Edmonton

After 120 years of teaching children, rural Alberta school learns it could face closure

For 120 years, New Humble Centre School has been an institution. Now the Black Gold School Division has given a notice that it will assess whether the rural elementary should be shut down.

Enrolment at New Humble Centre School dropped from 112 in 2002 to only 57

The original New Humble Centre School opened in 1900. (New Humble Centre School)

This week, a rural elementary school southwest of Edmonton celebrated 120 years of teaching the three Rs to area children.

Next week, the council members at New Humble Centre School will get a chance to ask questions about a new motion to review whether it should be closed down.

On Jan. 8, the Black Gold School Division gave a notice of motion that it would begin the process of public consultation and information gathering to assess the ongoing viability of the school, about 50 kilometres southwest of Edmonton.

"Extraordinarily high costs per student, enrolment numbers, population trends, deferred capital costs and the overall financial outlook of the provincial budget" are reasons cited in a letter sent to parents from superintendent William Romanchuk.

Enrolment numbers for New Humble have experienced a significant decline, from 112 students in 2002 to only 57 in 2019, according to data from the West End Schools Programming Review.

The report calculated that the cost per student during the 2016-17 school year was $4,195, including facility maintenance. That's the highest per-student rate in the division, with the next highest being Warburg School at $2,842.

While the administration is just in the beginning stages of the process, parents of children at New Humble Centre are already preparing for what could be a big change in their children's lives.

Celebrations from New Humble Centre School's 120th anniversary celebrations on Wednesday, Jan. 22. (Cassandra Arcand)

"To hear that they were moving so quickly on the [notice of] motion and that it would be by the end of the year was something that was surprising to me," said parent Megan Olynyk. "I wasn't expecting it to say the least."

Cassandra Arcand echoed the statement, saying New Humble is a school as well as the thread that binds many in the community together. She said while the school is now operating out of its third building, its location — 10 kilometres south of Calmar on Highway 795 — hasn't changed since it came into existence in 1900.

"These kids have known each other their whole lives and some of them before they even started going to school. There's a very close bond in the community out here and it all centres around that hub that we call New Humble," Arcand said.

She said the kids are concerned and worried at the thought their school family could come to an end.

What's next

The Black Gold School Division stretches south of Edmonton, from the New Sarepta area in the east to the Warburg area in the west. Its 32 schools are in Beaumont, Calmar, Leduc and Leduc County, Devon, Thorsby and Warburg. 

Over the next three months, the review will gather all necessary information to present to the board, including findings and different options.

"This is real life, stuff like this happens. Big decisions have to be made," Olynyk said.

Community members will get the chance to provide input for consideration by the board prior to the trustees' final debate and vote on April 22. At that time, the decision will be made on whether or not the school will close its doors at the end of June.

Parents and community members will have an opportunity to weigh in throughout the process and a public town hall will be held on March 11.

If the school does close, parents say its students would likely be moved to Calmar school.

"The board of trustees and administration of Black Gold School Division are committed to delivering a transparent, fair and reasonable process as they work towards arriving at a decision," said associate superintendent Norm Dargis in a statement.

"My hope is that the trustees that are voting have all of the information and all of the different views and are able to [be] well-informed," Olynyk said.

Added Arcand: "Myself and all [of] the other parents … it's mixed emotions, for sure."

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