make their appearance in the data. It will take less time for their children to make their appearance in our schools.

Now is an opportune moment to reinvest in a well-built facility like Athabasca, improving and expanding services to attract new families to the school community.

For more information on the changing population outlook, visit:Athabasca school facility reviews for 2007 and 2010 (pdf)
http://www.realrenewal.org/dbdocs//4d1cb00181d62.pdf

Saskatchewan Population Trends (pdf)
http://www.aeei.gov.sk.ca/sk-population-report-quarter-2

CMHC fourth-quarter report for Regina 2010. (pdf)
http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/odpub/esub/64255/64255_2010_Q04.pdf?lang=en
Reason #3: Smart Growth for a Liveable City

Cities across Canada, including Regina, are embracing Smart Growth planning principals that envoke walkable, sustainable, cohesive neighbourhoods. These principals recognize that sustainability involves much more than constructing ‘green buildings.’ More important measures include reducing transportation needs, taking advantage of existing compact urban buildings, and stabilizing neighbourhoods with small-scale walkable public services like schools.

Casting your vote in support of Athabasca School will be a significant first step toward joining hundreds of North American school divisions that now encourage ‘Smart Growth Schools,’ defined as schools that:
– involve the community in school facility planning
– make good use of existing resources, such as historic school buildings
– are located within neighborhoods and fit into the scale and design of the neighborhood
– act as a neighborhood anchor and community center
– are usually small in size.

Promoting smart growth schools will benefit your decision-making across a wide range of issues, by providing an overall policy framework that is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. Observed outcomes for students include reduced transciency and social dislocation. Students are more physically active, socially engaged and ready to learn within a stable, supportive neighbourhood environment.

Another potential benefit is a deepened working relationship with the City of Regina’s Planning and Sustainability Division. Our city’s urban development plan aims to “encourage the revitalization and redevelopment trends of inner city neighbourhoods” through “promoting a compact, balanced urban form that minimizes travel distances.” Co-involvement in sustainable urban planning will open up conversations about combined city-school services, which city officials have said they are keen to develop. More importantly, it will give your decision-making an extra layer of vital information about the planned growth of neighbourhoods  – something bare-boned demographic statistics can’t capture.

For more information and policy ideas:

National Trust:
Smart Growth Schools Fact Sheet
http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/historic-schools/additional-resources/schools_smartgrowth_facts.pdf

Council for Educational Facility Planners International:
Smart Growth Principles and Community-Centred Schools – impacts on student achievement and community well-being.
http://www.realrenewal.org/dbdocs//4d2891c43fd73.pdf

National Clearing House for Educational Facilities:
Smart Growth and Schools Resources
http://www.edfacilities.org/rl/smart_growth.cfm

Oregon Public Schools:
Schools Cycle Back Into the Heart of Neighbourhoods

National Trust/BEST:
Recommended Policies for Schools as Centers of Community

Berkeley Center for Cities and Schools

Smart Growth Network Online: Smart Growth

Reason #4: Smaller is Better

Decades of research points to one conclusion: students thrive in small schools. The smaller the school, the better the outcomes in:
–    overall academic achievement
–    student participation
–    parental involvement
–    reduced bullying and violence
–    healthy walking habits
–    integration of new immigrants
–    integration of special needs programming
–    graduation rates
–    school success for minorities and disadvantaged students
–    attendance
–    teacher job satisfaction
–    standardized literacy and numeracy test results

Tracking studies have consistently shown that when students are moved to larger merged schools, these key measures decline. In response, some school administrations have instituted Smaller Learning Communities and Schools-Within-Schools, with mixed results and a few administrative conundrums. Although such programs do offset the negative effects of mergers, they haven’t been able to fully match the success rates and efficiency of actual small schools.

The benefits of small schools are very well documented. Meanwhile, there is no comparable evidence base to support the statement that schools of 200 or more students are required to create smaller learning communities and professional learning communities. In fact, just the opposite seems to be the case: much of the literature on learning communities notes that small schools – including schools of fewer than 150 students – form a natural environment for the close professional collaboration and one- on-one instruction that are the hallmarks of successful learning communities. As well, teachers and administrators benefit from closer school-community connections, which bring extra volunteer hands and resources into classrooms.

Regina is fortunate to have smaller neighbourhood public schools like Athabasca School. They are of enormous value to our children and our communities. Such schools are the envy of other cities, and for good reason.

More information about small schools:

Education Canada:
Cohesive Communities, improved outcomes

Simon Fraser University research review:
Does School Size Matter? A Social Capital Perspective

Small Schools Workshop:
What is a small school?

