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Motion Regarding Catchment Areas for All ECSD High Schools, Part 1

July 27, 2015

I presented the following motion at the Tuesday, April 21, 2015 ECSD Public Board Meeting: I move that there be a catchment area around all ECSD high schools to allow students to attend their local Catholic high school. This motion was defeated 5-2. Below, you will find my speaking notes to substantiate why I believe there should be a catchment area around all ECSD high schools.  Since I did not receive any push back from any other high school than Archbishop MacDonald, I have addressed my comments to their school.

Part 1

First of all, I want to dispel some misunderstandings I have been hearing about the impact that a catchment area would have on Archbishop MacDonald school.  In no way does putting a catchment area around the school mean that I am suggesting we get rid the school of entrance requirements.  As I said at the March 18 meeting, I personally do not agree with our schools having entrance requirements but I am willing to keep them as a compromise.  Secondly, it is a not accurate that through my motion, I am suggesting we rid the school of its academic focus. Through this motion, I am seeking support for a very small minority of Catholic students who wish to continue their education in a Catholic high school near where they live and go to church.  This is a matter of supporting our local Catholic students to choose Catholic education. And no offence to the 222 non-resident students who attend MAC, but they are being accepted while nearby Catholic students are being turned away because they missed the entrance requirement by a couple of percentage points [Please note that the same situation exists for public school students living near EPSB’s “academic school” Old Scona:  Catholic students who make the grade are being accepted prior to public students who don’t.  The question then becomes why we have 2 costly school systems if it really doesn’t matter whether the students attending are residents or non-residents.  Why have 2 similar systems duplicating administrations, boards of trustees, etc. if it really doesn’t matter whether you are a resident or non-resident?]

Archbishop MacDonald is the only school in our district with this anomaly and it is because it has entrance requirements that this anomaly exists.  It is time that we as a Board of Trustees– a Board of Governors –deals with this anomaly.  As you listen to my remarks this evening you will note that I am suggesting a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” solution.  I hope that through my comments it will become very clear that I am not suggesting that we get rid of the academic program, that we begin offering dash 2 and 3 courses, that we get rid of the entrance requirements.  I am suggesting a compromise.  To begin with, my guess and the guess of some of my colleagues is that the number of students we expect to attend MAC if a catchment area is allowed is at the most 10.  It is hard to believe that 10 students out of 930 will have a huge negative impact on the “academic standards” of the school.

Now the reason we believe there will only be 10 is as follows:  First of all they will need to be Catholic and considering that Catholic students only make up 20% of the population, we are looking at a small number; secondly they will need to live in the catchment area; thirdly, they will have to have a desire to attend an academic school with the accompanying pressure and atmosphere that this brings. I have heard of 3 families since Friday whose honours students are choosing not to attend MAC because of the academic pressure of the school. Fourthly, they will have to be okay with the fact that MAC offers so few options.  Having a son who just went through the process of choosing a high school last year, I know of many students who chose not to attend MAC because of the paucity of options offered.   When I speak to students about MAC, they always comment that this is a major draw-back of the school. In all honesty, I can’t imagine that there will be droves of students from nearby neighbourhoods clambering to get into MAC for these reasons.  I am talking about allowing Catholic students who live nearby, who wish to maintain the connection between their parish, school and home, who would be taking dash 1 courses anyway at another far away high school, who want to attend university, but who missed getting the 75% requirement by a few percentage points.  I know of such students. These are Catholic students who have access to the nearby public high school Ross Sheppard within walking distance of their homes, which they could choose instead of Catholic education.  My fellow trustees have read a recent email from one such Catholic family who made this choice for their child for the upcoming school year.

At the March 18th school council meeting at MAC I heard many times that if neighbourhood Catholic students are admitted to the school, it will lower the standards of the school.  As I mentioned above, I find it hard to believe that 10 students who didn’t quite make the grade is going to have that big an influence on the standards of the school. The Fraser Institute has the Alberta Diploma Exam results for 2009 – 2012.  The information offered for Archbishop MacDonald is for a time in the school’s history prior to the introduction of the French Immersion program which accepts students with a 65% average.  The 5 year average on the Alberta Diploma Exam for MAC was 71%. Looking at the results from nearby Ross Sheppard, their students received a five year average of 67%.  It needs to be noted that neither school came anywhere close to “honours” level marks on the diploma exam.  Ross Sheppard which accepts students of all academic abilities and does not have entrance requirements did not score that much lower on their High School Diploma Exam than Archbishop MacDonald. So making an exception for 10 neighbourhood students, in my opinion, will not affect the standards of the school as some believe.

