We're Better ... Together!

Information regarding potential Separate (Catholic) School establishment in the Town of Athabasca
Posted on 12/23/2019
We're Better ... Together!

To our Athabasca-area school families and community members,

Re: Separate (Catholic) School District establishment in the Town of Athabasca

You may be aware of efforts currently underway to establish a Separate (Catholic) School District in the Town of Athabasca. Many of you may have questions or concerns about this process and what it could mean for both students and the community. The intent of this letter is to provide an update on the establishment process and Aspen View Public Schools’ response to it.

What has happened so far:

  • This fall, Aspen View Public Schools received a Notice of Intent to establish a Separate (Catholic) School District in the Town of Athabasca, filed with Alberta Education by a group of local petitioners in collaboration with Lakeland Catholic School Division. Lakeland Catholic School Division currently operates eight schools: three each in Bonnyville and Cold Lake; one in Waskatenau and one in Lac La Biche. The division office is located in Bonnyville.
  • As required by legislation, the petitioners have begun a door-to-door census within the establishment area (the Town of Athabasca boundaries) to confirm that those who declare themselves as Catholic represent a minority of the population.
  • In early November 2019, Aspen View Public Schools mailed a pamphlet regarding Separate School District establishment to all residences in the Town of Athabasca. Additional copies are available at Aspen View Division Office, Whispering Hills Primary School, Landing Trail Intermediate School, Edwin Parr Composite School or online at https://www.aspenview.org 

What happens next:

  • Once the census has been completed and confirmed, the petitioners, Lakeland Catholic School Division and Alberta Education are required to hold a public meeting regarding the intent to establish a Separate School District. The date, time and location of this meeting is not known at this time.
    • Under the Education Act, Aspen View Public Schools is not permitted to make a presentation at this meeting. However, members of the public are welcome to attend and participate.
    • Aspen View Public Schools will hold its own public information sessions early in the New Year.
  • Between 10-30 days following the public meeting, a vote will be held regarding the establishment of a Separate School District. In order for a Separate School District to be established for September 1, 2020, the vote must held prior to April 30, 2020. 

Who gets to vote:

  • Only eligible voters residing in the establishment district (within the Town of Athabasca*) may vote; residents of Athabasca County are not eligible to vote.
  • All voters must sign a declaration identifying themselves as Catholic in order to vote (proof of Catholic church membership is not required).
  • At least 25% of the number of eligible voters identified in the census must cast ballots in order for the vote to be valid.
  • At least 50% of the votes cast must be in favour for the establishment of a Separate School District to proceed.

* The establishment district (historic Athabasca School District No. 839) is very close to the current Town of Athabasca boundaries, but with the following exceptions:

- NE 15-66-22-W4 within the Town of Athabasca (48 Avenue east of 26 Street) is not included;
- SE 8-66-22-W4 within the Town of Athabasca (west of Highway 2) is not included;

The following areas within the County of Athabasca are included in the establishment district:

- SE 18-66-22-W4 and NE 7-66-22-W4 (south of Athabasca University);
- SW 15-66-22-W4, NE 9-66-22-W4 and NW 10-66-22-W4 (southeast of the town boundary);
- SE 30-66-22-W4, SW 29-66-22-W4 and NE 19-66-22-W4 (northwest of the town boundary);
- All portions of SE 29-66-22-W4, SW & SE 28-66-22-W4, and SW 27-66-22-W4 within the County of Athabasca;
- All portions of SE 33-66-22-W4, SW 34-66-22-W4, NW & NE 28-66-22-W4, and NW 27-66-22-W4 east of the Athabasca River.

Aspen View Public Schools’ message:
We’re better … together!

Choice comes with a cost

Aspen View Public Schools acknowledges the constitutional right of the petitioners to undertake the potential establishment of a Separate School District, and we respect the legislated process that must be followed in this regard.

Some believe that establishing a Separate School District will provide parents more choice for their children’s education. However, please consider that choice comes with a cost. We believe that the establishment of a Separate School District will negatively impact educational opportunities for students, result in already limited resources being misspent on duplicated services, and create unnecessary divisiveness within the community.