Small Schools: The Numbers Tell a Story

Coalition of Smaller Preparatory Schools:
White Paper: Smaller Schools, Very Big Gains

BC Education Coalition:
Small/Rural Schools

Reason #5: It’s the right thing to do

You did not become a trustee to break up school communities, cause grief and defend a bureaucracy. You became a trustee because you felt change was needed and you wanted to represent the views of ordinary citizens.

That’s precisely why we have school trustees. Whether elected or acclaimed, you were chosen via an open electoral process. This isn’t the same as being appointed to a charitable board, where responsibility ends at attending public events and advising on broad policy directions. Voters expect their trustees to at times take difficult positions that challenge the status quo. This requires courage and clarity of thought.

No matter what you hear to the contrary, education bureaucrats do not know better than citizens. Citizens know their children, and know what works best for them. Over the past several weeks, you have heard a clear, united message from members of the Athabasca School community and the wider public. Your public consultation revealed Athabasca is a successful school that people feel is worthy of continued support and innovative improvement. There is no grave financial pressure to close the doors. By all accounts, the students are doing very well and the surrounding community is happy with the school. These are the things that truly matter – and the voices to whom you are ultimately accountable.

We urge you to stand strong and represent what you’ve heard from the community. It may not be easy – but it’s the right thing to do.

Presentations to the Board

The following presentations were submitted to the Regina Public School Board on Dec. 14, 2010. They discuss the potential closure of Athbasca School. Also distributed to the board was a letter from Premier Brad Wall that appears to support the parents’ position that special needs children are part of core school enrolment.

Athabasca School Community Council presentation

Connaught SCC Written Presentation

Bob Hughes Presentation

Marie Karner Presentation

Brad Wall Correspondence

An Athabasca parent speaks

January 2011

Dear honourable members,

I wish to express my disappointment at your final decision to close Athabasca School. I understand the reasons, yet I can’t get my head around the fact that a building in good condition is going to be demolished and another built a short distance away. If we were ecologically conscious of what we are doing this sort of thing would be unheard of. I speak for the young families who have not yet moved to the River Heights area but will soon. I suspect the Athabasca school land will be developed for condos or housing, and this will only compound the argument for keeping a school in the area, as the resulting influx of population will require a school even more. My point is, pushing down buildings and re-building to cater to short term population spikes in the target demographic is a losing battle. You can never hope to keep up with the ever changing population. To try to build a school every time a new neighborhood is built does not make financial sense. Leaving solid infrastructure in place in the long term will serve our city just as well and cost much less over time. I hope this cycle of waste ends in my lifetime. It makes me sick thinking about the money that is being wasted and I hope a better solution can be found in the future.

– Gordon Chubak

There is a better vision

From the Regina Leader-Post:

I write to commend the board of the Prairie South School Division for its forward-looking and community responsive policies. I have heard from people in some of their school communities that their board is actually establishing a “small schools” policy and that they are meeting with parents and school community councils to assure them that their efforts will be focused on keeping their schools open, not on closing them.

And why wouldn’t that be the focus, especially in light of our growing provincial population? I have even heard that this board is concerned enough about the after-effects on students (when a school is closed and they are moved to a school out of their natural community), that it is going to study those effects.

I find such actions by the Prairie South board to be so refreshing, and light years ahead of what we are stuck with from the Regina Public Board of Education. Our board is trudging along on its “10-Year Plan”,, which includes closing 13 elementary schools and two high schools. My grandchildren’s school, Athabasca, is the latest to be voted by the board for closure. Can anyone tell me what sense it makes to close a perfectly sound school in the middle of a neighbourhood that is changing over to young, growing families?

I call on all Regina families to join with us at Athabasca to overturn this wasteful and ridiculous decision and to stand together to ensure that we, too, can establish progressive policies such as they have in the Prairie South School Division. We meet at the Elphinstone Street bridge every Wednesday at 5 p.m.

MARGARET PELLETIER
Regina

Board must stop closing schools

Feb. 2011

Anyone confused about the plan for Regina’s public schools need ask just two questions: How many new schools have opened under the 10-year plan? How many have closed? The answer to the first question is zero. The answer to the second question is four, with a fifth under way.

The only “shovels in the ground” are two pre-plan projects that were to have been completed in 2008 and 2009. All other proposed constructions remain unrealized, amid ballooning cost estimates and tight provincial purse strings. Meanwhile the board marches on, closing schools where they are the most needed.

