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Sharing schools an option: GNWT
Classroom-crunched St. Joseph School should turn to Yk1 for relief: education department

Evan Kiyoshi French
Northern News Services
Published Friday, January 30, 2015

Putting Catholic school students in public school classrooms could solve a growing enrolment problem, says a senior official with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment.

NNSL photo/graphic

Grade 6 students fill every available seat in Amanda Delaurier's French class at St. Joseph School, where the student population is nearing maximum capacity, according to Catholic schools trustee John Dalton. - Evan Kiyoshi French/NNSL photo

Rita Mueller, an assistant deputy minister with the department, said average utilization in Yellowknife Catholic schools is around 77 per cent, while Yellowknife Education District No. 1 is operating at 54 per cent capacity.

"It is a possibility for (Yellowknife Catholic Schools) to arrange for sharing within some of the existing Yk1 space within their schools," she said.

St. Joseph School is popular and its location in Frame Lake South is a growing part of the city, so reaching capacity is just a matter of time, said principal Gillian Dawe-Taylor.

A fire in August 2006 caused enrolment at the kindergarten to Grade 8 English and French immersion school to drop, she said, but since repairs and renovations were completed the student population has been creeping back toward maximum capacity.

"Just look at the population that lives on this dense side of town. All the stuff that's come up. You've got Sandstone (Apartments), you've got Disneyland (Inukshuk Co-op) I think they call it, you've got the new housing that just went in. This is the area of town that is growing," she said. "And we were always at a very high number. This was only ever a matter of time."

St. Joseph students shared space at William McDonald School while waiting for the completion of renovations at their school. The utilization rate at William McDonald is currently at 38 per cent, according to Yk1. The district says NJ Macpherson, another nearby school is at 68 per cent, and Range Lake North is at 88 per cent, although the GNWT puts it at 70 per cent.

"So for a time (William McDonald School) was a Catholic school upstairs and a public school on the bottom floor, and although some parents weren't overly happy with it, it worked for the time," said Catholic school board chair Simon Taylor.

He said parents didn't object to having their children attend class in a public school but didn't like having to drive them across Franklin Avenue to another neighbourhood.

John Stephenson, chair of Yk1, said his board isn't in the dark about increasing enrolment at Yellowknife Catholic Schools (YCS).

"We've been aware that YCS has some concerns with space and their enrolment," he said. "We've, for a long time, been quite open to sharing our space. Yk1 is open to having that conversation with YCS and the department of education."

He said he thinks parents understand the need to make good use of school space, provided it doesn't have a negative affect on programming for Yk1 students.

YCS trustee John Dalton said St. Joe's will be at capacity within two years, perhaps even sooner if the GNWT goes ahead with junior kindergarten. Dalton told the board last week that the school is at 88 per cent capacity right now and that the school board needs to start "seriously" looking at what they're going to do about it.

"We're at fairly high levels in our other schools too. We're well up there in our percentages," said Dalton. "But our first concern is (St. Joseph School)."

Mueller wouldn't say whether an expansion of St. Joseph School is part of the plan. She said department numbers indicate the school is at 90 per cent capacity - 526 students, up from 489 last year. She said capital planning staff are already working with the Catholic school board in looking at possible options.

That figure doesn't include its user-pay preschool because it isn't funded by the department, according to YCS superintendent Claudia Parker.

A free junior kindergarten program for four-year-olds was put on hold in the fall of last year, and will be tabled again following the territorial election later this fall. Although YCS and Yk1 are still providing around $235,000 per year to help fund the program elsewhere in the territory, said Parker.

Parker said the matter will be addressed by the district's facilities committee, and in February the board will make decisions on what to do, and whether they'll be requesting more funding from the GNWT.

"That could be part of the plan," she said.

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