Overcrowding in some schools and underused space in others, lack of engagement among some students, uninspiring graduation rates, unpredictable provincial funding – all dilemmas facing the Living Sky School Division.
Last week's regular meeting of the Living Sky School Division Board of Education left members with food for thought on all these topics, including one idea that could address most, if not all, of the aforementioned challenges.
Living Sky's superintendent of curriculum and instruction, Jim Shevchuk, presented research he'd gathered on the concept of academies. The board had expressed an interest in the academy model, calling for information that might be considered as the board works toward using its present facilities in the most effective manner, while bearing in mind there may be a joint use facility in North Battleford's future.
After Shevchuk's presentation, board members decided they would like to invite "visitors" who have been involved with the academy model to share their insights as well.
The most common and most successful academies are generally Christian academies and sports academies, said Shevchuk. However, he said, academies can cover the gamut from arts and music, trades, International Baccalaureate and outdoor education to science, gender specific and even ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder).
"It's all about engaging kids," said Shevchuk.
Basically, an academy immerses students in a certain aspect of a discipline or activity, while providing the appropriate curriculum. In Saskatchewan, an academy's students must follow the Ministry of Education's curriculum.
There are a number of popular academies across Canada, said Shevchuk, pointing to a science academy in Calgary as an example.
"There's a waiting list, and it's not cheap."
In addition to money that comes from the province, additional funding is needed for programming and instruction. There are various sources of additional funding, such as Hockey Canada in the case of hockey academies, to additional tuition paid by the parents or guardians of the students.
While there are entire schools operating as academies, the academy model can also be used within a school, perhaps a certain grade, or a certain year in which the model is applied.
In Living Sky, said Shevchuk, there are a number of directions that could be pursued, from the trades (which can potentially save students a year in apprenticeship time) to less traditional models, such as outdoor education or the arts. And not just in North Battleford. Every school in the division, said Shevchuk, has the potential to become or be part of the academy model.
While he said the idea is appealing to his heart, his head knows it's bound to be expensive, and would require careful thought and planning.
"You'd have to be very creative with the dollars and very creative in how you would set it up," he said.
Director of Education Randy Fox added it would have to be available to all students.
"The cost is there, but there's generally a way to do things if you really want to do them," he said.