By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on January 5, 2024.
Now in her third year as a Board chair for the Lethbridge School Division, Allison Purcell reflects on 2023 as a year that brought big changes to the division from a new superintendent to the groundbreaking of a new school.
“It’s been a great year, certainly a lot happened over the year. At the beginning of the year was the announcement of our superintendent retirement, so the board went through the process of seeking a new superintendent,” said Purcell recently.
New Superintendent Mike Nightingale started on Aug. 1 and Purcell says he has done an excellent job getting to know staff and students in his own way.
“This year as well we saw the groundbreaking for our new Garry Station school” which Purcell says is “pretty exciting>
The school is scheduled to open in September of 2025.
She says the new school will host students from kindergarten to Grade 5. The division in the process of finding a name for it and looking into what the school boundary will be by engaging with the community.
“The naming of our schools is something we open up to our community for them to provide us with suggestions. We have a naming committee that will work towards narrowing down what those suggestions are,” said Purcell.
People can go on the school division website for information on what the naming stipulations are and to submit their suggestions.
The board will ultimately make the final decision about the name.
Regarding school functions and community engagement for the multiple schools in the division, Purcell says 2023 was a “coming back in full force” year.
“This is our first full year since COVID where all of our schools have been able to have performances, they’ve been able to have bands and go on band trips, our athletic teams have been able to perform and do the things that they do best. And we even have E-sports teams. Our e-sports is picking up across our division so it’s great to see those opportunities for our students,” said Purcell.
Another positive the school division experienced in 2023 was receiving a Blackfoot name for their centre, Aakaipookaiksi – Many Children.
“It’s quite an honour to be able to have that new name as it brings that Indigenous perspective, and when we look at truth and reconciliation, the importance of that, and how we all play a part in moving forward and the work that we all do, having a naming ceremony for our centre where the basis of our education happens was great,” said Purcell.
Even though 2023 was filled with positives, it also brought some challenges. One was the incident at Chinook High School involving members of the football team in which four players were charged with sexual assault of a teammate.
“That’s certainly something that has been in the news and as a division that we’ve had to deal with, and we worked together to be able to support our students and our staff as we move forward to ensure that we have safe opportunities for all of our students no matter what realm that is, whether that’s sitting in their desk at school, whether that’s after school activities. But we make sure that we have those opportunities that are safe for all and will continue to work on that,” said Purcell.
She said even though the incident impacted the entire football team, players went out into the community and volunteered with seniors, something they had already been and something they wanted to continue doing so, to show that the school division has well-rounded students.
“They’re not just football players, they give back to the community as well. I think it is about how do we work together with the team, the school, and with the community to ensure that people know the positives that are out there with that team, and not just the tainted piece,” said Purcell.
Another challenge they faced was the attendance of protesters at a meeting to protest the division’s Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGI) policy.
Purcell explains that when reflecting upon a year ending, challenges have to be identified because they provide opportunities for growth.
“Certainly, there’s lots for us to work on as a school division. We continue to work forward in how we ensure that we have the voice of the people that want to let us know their voice, and we’re carrying that forward to continuing to have those opportunities that we have, and our new superintendent has certainly extended his arm to let people know that he’s willing to hear people as well,” said Purcell.
Purcell says board members are governors and a big part of their job is to advocate for what is important to the division and its students and 2023 was a year filled with advocacy opportunities, especially when it came to funding and the weighted moving average.
“The weighted moving average is something that experiences challenges across the province, and it affects different school divisions in different ways. With a growing school division, that impacts us by having close to 400 students within our division not being funded this school year, just based on the model that exists with a weighted moving average,” said Purcell.
Â She says the weighted moving average looks at the previous three years of student enrolment and it gives a division funding based on the enrolment average.
Â “As our school division increases, which it has, that funding doesn’t catch up to us. We’ve done quite a bit of advocacy, we’ve certainly met with both of our MLAs and talked about the challenges, we’ve also addressed those issues provincially and there have been some changes just recently in regard to funding, and even though we still need to see more changes because it still isn’t supporting all of our students. But our advocacy efforts are seeing some benefit,” said Purcell.