Calgary

Calgary Board of Education trustees unanimously vote to close the National Sport School

With a unanimous vote — and support of parents and stakeholders — the decision to close the Calgary Board of Education's National Sport School was made Wednesday afternoon. But this isn't the end of the program for elite student athletes.

Facility likely to reopen under the Palliser School Division in September

After 26 years, the Calgary Board of Education will no longer operate the National Sport School, as of June 30. (CBC)

With a unanimous vote — and support of parents and stakeholders — the Calgary Board of Education decided Wednesday to close the National Sport School. But this isn't the end of the program for elite student athletes.

Parents and stakeholders said they supported the CBE decision because it allows them the opportunity to transfer the program to the smaller Palliser School Division while remaining at the WinSport campus in northwest Calgary. 

"I am absolutely elated," said Kevin Barr, a member of the Parents and Supporters of the National Sport School.

"It's clear that the public school trustees recognized the value of the program but, unfortunately, the current economic climate precludes the CBE from funding it like it needs to be funded. And so we're greatly appreciative of them voting unanimously to close the school so that we can work on a transition plan to the Palliser School Division."

Tom Hamer, deputy superintendent of the Palliser district, said next steps are to continue to work with the CBE and the families toward a "seamless transition."

"I don't see there being any obstacles at this point. I think everybody is on the same page," he said. 

"The outcome that all of us wanted, both with Palliser and the CBE, was to be able to continue to offer high quality learning and athletic opportunities for students. Certainly the CBE making their decision today allows us to take a more formal role."

Hamer said the school division is well versed in operating small schools. 

"We are, for the most part, a division of small schools. That's what we're focused on doing, and those are the kind of programs that we run. We run small high school programs," he said.

"Furthermore, we also run a very robust online program called Palliser Beyond Borders, and that kind of system will serve kids that are training offsite or out of the country very well in terms of their continuity of learning."

CBE board chair Marilyn Dennis said that while she's confident the alternative plan suggested by the board — accommodating the students at Bowness High School — would have met student needs, it was clear that having the school on the WinSport campus was invaluable to the students and their families. 

"It is also clear that this is not a viable option for the CBE any longer," she said. "The priority for these families is not so much what school board they are associated with, but rather that they continue to access the services and supports available to their children at WinSport."

Dennis said the CBE is very proud of the legacy it has created with the National Sport School (NSS).

"It is a testament to the CBE's longstanding commitment to support students in their unique abilities. Students, parents, sport and community stakeholders speak highly of the National Sport School and the support it offers the student athletes who attend this school," she said.

The CBE previously began the process to consider the closure last January, but it ultimately aborted that plan after the school community asked for more time to consider other options that might be available.

The CBE agreed to continue operating the program for one more year, but with a reduced level of funding. 

Addressing the trustees prior to their vote, Phil Graham, vice-president of WinSport, said the negative effects of this reduced level of funding in a small school and on the student athletes has been quite apparent this year.

"Despite the heroic efforts of the NSS teaching staff to mitigate the negative impact, continuing to operate the school in this reduced manner is not sustainable and will likely result in a high student and staff turnover and ultimately an inability to keep this 26-year vision and mission alive and thriving," he said.

"We do not view this outcome as reasonable and in the best interests of the student athletes.… We strongly oppose the CBE continuing to operate the NSS at a reduced level of funding. Transitioning the NSS's operations to Palliser is an innovative win-win-win solution." 

In a recent public engagement, the CBE said it received 58 written statements from parents, various athletic associations locally and nationally, as well as from the city and parent groups.

"It is very unusual that the near unanimous consensus of those writing to the board is in favour of closure of a school," said CBE trustee Trina Hurdman. "But this is where we are today, because the community has recognized that the CBE is not in a financial position to be able to sustain the program at the level that is necessary for these student athletes to thrive."

The CBE has previously said that should the school successfully transfer to Palliser, it would be happy to allow it to continue to use the same name. 

The National Sport School will no longer be a CBE school as of June 30. Hamer said the plan is to have it reopen under the Palliser banner in September.

"We're very excited with the opportunity and we're excited to continue to work with the CBE and the NSS to ensure that we have kids getting high quality education in the province of Alberta."

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

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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