Throughout rural Alberta, populations and school enrolments are in decline. Aspen View Public Schools is no different. Aspen View’s total K-12 enrolment has dropped by 400 students over the last decade. Enrolment among the three Athabasca schools has dropped by more than 100 students over the same period.

Rural schools across the province struggle to provide students with diverse programming options in the face of declining enrolments. In some schools, this can result in:

  • Multi-grade classrooms (eg. a Grade 4-5 split)
  • Reduction or elimination of non-core programming, such as:
    • Junior high options and high school CTS courses
    • Special programs (ex. French Immersion)
  • High school core courses only available in one semester, limiting scheduling flexibility for students

If student enrolment in Athabasca is divided among two school systems, it is predictable that neither system will be able to offer programming comparable to what is currently provided.

We are also very concerned that the decision on the establishment of a Separate School District will be made by a comparatively small group (declared Catholic voters residing in the Town of Athabasca), while the implications of their decision could affect the entire Athabasca region.

Inspiring Success

Aspen View Public Schools is very proud of the quality of education provided in all its schools. Aspen View’s three Athabasca schools consistently score highly in the Alberta Education Accountability Pillar Summary*:

Percentage of parents, students and teachers surveyed who believe their school provides a safe and caring environment:

Whispering Hills Primary School: 100%
Landing Trail Intermediate School: 95.7%
Edwin Parr Composite School: 89.1%
Provincial Average: 89.0%

Percentage of parents, students and teachers surveyed who believe their school provides a quality program of studies:

Whispering Hills Primary School: 93.4%
Landing Trail Intermediate School: 86.1%
Edwin Parr Composite School: 84.2%
Provincial Average: 82.2%

Percentage of parents, students and teachers surveyed who believe that schools in their community are continuously improving:

Whispering Hills Primary School: 100%
Landing Trail Intermediate School: 92.9%
Edwin Parr Composite School: 86.0%
Provincial Average: 81.0%

Percentage of students achieving the Acceptable Standard on the Grade 6 Provincial Achievement Test:

Landing Trail Intermediate School: 86.6%
Provincial Average: 73.8%

Percentage of students achieving the Standard of Excellence on the Grade 6 Provincial Achievement Test:

Landing Trail Intermediate School: 25.6%
Provincial Average: 20.6%

*Source: Alberta Education Annual Education Results Report - Oct 2019

Education for all

Public school divisions are unique in that they are mandated to provide education to all eligible students, of all races, faiths, languages, and educational needs.

Public schools reflect our community. The students who learn together in our schools also play together in our neighbourhoods and on our community’s sports teams; perform together in drama clubs and dance societies; and build genuine friendships based on shared experiences.

We encourage you to question how it would benefit students to separate them between two school systems, both teaching the same curriculum?

What can you do?

If you are concerned about the potential establishment of a Separate School District in the Town of Athabasca, here are some suggestions:

Become an advocate: We encourage respectful dialogue within the community about what the establishment of a Separate School District would mean for students, families and the community.

Attend meetings: Aspen View Public Schools will hold public information sessions early in the New Year, and the petitioners will hold a public meeting at a date to be determined. We encourage you to attend these meetings to gather information, ask questions and share your perspective.

Participate: Eligible Catholic voters residing in the Town of Athabasca can exercise their constitutional right on election day.

If you have questions or concerns about the potential establishment of a Separate School District in the Town of Athabasca, we encourage you to contact any of the following Aspen View Public School representatives:

Superintendent Neil O’Shea: neil.oshea@aspenview.org; 780-675-7080 Ext. 03
Board of Trustees Chair Candy Nikipelo: candy.nikipelo@aspenview.org; 780-689-3794
Athabasca-area Trustees:
Anne Karczmarczyk (Vice-Chair): anne.karczmarczyk@aspenview.org; 780-689-6141
Dennis MacNeil: dennis.macneil@aspenview.org; 780-675-9216

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