May 16, 2017 8:14 pm

Edmonton Public Schools bracing for boom in high school population but says ‘plan in place’

WATCH ABOVE: The "huge growth pressure" at Edmonton elementary schools will grow into a high school boom in a few years. Michelle Draper, board chair of Edmonton Public Schools, shares the district's plan.

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The chair of the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) says even though it’s currently projecting for there to be more high school students than space by the 2021/22 school year, it is committed to ensuring a solution is in place and is currently in the early stages of considering options.

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“We’ve seen this coming, we’ve recognized the growth of our elementary school population,” Michelle Draper, chair of EPSB, told Global News on Tuesday. “So this is something we’ve had to prioritize and meet the needs of our elementary school population, but we’re addressing that now and so it’s a focus on high schools.

“We do have a plan in place.”

READ MORE: Edmonton public high schools will be overcrowded by 2021: report

Draper said in the NDP’s most recent budget, the EPSB’s top three priorites were announced and she is very grateful for that. Now, she said high schools will move to the top of the EPSB’s priority list.

“We did not get a high school announced,” she said. “A high school can be upwards of almost $90 million, so it’s quite a big investment, but it’s an investment that we need now.

“We had great growth pressures for our elementary and junior high, now those students are making their way towards high school and we’re watching and we’re saying, ‘We need the high schools now to accommodate them.'”

Education Minister David Eggen also said Tuesday his government is well aware of the issue and working to ensure a solution is in place ahead of any projected classroom shortage.

“A New Democrat government makes sure that we build schools and get the job done,” he said. “I’m in close communication with Edmonton Public Schools all the time.

“We announced five new schools here and another big modernization, those are K-9s, and so we know of course they finish K-9 and they need to go to high school so we will do that as well.”

Draper said the biggest high school population growth is being projected for schools in the city’s southeast and southwest.

According to Draper, the EPSB is also looking at possibly offering more of the existing evening classes, online classes and opportunities for high school students to attend schools outside their attendance area – something she said about 50 per cent of Edmonton high school students already do – however, she said no student who did not want to pursue those arrangements would be forced to.

“We’re looking at ways that we will not have to be short (on class space),” Draper said. “Some of our high schools were able to modernize and expand, our top asks on our capital plan are high schools and so we will be able to accommodate everyone. We’re open to lots of opportunities and ways to accommodate but we’re probably looking at, (in) around 2021-2022 school year, (being) about 500 spaces (short).”

“Some of our students do appreciate the traditional high school experience, others are really open to going to other high schools if there’s a course not available where they’re currently studying, they can go to another high school, there’s also summer school, night school, flex times -we’re willing to work with our families to find the options that meet their needs.”

READ MORE: 2 Edmonton high schools close doors to Grade 10 students outside boundaries due to capacity

Draper said “a lot of these things we’re doing already” and added if there were further demand for things like night courses, the EPSB would even entertain the idea of offering high school programming that might see a high school operate similarly in the late afternoon and evening as it does already in the day.

However, Draper suggested all of this is simply contingency planning as she believes a new high school is in the cards.

“I believe it is. We’ve been in regular ongoing communications with the provincial government. We have asked for design money to start on our number one priority which is a high school… And if we can get the design money ahead of any formal announcements, that will come with the next budget cycle, then we’re just that (much) further ahead.”

“We make sure that we follow the priorities of Edmonton Public (Schools) and they’ve made it very clear to us where they need the schools and we’ve been building schools,” Eggen said. “Not just the ones that we announced, but I’ve been building all the ones the last government announced too, so we know how to build schools and we know where they’re needed.”

READ MORE: Alberta Budget 2017: What’s in it for Edmonton? New hospital, 4 schools

In February, an Edmonton Public Schools report projected Edmonton public high schools will need space for 6,000 more students by 2025.

By then, it’s estimated there will be 28,261 students in Grade 10 to 12, compared to 19,546 now.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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