Another interesting point to make is that in the 2011 – 2012 school year —the year prior to the introduction of French Immersion — the Fraser Report shows the average diploma mark for Archbishop MacDonald grads was 67.9%.  That same school year, JH Picard students had a 67.7% average and Ross Sheppard students had a 66.1% average.  The reality is, Archbishop MacDonald which expects a 75% average in grade 9 for acceptance, has an average diploma mark very similar to other high schools which do not have any entrance requirements. It is interesting to note that there was a distinct difference between MAC and Ross Sheppard in regards to how their teachers marked their course work.  The MAC teachers awarded their students an average of 8% more on their course work than they achieved on average on their diploma exams.  The teachers at Ross Sheppard awarded marks only 5% higher than their students achieved on their diploma exam.  Old Scona on the other hand had an average diploma exam result of 86% for this same 5 year period and the teachers marked their students’ course work an average of only 1 percentage point higher than they achieved on their diploma exams.  We need to ask ourselves why the course work mark at MAC is so much higher than what the students are achieving on their diploma exams.

Another issue is, if Archbishop MacDonald is our “academic school” what does this say about our other high schools?  Does it mean that the students graduating from our other high schools are not getting as superior an education to prepare them for university?  No, of course not.  What we have done is create a school which segregates our students from one another.  Some parents expressed that they liked this because their children were bullied for being academic achievers in their junior high and now finally, they have a refuge from this bullying.  But I would say, if our students are being bullied for this reason, we need to do something about the bullying, not segregate our students from one another.  We need to teach our students how to get along with one another regardless of their differences.  They will one day be working alongside people of varying abilities, levels of education, different socio-economic status, etc.

Public education provides an opportunity for our students to learn tolerance of the individual differences we encounter in our society. We have to be careful that we are not creating a private school using public funds, which reduces the opportunity for our students to learn along- side students from a variety of walks of life.  Public funds generated from the taxes of the whole should not be used for the purposes of a few.  Students ought to have access to their publicly funded school down the street from where they live–especially when they are a resident student of that school.

Another question I have is, does MAC need to have entrance requirements in order for it to be considered by the public as an academic school? Again, I ask this question not because I am suggesting we get rid of the entrance requirements but simply for reflection. I think everyone would agree that St. Rose Junior High is an academic school.  From what I hear it is bursting at the seams because parents want their children to learn in the academic atmosphere that the school provides.  There is an accelerated Science and Math program within the school which requires an exam but other than this, there are no entrance requirements. Because St. Rose has a catchment area, students of all abilities from the nearby neighbourhoods can attend.  The non-academic students from the neighbourhood are either not attending the school or if they are, they are not impacting the reputation of the school because despite their attendance, it’s still considered an academic school and it’s bursting at the seams.   All this without any entrance requirements.  It is conceivable that MAC high, even if it didn’t have entrance requirements would be known as an academic school—especially if it continued to offer only dash 1 courses.  Schools develop reputations based upon their strengths and the students they attract.  As I said already, I’m not suggesting we rid the school of entrance requirements but I just offer these thoughts for future consideration.

Another objection to my motion I heard at the March 18th meeting was that if students with lower academic scores are allowed into the school, the enrolment will go down because the school won’t be known for its high academic standards.  I understand that the reason entrance requirements were introduced in 1984 was to boost enrolment because the district saw the possibility of MAC closing.  It is interesting to note that the enrolment of the school continued to decline for 3 years even after the entrance requirement was in place, until 1987 when the enrolment at MAC high reached its all – time low of 324 students.  Not until 1988 do we begin to see the enrolment climb.  And then in 2007 we again begin to see the enrolment start to decline until 2012 when the French Immersion program was introduced.  I recall at the time that parents were upset with the decision by the Board to bring in the French Immersion program.  And as a matter fact, at my recent visits to the school I again heard negative comments from the parents about the admission of French Immersion students.  MAC parents, prior to the introduction of the French Immersion program with its 65% average academic requirement, believed that the school’s enrolment would suffer because of this program and bring down the “standards of their school”.  The numbers show the contrary:  enrolment has only increased at MAC to the point that there are more students attending than ever before in its existence.  Similarly, I doubt the acceptance of 10 students, who missed the entrance requirement by a few percentage points is going to affect the “high standards” of the school.  As I have mentioned above, the scores on the diploma exams are not honours and are very similar to other high schools both public and Catholic.  And besides, the school has 50 empty spaces and so it is possible to accommodate the addition of a few local Catholic students.

In short, I believe that the reaction to my motion by the parents and students from this school can be characterized as a tempest in a tea pot.  This tempest is over a minority of Catholic students who live near Archbishop MacDonald, who wish to attend their local Catholic high school which happens to be academic in its focus, only offers dash 1 university entrance courses, offers few options and a pressured academic atmosphere.  Ten students will hardly have an impact on the academic nature of the school nor It’s “standards”.  My fellow trustees, I ask you to consider all these facts in your deliberations on whether to support my motion.


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