Calgary

'It's just going to kill the National Sport School': Parents oppose both CBE options for future of NSS

A meeting between the Calgary Board of Education and parents from the National Sport School was cut short Thursday night after parents refused to participate in the Calgary Board of Education's format.

Some parents storm out of meeting with CBE officials

National Sport School student Jaida Lacomb said students' views are not being taken into consideration regarding the school's future. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

A meeting between the Calgary Board of Education and parents from the National Sport School was cut short last night after parents refused to participate in the Calgary Board of Education's format.

Some parents even stormed out of the meeting in anger — saying the CBE is forcing the closure of their school without even considering their ideas to save it.

The CBE hosted the meeting to talk to parents about  two options that are being considered for the future of the school, both of which see them leave Winsport and either end up at Bowness High School or with all students at their designated high schools. 

"Within the Calgary Board of Education we have a focus within our three year plan around high school success," said CBE learning leader Prem Randhawa.

"Within this piece we look at opportunities for students to continue to receive flexibility that they need to pursue not only academics but extracurriculars as well — whether it's sports related or arts related, that is a part of the work that we do."

But, parents say there's a third option that they've come up with that should also be considered.

A student from the National Sport School holds a sign in protest of the options being presented by the CBE for the future of the school. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"It's a proposal that allows the program to continue," said Chris Challis, whose daughter attends the school. 

"We've worked with the principal in coming up with a plan that reduces the cost to the CBE — which is apparently the biggest issue."

He said that plan sees students' costs go down by 31 per cent compared to current costs, and reduces the schools per student cost from $8,900 to $6,200. 

"Significantly below the Calgary Board of Education's $7,500 average."

The National Sport School (NSS) operated out of Calgary high schools for 17 years before moving to a WinSport office building at Canada Olympic Park in 2011. The CBE's lease with WinSport expires in June.

The CBE allocates $1.8 million annually to the school and "the cost of maintaining this program as it exists is no longer affordable," according to a document posted on the school's website.

Moving the program would save approximately $1 million a year, the board said.

Belt-tightening required in the wake of a provincial government funding freeze on education was cited as a factor.

But, at Thursday's meeting, after listening to the CBE administrators explain the nuances of their two proposals, parents were told there would be no open-mic question period.

The Calgary Board of Education has warned parents that it can no longer to operate the National Sport School in its current form. (CBC)

Instead they were told to form small table groups and brainstorm their questions, and a CBE representative would come by to speak with them and answer those questions.

"We have the same questions," one parent shouted from the audience, to affirmations and applause from the crowd. 

But, when the CBE would not bend to the will of the parents, they began standing and asking their questions anyway.

The mother of one NSS student, Michelle Waddock, asked administrators why parents were being told their child's designated school would accommodate their student athletes, when she had called her community school and been told otherwise by the principal.

"I recently reached out to Ernest Manning and I asked them if they would be able to take Tyler as an athlete into their school, and they said they were already overwhelmed and there was absolutely no way they could accommodate an athlete's schedule," she said. 

Randhawa responded by telling her that those accommodations would be made possible, but they would have to be done through administration.

Kevin Barr, the father of a daughter at NSS, stood up at the meeting to encourage parents to sign a form that would effectively give up their rights to the CBE's mandated engagement process stemming from a possible school closure.

He says by doing this they're forcing CBE trustees to vote as soon as possible on the options — before March — so that parents have some clarity, and can made decisions about where their students are going to end up next year.

"The engagement process would take the vote of the public school trustees into either March or April. If the vote goes in March or April that is way too long. It's just going to kill the National Sport School," he said.

"And it's gonna let CBE do indirectly what they can't do directly. This decision is not ultimately theirs, it's the decision of the board of trustees, and if we wait until March or April, students will have had to commit to other schools and we just can't wait that long."

Student were also present at the meeting, holding protest signs and standing at the front of the room while their parents tried to get answers about their future.

"We feel unheard. We feel disregarded," said 15-year-old Jaida Lacomb. "We feel like our opinions and our feelings about our school being potentially closed are not being heard."

The meeting was ultimately called to a close early after communications continued to break down between parents and administrators.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at lucie.edwardson@cbc.ca

With files from The Canadian Press

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