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Motion Regarding Catchment Areas for All ECSD High Schools, Part 2

July 27, 2015

Much of this section is based upon ECSD’s Mission Statement, Vision, 8 Characters of Catholic Education and our Inclusive Education Policy. We state in our Mission Statement that we believe “in building inclusive Christ-centred communities for service to one another”. Our Vision is that “our students will learn together, work together and pray together in answering the call to a faith-filled life of service”. Our inclusive Education Programming policy states: “In keeping with our Catholic tradition of universal inclusivity, Thomas Groome reminds us that the word ‘catholic’ comes from the Greek word ‘Katholos’ which means ‘welcoming all’ – just as Jesus did.  Inclusion is one of the foundational tenets of Edmonton Catholic Schools.” Under the heading “Standards for Special Education” it states that “inclusion, by definition, refers not merely to setting but to neighbourhood schools” (emphasis added).

The Catholic Education Symposium Report we accepted as information tonight, makes similar comments regarding inclusion.  We learn in the Report that the Symposium delegates see Christian anthropology applied in our Catholic districts through “policies and procedures found in our schools and school districts to express the dignity of each child … It is faith permeation throughout the curriculum and a commitment to inclusive education that the dignity of every person as a child of God is enhanced”.  (p.5) (emphasis added) How are we living out our Mission Statement, our Vision, our Catholic tradition of universal inclusivity, and expressing the principal of Christian anthropology if our special needs students must integrate into the regular classroom but our Advanced Placement students have their own classrooms and our “academic” students have their own high school? How are our children learning together, working together and praying together if those who achieve over 75% go to one school and those who achieve less than 75% go to another school?

You need to know that I have spoken to many principals, teachers, parents, students and community members who are very concerned about this lack of consistency in our policies. They have encouraged me to bring this motion forward. On our website, we list 8 characters of Catholic Education some of which include community, justice, and hospitality.  How are we promoting community when we do not allow Catholic students who live near their community high school to attend it?  How can local Catholic students maintain the connection between their home, their parish and their school if they are travelling to far away schools?  How are they able to make social connections to the students in their neighbourhood if they are attending a high school far away? I would like to read a letter I received today from the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues suggesting the importance of these social connections: [Letter to the Edmonton Catholic School Board]  It behooves us to take seriously EFCL’s suggestion to “take measures that help students attend the school that is closest to them”.

Another character of Catholic Education is justice.  How do we practice justice when we know that 11 out of 14 neighbourhoods around Archbishop MacDonald have an average household income $14,000 lower than the city average and yet we expect local Catholic students who don’t make the grade to pay $550 per year for a bus pass to attend a Catholic high school far away? When I mentioned this to the Archbishop MacDonald school council, the parents commented that students with lower socio economic status have just as much chance to attend MAC.  They can work hard to get in just like their child did.  They don’t seem to know that the relationship between socio economic status and academic achievement is well documented.  How are we as a Catholic school district supporting these families when we ignore this fact?

Another character of Catholic education according to our website is hospitality.  How are we being hospitable to our local Catholic students when we say to them that if we allow their attendance at MAC without the requisite grade 9 average, they will bring down the standards of the school?  Again and again I heard this comment from parents.

Turning to our list of Core Values we say that we believe in fairness, dignity and respect.  How is it fair and how does it promote a student’s dignity and respect when if they miss MAC’s entrance requirement by a few percentage points, they have to take 2 buses to attend another Catholic high school far from their home and their parish? Some may respond that it can be good thing for a student to fail. Let them learn from the “school of hard knocks”.  Life is like that – you speed, you get a speeding ticket, you steal you go to jail.  You don’t make the grade, you don’t get into the school.  This is life, better learn it now than later. I would respond that this doesn’t seem to be the values Jesus was promoting.  In fact, Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Pope’s theologian, suggests that the essence of the Gospel is mercy.  According to Kasper, “Mercy has become the theme of the Pope’s pontificate”. (NCR Online). Our superintendent earlier in this meeting quoted from Pope Francis’ encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel” section 114 stating “The Catholic school must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven, and encouraged to live the good life of the gospel”.

From listening to parents speak at 2 school council meetings, I heard again and again that they see MAC as a refuge for their high achieving children. Paraphrasing Matthew 18:33 “And you who have had mercy shown to you, will you not now show mercy to others?”  Mercy has been shown the students of Archbishop MacDonald, can they now offer mercy to a few Catholic students from nearby neighbourhoods? I find it difficult that though we know the essence of the Gospel is mercy, and our district is founded on Gospel values, we don’t have an appeal process in place for those students who miss the entrance requirement by a small margin. How are we truly a Catholic school district called to live Gospel values if we operate our schools no differently than a private or secular school?

