CBE launches high school engagement, scenarios include ending some Spanish, French and Arts programs

The Calgary Board of Education is considering cutting some programs of choice and consolidating programs as it looks to balance student populations in public high schools across the city. 

Decision will be announced this fall and put into action for the 2022-23 school year

The CBE is looking at scenarios that would provide a better utilization of its high schools, some of which are overflowing while others are under capacity. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The Calgary Board of Education is considering cutting some programs of choice and consolidating programs as it looks to balance student populations in public high schools across the city. 

"Right now, as some of you are aware, some of our schools are overflowing while others are under capacity," said acting superintendent of school improvement, Darlene Unruh.

On Monday, the CBE unveiled two scenarios that are designed to fix that problem. In Scenario A, programs would be consolidated to fewer high schools, and arts-centred learning would be discontinued. 

In Scenario B, there would be a further reduction in the number of program locations, and arts-centred learning, Spanish bilingual and French international baccalaureate would be discontinued at the high school level.

Unruh says both scenarios would balance enrolment at most high schools, and in Scenario B, even more students in the regular program would be able to attend school closer to home.

"In both scenarios, four of five regular program students will attend the same school as currently designated, and 74 per cent of our communities will continue to attend the same school as they do now," she said.

Parents fear scenarios spell end of Spanish program

For parents like Heather Campbell, who has three children enrolled in the CBE's Spanish bilingual program at schools in the city's south, these scenarios aren't good news.

Scenario A would see students wishing to complete Spanish immersion sent to Crescent Heights School, and Scenario B would see the program end.

"Obviously, having it cancelled entirely is disappointing, and having it moved to Crescent Heights School is disappointing," she said. 

Campbell said her oldest daughter is set to graduate this year from Dr. E.P. Scarlett's Spanish immersion program. Campbell said that when her daughter started in kindergarten, there was no guarantee it would be Scarlett.

The Campbell family says it fears the changes could end their children's Spanish education altogether. Pictured: Ian Campbell, Brenna Campbell, exchange student Beatriz Garcimartin Bailon from Spain, Heather Campbell, Connell Campbell, Keenan Campbell. (Submitted by Heather Campbell)

"But the CBE did carry through and made those investments, and along with the two other schools — Canyon Meadows and Robert Warren — the whole set up of that program was having all three levels of school in one neighbourhood … that was the selling point," she said.

"It's just disappointing that you do commit as a family to a program, especially a language or an arts-based education, and then it's just not supported as advertised. We feel like we're constantly fighting for our program."

The CBE said it's not uncommon that they have high uptake in its alternative programs in K-9 and then see those numbers drop off in high school, and right now Spanish immersion enrolment in high schools is low.

But, Campbell said, they're cutting the program off at the knees, which will ultimately lead to the end of it altogether. 

"I am worried that it's a trickle-down effect," she said. "They say that the program will continue, but that seems disingenuous at this point. I feel like … we will be having a conversation about our middle school in the next two years."

Feedback to be gathered online, in virtual meetings

Unruh said the two scenarios were developed through 2019 consultations with students, staff, parents and the community, and recognize the board's limited space and resources and attempt to have the best impact for students. 

"Both scenarios provide quality learning opportunities that allow students to complete their high school requirements," she said.

"They do this in three key ways. Firstly, they provide a more equitable learning experience for all high school students. Secondly, they maintain a regular program at every high school, and thirdly, they allow for alternative programs and academic enrichment when possible." 

The board is now launching the next phase of its high school scenarios engagement process — which initially began in May 2019 and has faced many delays — in hopes of picking a scenario, or gathering enough feedback from families to create a third, hybrid scenario.

Feedback will be gathered through online surveys and virtual meetings.

A decision will be announced in the fall of 2021 and will be put into action for the 2022-23 school year. 

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson


Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson


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