St. Paul Education Regional Division (SPERD) board has voted to close two outreach schools. Both Elk Point Outreach School (EPOS) and New Horizons in St. Paul will be closed following the current school year. Enrolled students will finish their 2019-20 studies virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision to close the schools comes following a recommendation by the superintendent in light of provincial funding model changes.
SPERD board chair Heather Starosielski explained the decision did not come easily, “it’s never easy making these decision especially when there’s a protest.” Referring to a rally of students and parents who lobbied to keep the schools open and participated in a public engagement session March 14th following the call for a vote. Despite many parents expressing the success their children have had in outreach programs the board ultimately voted for their closures.
“We have to do what’s best for the entire division,” said Starosielski, who added that many people also wrote letters of support to keep the schools open.
EPOS has 16 students enrolled and is projected to have 12 for 2020-21 school year. Whereas the New Horizons school has four enrolled and is projected to have eight.
Town rallies behind EPOS
The community of Elk Point rallied behind the school with multiple organizations stepping up to help with funding. The Town of Elk Point expressed that there could be funding of $5,000 for the school. That funding was not yet confirmed by town council at the time of SPERD’s vote.
The Elk Point Chamber of Commerce also put up a financial commitment, $5,000 for one year, or $2,000 a year over three years. The EPOS building’s owners also offered free rent for a year ($12,000).
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough to save the school from closing.
The funding model changes by the provincial government made such an impact on SPERD’s overall budget, it was just not feasible to keep the schools open, she explained. SPERD has come up with alternatives for the students.
What’s next for the students
Students enrolled at EPOS will likely attend FG Miller Jr/Sr High School. “For the first year they will have the same teacher they had at EPOS,” Starosielski said the board hopes the transition will be easy on the kids with the same teacher in place. They will likely all learn together in one classroom, “they are used to the one room school style.”
As for the New Horizons students, it’ll depend on their grade level and where they live. Many of the students will attend Regional High School where there is an outreach style school, St. Paul Alternative Education Centre (SPAEC).
SPAEC is different from an outreach school in that it does not exist at a separate location than an existing SPERD school. It is attached to Regional High School, however it is designed much like an outreach school in that students enter through a different entrance way and stay within the confines of the SPAEC space, not interacting or being educated in the main Regional High School areas.
SPAEC is a great alternative for New Horizons students in grade 7 or higher that live in St. Paul.
Next steps for SPERD
Now that the motion has passed with a vote of 4-2 in favour of the closure, SPERD will notify the Minister of Education on its intent to close the schools.
“We want what’s best for the kiddos,” Starosielski explained SPERD will work with the families to ensure students find new learning opportunities and can succeed at SPERD.