News / Calgary

'Multi-track' schools pitched to ease Calgary space crunch

Keeping Calgary schools filled with students year-round could do wonders to combat a space crunch likely to dog the city's education system for many years to come, suggests a trustee.

But Judy Hehr, Calgary Board of Education representative for Wards 8 and 9, said moving to a "multi-track" model in communities due up for new facilities will only work if the parents get behind — even champion it.

The CBE became the first school board in Canada to attempt the multi-track, year-round approach when it threw open the doors of Riverbend Elementary in 1996. The school saw some students begin classes as early as the third week of July, others followed in August and September. The school year is shortened a tad and the days run a little longer, but, if all goes according to plan, 33 per cent more kids can be packed into the average facility, Hehr said.

"If we're going that way, now would be the time, with new schools coming open," said Hehr.

"We'd have to do a lot of legwork — this is going to be a lot different," added the former teacher and principal.

Trustees, including Hehr, were due to discuss the system's accommodation struggles during a public meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Amy Care has been among the public-school parents in McKenzie Towne advocating for a new middle school in the packed southeast community, one which was approved by the province in an announcement last week.

But Care was quick to point out the community's elementary has already been forced to turn to an enrolment lottery for the 2014-15 school year despite only opening in 2010.

Care was quick to concede the multi-track approach could pose challenges for families — she has one child in a charter school and one enrolled with the CBE — but said Hehr's idea is worth exploring.

"I agree it's time to creative," Care said. "It does seem a bit ridiculous, you've got all that infrastructure sitting there empty for two months a year."

The CBE also ran a multi-track model at Terry Fox Junior High School in the city's northeast, with students starting at five different times. The board, however, said in an email that currently no buildings are operating year-round. Some high schools offer summer courses to the end of July.

Frank Bruseker, head of the Alberta Teachers' Association local, said he believes the multi-track approach may only work "in theory," and would find little favour among students, parents and his own members, who've become accustomed to having two months off in the summer for vacations. He said he's heard similar talk of running students on modified daily timetables that see schools open earlier for classes and run well into the evening, but, again, such moves interfere heavily with household routines.

"In practice, these things haven't been that effective," he said. "I would be loathe to create a whole new set of problems while we try to solve one."

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