Athabasca School was cited on the basis of an anticipated 11-per-cent decline in the area’s school-aged population. This has since reversed into a projected 26-per-cent increase within the next three years.

The facility audit shows the building is sound. During consultations, there were no complaints, only praise, about the education received. There’s no evidence of substantial associated savings, nor evidence of pressing financial need, with a $6-million surplus posted this year. Shutting Athabasca is an unnecessary folly that must be rescinded. There’s nothing better awaiting these children down the road.

Make no mistake: this is a schoolclosure plan. It primarily affects midto-low income neighbourhoods at the city core, where populations are burgeoning and children’s needs are high. No matter where you live, the health and social sustainability of our city is at stake.

Vancouver and Edmonton recently declared closure moratoriums. We must demand the same for Regina, effective immediately.

TRISH ELLIOTT
Regina

Disappointed parent

January 2011

As the parent of a pre-school aged child, I am was very disappointed in the Board’s decision to close Athabasca School. I attended the public meeting at Athabasca School in November and, based on the discussion and information presented at that meeting, am very surprised at the Board’s final decision. I would, however, like to thank the 2 Board members who voted against closing Athabasca School for their vision, open-mindedness, and critical evaluation of all the facts.

I have not spoken to one member of the public who supported closing the school. How unfortunate that no children who live in the River Heights neighbourhood now, or in the future, will ever walk to school and will not benefit from the close community ties that result from attending a neighbourhood school.

I have a friend whose daughter is enrolled in Discovery Preschool and lives about 5 blocks from Athabasca. As she does not have an older sibling at Athabasca, her parents have no choice as to which school she will attend in the future. She will likely be bussed to school for her entire school career, rather than walking to and from school with friends and going home for lunch.

As for me, seeing how the Regina Public School Board had made decisions over the past few years makes me seriously consider whether I will send my child into this system. I am aware of the Board’s plans to eliminate traditional classrooms through the Structural Innovation model. I will not send my child to a school that employs that model based on the failure of similar models in other jurisdictions.

Furthermore, I have seen the Board leaving students and parents on edge for years about school closures, sticking to the tired mantra of school closures amidst a Baby Boom and with a booming provincial economy, using unreliable enrollment projections, closing schools rather than using creative problem-solving, and a having seeming disregard for the opinions of the citizens who elect the Board….I’m not Catholic, but surely the Catholic School Board must be better than this!

One final note:
I also strongly oppose the Board’s decision to remove English programs from schools with French Immersion, such as Massey School for the following reasons.

When a school offers only French-Immersion….

(1) Children who switch from French to English must leave their school, friends, schoolmates, familiar teachers and staff. When I was in French Immersion at Connaught, several of my classmates switched to English but were able to maintain ties with their old friends and classmates during the transition and beyond.

(2) Siblings who are not both in French Immersion (for whatever reason) cannot attend the same school. This is unfortunate for the siblings as well as for their parents who must arrange seperate transportation for each child (ex. the older child cannot walk the younger child to school, and is not there to support their younger sibling).

(3) Children may not benefit from meeting children who were not in French Immersion. In my experience, students in French Immersion and those in English often came from different socio-economic backgrounds.

I implore the School Board members to chart a more positive vision for Regina’s public schools for the sake of their students!

If we managed to keep schools open during the Depression, surely we can keep them open now. If the Boards reasons for school closures are financial, then the Board should be obligated to crack open the books to public scrutiny. As we all know, the Boards’ enrollment projections benefited greatly from public scrutiny. Again, thank you to the two board members who voted in the best interest of students and of the public in the case of Athabasca School.

Sincerely,
Kate Smart

Thoughts on Athabasca

The small population definitely made Athabasca a great school. Teachers, regardless of what grade they taught, knew you by name and took an interest in you. The classes were not overpopulated and extra time and attention was given to you by the teacher because of this. Many parents volunteered their time at Athabasca and as a result of this, you got to know everyone’s parents as well. Small elementary schools strengthen community ties and generate amazing students. – Eric

Read the full post on the Lakeview Community Association Web Site.
Sincerely,
Kate Smart

Thoughts on Athabasca

The small population definitely made Athabasca a great school. Teachers, regardless of what grade they taught, knew you by name and took an interest in you. The classes were not overpopulated and extra time and attention was given to you by the teacher because of this. Many parents volunteered their time at Athabasca and as a result of this, you got to know everyone’s parents as well. Small elementary schools strengthen community ties and generate amazing students. – Eric

Read the full post on the Lakeview Community Association Web Site.

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