Okotoks schools growing with community
Education: Enrolment figures up in Foothills School Division
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 18, 2013 05:03 pm
Westmount School is inching towards capacity as it has seen an almost 10 per cent increase in enrolment from last year despite the fact the school is only two years old.
The Okotoks kindergarten to Grade 9 school had an unofficial enrolment of 752 students, including pre-kindergarten students, as of Sept. 10. This is an increase of 111 students from Sept. 30, 2012.
“We have some pressure points,” Westmount School principal Cynthia Glaicar said. “We had to be very creative with our Grade 6 class. We have added some part-time support, so we can split the kids three ways instead of two.”
The school has 2.5 Grade 6 classes. As well, the school now has three Grade 4 classes rather than two and a combined Grade 4/5 it had originally.
“Our classes sizes are not at a place where it is impacting teaching,” Glaicar said. “The school division has staffed us so we can create learning opportunities — and it is the teachers in the classroom that makes the difference.”
Glaicar said the number of students in elementary classes is around 24 students. However, she does have a Grade 6 class of 34. She also has Grade 9 classes of around 34.
“Every one of our classes is full all day long,” Glaicar said.
As well, the library is used for classes and the staff room has had to be used as a classroom now and then.
There is also no room for expansion at Westmount School.
“We are not allowed to add any more portables,” Glaicar said. “We have eight classrooms that are considered our portables. They were built when the school was built. We can’t add to them and we can’t build on top of them.”
Glaicar said she believes growth is due to the greater housing opportunities in the Westmount area.
Del Litke, deputy superintendent of schools for Foothills School Division, said while all the schools are manageable, growth in Okotoks remains a concern.
“Okotoks appears to be growing for us at about four per cent a year,” Litke said. “Westmount is pretty close to full, but I shutter to think what would have happened if we hadn’t have opened Westmount last year.”
All but one of the Okotoks schools was up in enrolment as of Sept. 10. Foothills Composite High School/Alberta High School of Fine Arts topped the 1,000-student mark for the first time in the school’s history.
“It’s a good news story because it is growth for us and the Town of Okotoks,” Foothills principal Todd Schmekel said. “The rumour on the street is the increase is because it’s all High River kids coming in after the flood.
“That’s not it at all, the biggest influx is from kids from British Columbia.”
Schmekel said he estimates there are five students from High River, who have registered in programs such as welding and hairstyling, not offered at Highwood High School in High River.
He said class sizes are manageable at around 30 to 35 students in the classroom and there is one Grade 10 class at 40 students.
“These are strong math students who want to be there,” Schmekel said. “The kids are motivated. Class-size is not the deterrent. What is, is quality teaching and we have that.”
He said the fact Holy Trinity Academy also has seen an increase in enrolment is an indication of the high quality of education and lifestyle in Okotoks.
Okotoks Junior High School has seen an increase of seven per cent in its enrolment from last year, going up from 545 to 568.
Although the school has seen an increase it is more than manageable, according to principal Bryan Brandford.
The school has had as many as 740 students as recently as a few years ago when it was sharing a portion of its school with neighbouring Ecole Percy Pegler School, during the elementary school’s renovations.
“We don’t have any space issues, we’re doing fine,” Brandford said. “This is the second year of Westmount School and that has taken some of the pressure off. We are experiencing good positive growth.”
Brandford said he does not believe he received any students from High River.
“We have a couple of kids from High River, but they registered in the spring before the flood,” Brandford said. “Our feeling is that we did not have any kids come over after the flood in High River.”
Ecole Percy Pegler School had an increase of approximately 50 full-time-equivalent students.
“We are up over 500 students now and we are at a place where space is going to be an issue,” principal Dinah Short said on Sept. 12.
She said class sizes are manageable.
“We have class sizes in the low 20s with a couple of exceptions, it is really manageable,” Short said. “We have one FI (French Immersion) Grade 6 class which is at 32 — and 30 is about our ‘Uggghhhh!’ number.
“We certainly want to keep our classrooms in the low 20s, but we have an amazing teacher in that class and we didn’t feel it made sense to split it.”
The Black Diamond-Turner Valley area continues to see some gradual growth from young families moving into the area.
Black Diamond’s C.I. McLaren Elementary School jumped from 187 students in Sept. 30, 2012 to 208 this year. Turner Valley Elementary School has seen an increase of 4.5 students to 152 students. Oilfields High School remained the same at 357 students.
The total enrolment for Foothills School Division schools as of Sept. 10 was 7,477.5 students compared to 2012 when the enrolment was 7,240.5. Kindergarten students are considered a .5 student.
The school division receives funding for this school year from Alberta Education for their enrolment figures as of Sept. 30.