Mental health a priority for Red Deer Public Schools in 2018

By Sheldon Spackman
December 30, 2017 - 8:01am Updated: December 30, 2017 - 1:38pm

Literacy, numeracy and mental health and wellness will be focus areas for the Red Deer Public School District in 2018, according to Board Chair Bev Manning and Superintendent Stu Henry who look forward to building on the district’s Education Plan and expanding student supports over the next 12 months.

Superintendent Henry says adding numeracy as a priority in their Education Plan will help compliment better results recently achieved in literacy.

“We really feel like we’re on to the good stuff with literacy and just need to pull numeracy into that same field,” says Henry. “Our Equity agenda has resonated all across our district and really throughout the city. I think there’s a true understanding in the city of Red Deer that there’s a lot of diversity and a lot of need out there and we need to do everything we can to level that playing field.”

Board Chair Bev Manning says they’re also working on better defining student success and how it can be achieved.

“We often look at it as just completing high school but there’s a recognition to that,” explains Manning. “There’s different paths to success and so we’ve worked at identifying some of those things that we need to work better at to help more students complete and be successful.”

However, Manning points out the need for more work to be done on equity in schools and throughout the community as well.

“The other challenge that we’re working through is to have a really good, honest, open discussion with our community about student mental health and wellness,” she says. “I think that’s going to be an excellent conversation that we’re going to start. I don’t know that we’ll get all the answers that we need but I think it’s a community issue and we need to talk about it with our community and find out some ways we can better help our students and some of the mental issues and mental wellness issues that we are facing.”

Superintendent Henry adds they’ve been working with Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services Mental Health to establish seven Mental Health Therapist positions throughout the district that work for Alberta Health but will be housed in Red Deer Public School buildings.

“Rather than having to send a kid or a family downtown for help to the scary building where they don’t know anybody, it’ll be just one of the staff members, part of the school, just a natural thing that we talk about in the school,” explains Henry. “I think it’s a beautiful idea, a worthy project of trying out and I’m really proud that we’re going to be on the leading edge it.”

Rising student enrollment and its impact on the budget is also a challenge Manning says the district will continue to work on in 2018.

“We are historically very good money managers and I think we do a terrific job of that, but at some point it comes down to the fact that there’s just not enough dollars to go around to do all of the things that we’d like to do.”

Superintendent Stu Henry echoes those comments by adding it’s been a number of years since they’ve seen an increase in their per-people grant, yet their costs rise significantly every year.

“You think of the impact of the Carbon Tax on our school district,” says Henry. “It’s not getting any cheaper to do the business of transporting kids to school, keeping the kids healthy, warm and safe at school and educated right? So those costs continue to go up without a change to our per people grant. It’s getting awfully challenging for our budget. In fact, as we roll into this current school year, we’re projecting a deficit of $1.5 million.”

Although the district has yet to quantify the exact impact the Carbon Tax will have on them in 2018, Henry estimates it will be over $200,000. He says they do their best to make sure the last place they cut is anything that impacts the classroom.

“It does mean that we double route all of our buses for instance and kids in the same family might be attending schools that start and end at different times.”

Looking back, 2017 was highlighted by the municipal election in October and resulted in some new faces on the board. Manning says she was pleased with what she felt was a solid slate of candidates vying for trustee.

“I think they were all exceptionally wonderful people who really had a good heart for education and really wanted to make a difference,” says Manning. “I think Red Deer really came through and voted and we’re better off.”

As far as capital projects are concerned, Red Deer Public Schools celebrated the Grand Opening of Don Campbell Elementary School in the Inglewood neighbourhood in September. Ground was also broken this fall on the new Westpark Middle School which will be directly behind the current one. A new Grade 6 – 8 school around the Timber Ridge neighbourhood in northeast Red Deer is next on the district’s capital priority list.

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