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Starter schools a stop gap measure

October 7, 2014 ATA Staff

Long-term solutions needed, says ATA president

Starter schools will help ease the crunch for classroom space in the short term but are far from ideal, and long-term solutions are needed, says Alberta Teachers’ Association President Mark Ramsankar.

On Sept. 22, the province announced that it plans to fund the construction of four starter schools proposed by the Calgary Board of Education. The schools will begin as a collection of modular classrooms while construction of permanent schools takes place.

“I understand why they are doing it, but we need permanent solutions quickly,” Ramsankar said.

The starter schools will each hold between 250 and 350 students and are projected to open between January and March of 2016.

Ramsankar said it will be difficult for school personnel to support students without all the supports and resources a full school offers, such as resource rooms, libraries, gym space and counselling services.

“Of course our teachers are quite concerned about growing class sizes, but they’re just as concerned about increasing class complexity and unsupported special needs. This arrangement will aggravate complexity issues,” he said.

As reported by the Calgary Herald, the Calgary Board of Education’s proposed starter schools include 10 modular classrooms, a washroom, an office, storage space and an activity centre. The province says the activity centre can be used as a library or for gym activities.

In June the board requested funding for the mini-schools, which it estimated would cost $8.65 million each. The province is estimating the cost of each school at $6.7 million.

Education Minister Gordon Dirks said the government is working as quickly as it can toward permanent solutions.

“Starter schools allow us to open classrooms more quickly, while continuing to add space for future enrolment. We will continue to work with all Alberta school jurisdictions to help address infrastructure needs in other high-growth areas.”

On Feb. 14, then education minister Jeff Johnson said school district officials needed to think outside the box when trying to solve space issues. He said low-cost mini-schools made up of portables were a viable solution in communities under pressure. The idea had been proven to work, he said, by the temporary Elbow Park School in southwest Calgary, which was made up of modular classrooms and a gym built for 185 flood-displaced students.  ❚

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