Calgary's newest high schools already bursting at the seams

Some of Calgary's newest high schools, in some of Calgary's newest communities, are already full.

Ernest Manning, which opened eight years ago, has about 300 more students than it's supposed to. And Joane Cardinal-Schubert High School, which is only a year old, is already overcapacity. 

Meanwhile, some inner-city schools are under capacity, as young families gravitate to the more affordable homes of the outer reaches of the city.

The CBE is holding public meetings this fall to come up with solutions.

"It's the schools in the suburbs and the outskirts of the city that would be close to capacity or overcapacity at this time," said Carrie Edwards, director of property, planning and transportation at the Calgary Board of Education.

Edwards noted that a brand new school, such as Joane Cardinal-Schubert High School in the new community of Seton, which is surrounded by fast-growing communities like Copperfield, Cranston, Auburn Bay and Mahogany, can easily be at full capacity as soon as it opens.

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"When we look at where the students are coming from, we look at the boundaries for the students and the communities that are designated there," Edwards told the Calgary Eyeopener. "We have a number of our students coming up through the grades, and we recognize that while the school was built for 1,800, it's about sitting at that number right now."

Bob Cocking, president of Calgary Public Teachers, ATA Local 38, said part of the problem is the ongoing growth of Calgary.

"Every year, there's always 1,500 to 2,000 new students coming into our schools, and that's always going to be the case — we're a growing city, so our schools are trying to keep up with that," Cocking told the CBC last week.

The CBE has started a public engagement process on high schools, to address the issue of balancing enrolment across the 20 high schools in the city. It kicked off in May with a survey, and continues this fall with public sessions.

"So we have a number of in-person sessions, and we'll be asking parents to come out and talk to us about things like grade configurations, program choices, boundaries, community designations — those kinds of things," Edwards said. "So we're asking for public input … any decision that we make in one of those areas may impact decisions in one of the other [areas]."

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According to the CBE's website, within the next five years, 10 high schools will be operating between 100 and 150 per cent of their capacity, while seven schools will be operating between 50 and 85 per cent of their capacity.

Key issues include overcrowded classrooms and students being bused to schools far from their home neighbourhoods. Solutions may include adding or subtracting a grade, redesignating boundaries, or changing the programs offered.

Edwards said no school closures are on the agenda.

"We're going to need all the spaces that we currently have available, which is why we need to think about the use of the space across all of our high schools, across the system," she said. "So we're not looking at shuttering any high schools right now."

Edward said there may have to be some "interim decisions" made around some of the most crowded schools before the final decisions are announced at the end of the consultation process in the fall of 2021.

"Perhaps a decision for Mandela (in the northeast community of Saddle Ridge) and Joane Cardinal-Schubert around a boundary redesignation or an overflow," she said. 

Changing programs and changing grade configurations are distinct possibilities as the board tries to sort out the changes.

"We could be looking at programs, because we know that certain programs attract students into our schools. We also know that the boundaries and the programs go together in terms of what's important to students, and where they're heading," Edwards said. "Also, potential grade configuration changes across the system … you're basically looking at where there's a great population within certain grades and planning around that."

Edwards said the board has to plan now without waiting for the province to announce funding for new schools. 

"We have one high school that has design-only funding at this time, which is our north Calgary high school. That's proposed. So, like everybody, we're just waiting to see what their financial budget looks like."

The provincial budget is expected next month.

Parents who want to get involved can register to attend any of the 12 public sessions being held this fall at schools across the city. Schools have been grouped by location, and there will be three sessions per group. For full details and schedule, as well as more information, go to the CBE website.

The changes will first affect kids currently in Grade 6, who will be entering high school in the fall of 2022.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.