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(Canada) AB: Catholic schools seeing students with 'not one complex need but three'

June 1, 2024, Catholic schools to add staff and realign programs for complex needs;

Welcoming nearly 2,500 new Canadians since 2022, Calgary Catholic schools are looking to add 267 instructional staff next year to address growth and realign programs for complex needs.

After pulling an unprecedented $21.5 million out of reserve funds to balance next year’s budget, the Calgary Catholic School District is planning for 123 new teachers and 144 new educational assistants for 2024-25, according to budget documents.

And to better support complex learners, the system will add 11 new “diverse learning classes” and redesign welcome protocols for new Canadians, allowing for assessments at their designated school instead of one central location.

“We are doing everything we can to balance so many needs right now,” said board chair Shannon Cook in an exclusive interview with Postmedia.

“We are seeing more and more complexities in classrooms, and for many students it’s not just one complex need but three — we may see a student on the autism spectrum, and they’re learning English as a second language and they’re also struggling with math and literacy.”

Between July and September last year, CCSD welcomed an estimated 1,200 newcomers, about the same number as the previous year, as an increasing number of new Canadian families arrive here fleeing war-torn regions like Ukraine, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

Overall, CCSD has seen unprecedented growth over the last two years, with nearly 2,800 new students added in the past year, and another 2,100 expected next fall.

As a result, Catholic schools are adding staff and reviewing a number of programs, including improved welcome protocols for new Canadian students, who will now be assessed at their designated community schools instead of the St. John Reception Centre in the northwest community of Kensington. . . . 

Catholic schools will also add 11 diverse learning classrooms across all grades to better support students with high needs, with particular emphasis on “targeted and intensive support for early learners.”

Cook explained the decades-old government policy of inclusion — placing high-needs students in regular classes — isn’t always realistic.

“We know the government created a policy of inclusion years ago, but that doesn’t always work, and we’re seeing more and more students who need to be in congregated classrooms, in smaller settings. . . .

Faced with rising costs, growing enrolment, and what officials called significant underfunding, CCSD will only have $10 million in reserves next year after being forced to take out the $21.5 million.

Cook worries that if the district faces the same lack of funding for the 2025-26 school year, there won’t be enough to pull out of reserves again, forcing officials to further “realign” programming. . . . 

With provincial legislation requiring school districts to provide balanced budgets by the end of May, many others are dealing with underfunding by pulling millions of dollars from reserves, cutting staff and programs, or accepting larger class sizes for next fall.

Officials with the Calgary Board of Education said this week they will see larger classes in 2024-25, even after taking up to $2.6 million from reserves to balance their budget.

Alberta Education has insisted that school districts are receiving the supports they need and are being funded at historically high levels to manage growth.

The UCP budget provided up to $9.3 billion for K-12 education this spring, including $842 million over the next three years to support growth.

“We are seeing a record number of families move to the province, because they want to be part of the Alberta Advantage,” said Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides.

“Together, the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School Division received over $100 million in new funding this year alone and 18 new schools are on their way for the Calgary metropolitan region, that will add 16,000 needed spaces.

“This will support the hiring of more than 3,000 teachers, educational assistants, and other classroom support staff so school authorities can provide students with more opportunities to have individual support.”

But the Alberta Teachers’ Association issued a release last week refuting the government’s claim of funding 3,000 new teachers, saying instead that school boards in many growing areas will get less provincial funding than last year. And some will even be forced to lay off teaching staff.

School jurisdiction funding profiles posted to the Alberta government website earlier this month, show schools in 13 communities, including Medicine Hat, Okotoks, and High River, will have even larger class sizes and program cuts next fall, the ATA said.




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