New private school hoping to open in Fort McMurray in 2023

The school is located on the second floor of Keyano College's Bob Lamb Building.  (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC - image credit)
The school is located on the second floor of Keyano College's Bob Lamb Building. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC - image credit)

The businessperson behind a private school that hopes to open in Fort McMurray next year promises a safe, disciplined environment for university-bound students in grades 7 through 12.

Students at North Fort Private School would wear uniforms and need to follow a strict zero-tolerance drug policy.

Tuition has been set at $13,500 for students in Grade 7 and 8, and $15,000 for students in Grade 9 through 12, on top of a $500 application fee.

Students applying to the school need to complete an essay, provide a letter of recommendation and have good grades.

Yerlan Aubakirov, North Fort's CEO, moved to Fort McMurray from Calgary this year to open the school. He previously worked for mining company Teck Resources and has completed a chartered director program through McMaster University.

Aubakirov is currently in the process of seeking accreditation for the school from Alberta Education.

North Fort would be for up to 200 students. Initially, the school would operate from space on the second floor of the Bob Lamb Building at Keyano College.

To date, four students have enrolled.

The school would offer free tutoring and help students get into their preferred university. It would also help students take part in the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award program.

"You get what you pay for and education is not different … You pay and you get a little bit better," Aubakirov said.

The school's main goal is to "open a very safe, protective environment" without bullying or drugs, he said.

Aubakirov said he believes the private school can accomplish its goals through smaller classes, which "allows better control of student behaviour."

Parents would be asked to take their children back to public school if they are caught using or holding drugs.

If the parent refuses to remove their child, Aubakirov said the school could provide online education, as to "not expose other kids to this particular child."

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC
Jamie Malbeuf/CBC

The Fort McMurray Public School Division said it would support students if they are forced out of the private school. Superintendent Annalee Nutter said the division's schools don't allow drugs but operate under a different discipline policy than that proposed by North Fort.

"We know suspensions don't work," Nutter said, adding that kids won't necessarily stop using drugs because they've been suspended.

She said the public system will focus on getting help for any students found to be using drugs, like providing resources from addictions services or Some Other Solutions.

"We want to help them and support them to get better so they can continue their education and be those great citizens that we develop that graduate from our school system."

Nutter has been superintendent since January, and said drug related issues are infrequent. Since then, she's had one call from a principal about a drug concern.

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC
Jamie Malbeuf/CBC

Patricia Maraire, principal and founder of the Fort McMurray Montessori Group of Schools, which caters to younger children, said many parents were excited to learn about North Fort.

She said North Fort's values align with those at the Montessori, such as teaching self-respect, concern for others and warmth and love for community.

Maraire has put in an application for her son to attend the new school.

She was drawn by the outreach into the community and small class sizes.

"[The] experiential learning and global learning aspect is also one item that drew me to the school," Maraire said.

Uniforms $1,000 to $1,500

Uniform costs would be about $1,000 to $1,500. Families are also encouraged to donate $1,000, as tuition fees won't cover the school's operating costs.

The first year of operation would cost about $2 million, said Aubakirov, who is still securing funding.

Over the first two years of the school's operation, "we're going to be in a huge deficit," he said. He projected that by the third year, expenses would be covered by tuition and government funding.

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC
Jamie Malbeuf/CBC

In the future, Aubakirov would like to expand the school to include younger grades, and build a school.

Alberta Education confirmed that North Fort submitted a draft application in September to operate the school.

The ministry has provided feedback "and will continue to support the applicant by answering any additional questions or documentation requests," spokesperson Emily Peckham said in a statement.

If the applicant hopes to open the school by next September, the final application and required documents would have to be submitted by Jan. 20, Peckham said.

The final application would need to be approved by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.

According to Statistics Canada, 4.5 per cent of Alberta students attended private schools in 2020/21.