We say on our website that we believe that Catholic education “includes spiritual growth and fulfillment” not just marks.  In fact, nowhere in our mission statement, our 8 characters, and 5 core values did I read anything that stated that we even valued marks or academic achievement, or even academic excellence.  Our mission states that we believe

  • That learning is a lifelong journey
  • That all can learn and develop their gifts
  • That Catholic education is a shared responsibility in which parents are the primary role

But nowhere did I read that our school district has a major focus on academic achievement.  If it is a major focus, then I would suggest we re-write our mission and vision statements to reflect this focus.  I would suggest that we not do this however since we have just received as information the Report from the Catholic Education Forum in which Archbishop Miller asserts,

“If we get it wrong about who students really are, that is persons created in God’s image and likeness and given life in Christ through the Holy Spirit, then, from the outset, our Catholic schools go off track.  A belief that we are destined for the Kingdom is a central aspect of Christian anthropology and has enormous consequences for Catholic schools in that it sets them apart from an ‘educational utilitarianism” in which the sole purpose of formal education is economic.  Yes we prepare our students to contribute to society, but they have a greater, eternal destiny.  At their best, Catholic schools prepare their students, in the words of Benedict XVI, ‘to be saints’”.

I’m sorry to say but at my 2 visits to MAC High this year, I heard many comments from MAC parents which expressed this educational utilitarianism.  The parents seemed more concerned about how the admittance of local Catholic students would impact their child’s academic future than how their child’s school could help them become saints through learning, working and praying alongside other students to whom they could be of service.  As Bishop Henry commented in the Catholic Education Report, “the principal work of our schools … is to evangelize”.  And Tony Sykora comments that our schools need “to be authentic witnesses and communities of evangelization”.  Yes, it is important for our students to receive a good education for the sake of their future careers, but the purpose of our schools goes beyond this.

I need to emphasize that as a Catholic district we need to operate differently than a private or secular school district.  Having 2 very expensive identical systems at a time of fiscal restraint could spell the end of Catholic education in our province.  Having beautifully crafted statements on our website and an inspiring Catholic Education Symposium Report on our shelf is not enough – we need to live out in action what we say we believe.  We need to do this to ensure our very existence.

I believe that the sky will not fall if we offer a welcoming and hospitable hand to a small number of nearby Catholic students who wish to remain in their community to attend their local high school. I also believe that we can continue to offer the academic program at MAC while also offering a place for local students who don’t quite make the grade. It is conceivable that the students who come into the school with a lower average will be inspired by the academic atmosphere of the school and improve their marks. My motion includes other high schools because I want to encourage students to attend their nearby high school

  1. to maintaining the connection between their home, parish and school.
  2. to encourage use of active transportation benefiting students’ health
  3. to encourage social connections within neighbourhoods. As we heard in the supportive letter from the EFCL, students who meet at their local high school build social capital in the community—those connections create supportive relationships close to home.
  4. And fourthly, my hope is that through my motion, we as a district will support those students who cannot afford to take ETS to far away high schools.

As the Symposium Report states: “At their core, Catholic schools view the human person as having inherent dignity as a child of God”. Through my motion, I am attempting to align our district with this view.  By allowing students to attend their neighbouhood schools we are respecting their dignity as children of God. Finally, in the words of the Symposium Report:

“Modern people listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if they listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses…Our world hungers for truth. Truth can be found most genuinely in authentic witnesses, witnesses who in their love for Christ and his Church are open, welcoming and servant disciples”.

Let the trustees witness authentically to the truth of the Gospel – the essence of the Gospel which is mercy – and offer a merciful, hospitable and welcoming hand to Catholic students who desire to attend their local Catholic high school.

Footnote #1:  The Archbishop MacDonald Application for Admittance states the following: “One of the entrance requirements at Archbishop MacDonald is a minimum of 75% in each of the following: Religion, Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science”. I have had it confirmed by ECSD administration that if a student is applying for admittance from EPSB, the school waives the requirement for a 75% in Religion because of course EPSB does not teach religion classes. So what happens in practice is that students coming from ECSD junior highs (resident and non-resident) have higher requirements placed on them than those coming from EPSB–certainly it is more work to get a 75% average in 5 subjects than 4. Here is another example of how entrance requirements at this school create troublesome contradictions and inconsistencies for our district.

Footnote #2: A transcript of the remarks made by those present at the March 18, 2015 meeting at Archbishop Macdonald was made available.  Just for the public record, I need to note that our Chair Debbie Engel who was present at this meeting stated that her second daughter was sent to Oscar Romero High School and “she dropped out of engineering because she didn’t have the academic training that she would have got at MAC.  And in hindsight I see the value of this school [MAC] because she would have been prepared for engineering.  Now it’s going to cost me an extra $6,000 to get her prepared for it”.  This is the level of confidence that our Chair (who is also the school trustee for Oscar Romero) has in the staff and students of Oscar Romero High School.  I believe that if Archbishop MacDonald is the only high school in our district capable of preparing our students properly for university, we have a big problem!

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One Comment
  1. Harold Neth permalink

    Part 1 and 2 of your support for your motion demonstrate a very thoughtful approach to the issue of catchment areas and MAC High in particular. Holy Trinity has the IB program and runs the traditional high school program along side. That, I believe, is a more community minded approach.

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