Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 17, 2003
Students find space in Hinton
Extra classrooms warmly welcomed as 'new' schools modernized
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
While Catholic school administrators in Hinton are grateful for extra classroom space for their students, there is more work to be done before they are completely satisfied.
St. Gregory Catholic Elementary School (K to 4) principal Tim Zarski and his wife, Chris Zarski, principal of Gerard Redmond Community Catholic School (Grades 5 to 12), have been given separate, stand-alone schools. However, the possibility for shared facilities with the public school system in town still exists.
Previously, all Catholic students in the town of 10,000 attended Gerard Redmond before an 11-classroom public school was transferred to the Living Waters Catholic Regional Division Aug. 1, and renamed.
However while the principals of the two schools say good things are happening there, they believe the new arrangement is only a temporary solution to the over-crowding problem.
"On Aug. 1, we were given the opportunity to have this school," Tim Zarski said. "We painted it with 60 volunteers the first day and 30 volunteers the next. We painted the entire school.
"That kind of relationship with our parents, the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Women's League and the staff, has been maintained.
"We continually get the support from the community who come in and help us. We've just developed our parents' council which is very active and strongly united in terms of ensuring this school is a success," he said.
"I feel very supported by all aspects of the community."
Tim Zarski, who was an assistant principal of the high school, said he has instituted some programs that develop self-worth and confidence in the young students.
"We are a strong, united family and many of the high school students helped out with reading to the young ones and helped with getting them dressed at recess," he said.
"Right now, we have developed Grade 4 hallway monitors. We have given them the opportunity to take control of certain aspects of supervision."
When kids come into the school, or if they're injured, they are taken to the office where staff can look after them. Or if there are visitors, the monitors will introduce themselves and direct the adults where they want to go.
"It earns them the respect of the younger children and it gives the younger ones something to look forward to as they become older," Zarski said.
Zarski said the kindergarten classes have been on field trips to Our Lady of the Foothills Parish and have met the pastor, Father Brian Inglis.
The principal is excited that Grade 10 to 12 students will run the retreats for the Grade 1 to 4 students. "Everyone is really keen about this," he said. "It will give them the opportunity to make up for missed time with the little ones. Some of the older kids have told me they really miss their daily hugs."
Having two schools "has been a tough split for a lot of people."
Zarski predicted that if a shared facility had been decided upon, as the provincial government had earlier suggested, it would have meant the end for Catholic education in the province.
"I think it would have happened within five years," he said.
"That's why the bishops came out so strongly with their letter supporting Catholic education working through the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association."
In September 2002, the Alberta bishops wrote a letter criticizing shared school facilities, saying the pressure to build them has led to division within communities as well as overcrowding in some Catholic schools.
"Certainly the resolution wasn't the one that we were necessarily looking for. But it is one that works."
- Carol Lemay
Sharing in itself is acceptable, Zarski said. "It depends what you're going to share."
Zarski realizes he has been given a nice building for the staff and students. He said he understands why the public school teachers who worked there were upset at losing it.
"We are really happy. We have our own identity. We're full."
More to come
The core of Gerard Redmond will remain, while the 15 portables - nine attached and six stand-alone - will be removed. The intent is to enlarge the gym and build on permanent classrooms, perhaps with a spring start to construction.
However, Chris Zarski foresees a return to conditions she sought to improve.
The school presently has 26 special needs students. When they are factored into school enrollment, the school is full.
"It will look aesthetically nice because we're going to build and modernize, but in actual fact, we're still swapping a band-aid for no permanent solution. I believe we'll be in the same boat."
There are 308 students, but with special needs which count as double, the total is 360.
Also, the graduating class this year is only 12, and they are 40 students in Grade 11. As well, 60 students are coming into Grade 5.
"We're full even before we've opened our doors," she said.
But Zarski said she's happy because the school now has "more room to breathe."
"We've noticed it on the playgrounds that there's no fights because the kids aren't in each other's faces all the time. They aren't always walking to each other's territory."
Students are still using the rooms and portables destined for demolition.
They also continue to be bused to the town's recreation centre for classes and labs.
Zarski said the difference between Catholic and public schools must be much more than just having religion classes in the Catholic school.
"It's something that happens in the halls and walls of every class that is taught.
"There's a permeation of faith that happens throughout the day. It isn't just a 40-minute class that happens in one shot."
Carol Lemay, superintendent of Living Waters, says the community is united in its desire for Catholic education in stand-alone buildings in Hinton.
And that is what has been provided, she says.
"The infrastructure minister said, 'You are not getting a new school, you're getting a school transfer,'" Lemay said.
"The minister has given us a clear message. They transferred a school to us and said, 'Here's some money to modernize Gerard Redmond.'
"I know the people in Hinton are not interested in joint, or shared-use, facilities.
"Overall, our board supports the ACSTA protocol - to support stand-alone schools for Catholic education."
The Edson/Hinton modernization projects were allocated $9.1 million.
Determining how the pot will be split at this time, she said, is premature as the board's facilities manager and architect are currently working on the details.
"They were very much against the joint-use facility, so we got two stand-alone schools. Certainly the resolution wasn't the one that we were necessarily looking for.
"But it is one that works.
"Now it's a matter of doing the modernization and making them look good," she said.