The opening of two new schools was among the major highlights for Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools in 2017.
That, according to Board Chair Anne Marie Watson who says both St. Joseph High School in Red Deer and St. Gregory the Great in Blackfalds were desperately needed.
“Those were huge projects for us and very important and we also completed a modernization of our school in Innisfail, St. Marguerite’s.”
Watson also points to significant student population growth in 2017, a trend she says has been steady over the past 10 years. “We had over 7.6 per cent growth and we’re now over 10,000 students, so that’s a real milestone for us.”
However, despite the growth, things are running fairly smoothly at the new schools according to Watson.
“St. Gregory the Great opened at a higher population than we expected, so it will be at capacity sooner than expected – probably within the next couple years” explains Watson. “But both schools are doing very well, off to a good start and both implementing unique programming.”
As for the building process, Watson says both schools were built with the increasingly popular Integrated Project Delivery models or I.P.D models.
“St. Joseph High School was actually the first public facility built that way in Alberta and then with St. Gregory the Great we used the same model,” states Watson. “Actually we’re using that same model going into the next year as we begin the modernization of St. Patrick’s.”
In that regard, Watson says the design team has been meeting and creating a wish list for what they hope the school might end up looking like.
“At the same time, the IPD team has been formed and they’ve also begun to work together,” explains Watson. “Early in the New Year, in January, we’ll be having a community session to invite feedback from the community, so all of that kind of in preparation for the modernization beginning later in the year.”
Watson says the district’s capital priority list now includes a new Grade 6 - 9 middle school for Red Deer, a new K-5 school and K-5 French Immersion school in Red Deer as well.
Looking back at the Municipal Election in October, Watson says the Board saw some renewal, which she feels is a good thing.
“We have four new trustees at the table, so there’s a lot of work bringing those new folks on- board and getting them up to speed on the issues in our area and that sort of thing,” says Watson. “It’s excellent, they’re all good people and we have a great team but there is a lot of work in bringing new people on-board.”
In the coming months, Watson reveals St. Joseph High School is hoping to launch a baseball academy in September of 2018, as long as the numbers are there to support it.
“They’ll start to have some community sessions about that to gage interest and figure out if that’s viable or not, so that will be pretty exciting.”
Another initiative Watson is excited about is the launch of Discovery School for their Pre-K students in the New Year.
“This will be located at Riverbend Golf and Recreation Area,” explains Watson. “It’s a nature-based program, so through this programming, the pre-kindergarten students will go for a week and spend the week at Discovery School at Riverbend and be immersed in nature and nature-based learning.”
In terms of finances, Watson says they’re in pretty good shape, considering the challenges that school districts face across the province.
“We have healthy reserves but we are spending those down to address priorities in our division,” cautions Watson. “One of the priorities we addressed through funding was for mental health and wellness. Our division offers for example mental health first aid training for all staff, so we roll that out as we’re able to.”
Over time, Watson hopes to have all staff within the District to be trained in mental health first aid.
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