Parents pitch Calgary Catholic high school build as solution to overcrowding at EMHS

Parents in west Calgary say they believe there's a solution to the current overcrowding at Ernest Manning High School.

The Calgary Board of Education says it's not that simple

Parents from the CBE and CCSD say it's time to come up with a solution together. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Parents in west Calgary say they believe there's a solution to the current overcrowding at Ernest Manning High School. 

The West Calgary Catholic High School Advocacy Group (WCCHSAG) say building a Catholic high school in the area could potentially funnel upwards of 1,000 students out of Ernest Manning and into the proposed Catholic school.

Switching school boards

The way advocacy group chair and mom Krista Li sees it, the problem right now is that there isn't a Catholic high school in west Calgary at all.

"Our designated high school is St Mary's. St. Mary's is located in the downtown community of Mission," she said. "From my home in West Springs that is a 64-minute commute. Further in West Calgary that commute can be up to 90 minutes."

Li said because of these obstacles, and the fact that St. Mary's High School is also nearing capacity, parents and students who live in west Calgary and have always attended Catholic schools are choosing to enter the public system. 

"A lot of kids are choosing to go to school at Ernest Manning because Ernest Manning is located right here in the community," she said. "The programming is stellar and people feel that it is certainly a better option than a 60 to 90-minute commute."

'We're tired of it'

And as these families choose to enter the Calgary Board of Education's system, families who have always been in the CBE say they're feeling mistreated and unheard. 

Earlier this month, the CBE announced several Calgary students who were slated to attend Ernest Manning High School next fall will instead have to go to Central Memorial.

Heather Rainville's daughter is one of those students. 

"I'm just a mom trying to keep her kid in school with her friends," she said. 

Rainville, who lives in Cougar Ridge, said families in that area are constantly being pushed out of boundaries for schools built in west Calgary.

"When they opened West Springs Cougar Ridge, (it) was alienated even though it is almost within walking distance. St. Joan of Arc, when it opened, Cougar Ridge (was) not able to go," she said.

"Now they've opened up Ernest Manning and they've eliminated Cougar Ridge again. And frankly, we're tired of it. We're tired of always being the ones who are being shuffled around."

Both moms said they want parents in west Calgary to work together to advocate for the Catholic high school to be built.

"We've said as parents, we're not going to get anywhere if we fight each other. We will maybe get somewhere slowly, but we will get somewhere if we work together, if we collaborate," said Li.

Parents say building a new Catholic high school in west Calgary would ease the overcrowding at EMHS. The CBE says it's not that simple. (© 2017 Calgary Board of Education)

'Probably isn't a solution'

But while the Calgary Board of Education say they want a solution to this problem too — they say a Catholic school won't solve all the capacity woes at Ernest Manning. 

"Unfortunately, I would say that it probably isn't a solution," said CBE's superintendent of facilities, Dany Breton.

According to Breton, between now and 2029 if the CBE were to do nothing at Ernest Manning and maintain the catchment area, the high school would be an additional 900 students above where they are today.

"Right now, we're already approximately 300 students over capacity at Ernest Manning," he said. 

Further, Breton said the migration of Catholic students to Ernest Manning isn't as high as some think.

He said the CBE can't say if the students are coming from CCSD or from other school boards, but this school year only 150 students who weren't at the CBE in Grade 9 enrolled at Manning.

"And so if you're looking at that number, that would be insufficient to offset the hundreds and hundreds — almost a thousand students — above enrollment at Ernest Manning," said Breton. 

"As far as being a resident of the public school board, the requirement there is that at least one of the parents is not Catholic or the student isn't Catholic. And, you know, religion is an intensely personal thing and something that can change."

Parents have flexibility to choose

Even though it might make some parents mad to see students move from one school board to another — it's totally within their right.

"Parent of students in the Catholic system have the flexibility to transfer their child out of the Catholic system if they desire to do so," said Colin Aitchison, press secretary for the office of the minister of education, in an emailed statement.

And while there are students who leave CCSD for the CBE, it also works the other way around. 

"We see an increase from Grade 9 to Grade 10, which means more students join us in Grade 10 then leave. District-wide for Grade 10s, we see an average 4.4.per cent increase year over year," said Felicia Zuniga, spokeswoman for the CCSD, in an emailed statement.

That's approximately 358 new students who entered Grade 10 at the CCSD this school year. 

Still, Li is adamant that the Calgary Catholic needs to prioritize the west Calgary high school.

'Insulting to parents in west Calgary'

"This is the rub. The land has been sitting there since 2001. We have been on the board's capital plan since 2014. Right now we're priority ten on the board's capital plan," she said.

"We see this as frankly insulting to parents in west Calgary. We don't have a school. We need access to secondary education for our children."

The CCSD has a west Calgary high school on its capital plan list. (CCSD)

But, CCSD says while a west Calgary high school is number ten on the list, it is a "year one priority for 2019-2020."

"All year one priorities on our capital plan are extremely important to the district. The district serves over 58,000 students, with a student population that is expected to continue to grow over the next five years," said Zuniga.

"To support continued growth, the capital plan incorporates several priorities from previous years and additional new projects."

And, making those asks is a little more complicated for CCSD, because its boundaries extend well beyond the city limits.

"As our district is the only jurisdiction in the province that serves urban, metro and rural jurisdictions, it is a complex project to balance and manage needs; we consider many factors when developing our capital plan," she said.

Funding capital priorities

Funding for all capital priorities is at the discretion of the province. 

Aitchison said the department reviews capital plan submissions and considers these requests as part of its annual budget process.

"As part of this process, Alberta Education analyzes, evaluates, and prioritizes submissions to recommend projects with the highest needs for approval across the province," he said. "These decisions are made based on the availability of provincial funding."

CBE trustee for the area, Lisa Davis, said overall Calgary has seen tremendous growth in its population — particularly its student population in recent years.

"And I think it's fair to say we all wish that we had more more schools available," she said. "In the interim, (we're) trying our best to ensure that our schools are balanced as best as possible."

Aitchison said Alberta Education encourages jurisdictions to work together to develop strategic partnerships which may include joint capital submissions. 

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


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.