At the Jan. 14, 2021 County Council General meeting Wetaskiwin County Council met the Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools (WRPS) delegation to discuss long range planning for WRPS. WRPS Trustee of Ward 4, Karen Becker and WRPS Superintendent Peter Barron joined Wetaskiwin County Council via zoom for the meeting.
County Council set up the delegation following an email received from Trustee Becker, as she felt it was critical to involve municipal partners in the planning process. She also raised concerns regarding the status of Winfield School in WRPS given its ongoing issue with declining enrollment in addition to the size and condition of the building.
“It has been number one on our capital plan for a while now,” says Becker. “What we are undertaking right now is just the beginning steps of a long term plan for our school division and the opportunity to explore what options are out there.”
“That said any kind of undertaking like this, long range planning, must be done in cooperation with our local partners and municipal partners. That’s why we wanted to involve the County Council right out of the gate so that we can partner to ensure that any kind of action plan that we undertake is done with cooperation,” Becker told Council.
Over a year ago WRPS requested the provincial government to assist with “value scoping” a process needed to be done on Winfield School, however it was delayed because of COVID-19. Just recently somebody came out to look at the school and discuss options further. WRPS started their long term planning for Winfield school by creating a survey for key stakeholders in the area to complete.
Becker says the survey helps WRPS to address the main concerns of the school, which will help the school division gain insight to choose their next move regarding Winfield School. WRPS also requested the County Council to complete the survey and join them in discussion on how to best serve the educational needs of children in the community.
“We are just in the absolute infancy of looking at a good, strong and viable long term plan for our kids out here but again we have to involve our municipal partners,” says Becker. “We have to consider our communities and rural sustainability in this whole conversation.”
Becker says despite the issues the school is facing there has been no concrete discussion regarding closing Winfield School.
A number of factors play into this including that “if you look realistically, where would those kids even go if we were to close that school? Breton is a completely different jurisdiction, probably the closest elementary school, or Bluffton that are again, different jurisdictions,” Becker says.
“In my opinion if we were to move kids from Winfield to Alder Flats and to Lakedell to disperse them to the two closest schools within our jurisdiction both of those schools would have some crowding issues. So we can’t just close Winfield School, we have to look at creative ideas on how we can deal with this.”
“The space at Winfield and the numbers has always been an issue even when I was a Trustee, one of the reasons being that Winfield was a K-12,” says Councillor Kathy Rooyakkers, Division 6.
Rooyakkers agrees with Becker that transferring students to the nearest WRPS schools should Winfield be closed wouldn’t be a favorable option given the amount of time the students would have to travel to get to and from school in addition to crowding.
Deputy Reeve Lyle Seely, Division 7, says, “Having a viable school in Winfield goes along with our strategic plan to revitalize Hamlets. It’s huge having a school in our Hamlets, so we definitely need to participate in any way we can.”
Superintendent Barron added, “it is important for the school division to have a really long range plan for all of our schools and government really supports that capital planning, really encourages us to have a plan.
We look at modernizations and to look down the road, what would be our needs in our schools 10 years from now and further down the road. They may do the work in pieces but they want to have a long range vision of what this will look like. So this is part of that process of just exploring ideas. At this point it’s being generative—what are the best solutions?”
Barron continues, “Winfield is in such a position that is reaching a point where something needs to happen. They (the provincial government) want to kind of start the process of discussing what are the range of options.”
Barron says that one of the outcomes that could happen would be the consolidation of the three schools. Barron says that all decisions are a ways away, but they are at the point where they need to start discussing them and preparing options.
Becker says that the first step in this process is having stakeholders and Council fill out the survey regarding strengths and weaknesses of Winfield School.
“Again this is a long range plan it will take a long time to develop in cooperation with you guys and our communities,” Becker says addressing Council.
Council decided that they will discuss and fill out the survey at the Jan. 26 Council General Meeting. Councillor Terry Van De Kraats made the motion to accept WRPS’ delegation as information and Council approved unanimously.