Mr. Everett McDonald, MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky, toured PWSD’s Harry Balfour School yesterday and received a first-hand glimpse of the issues created by overcrowding at the K-8 school located in the heart of Grande Prairie.
Built in 1956, the school has seen numerous upgrades to keep up with the demands of Grande Prairie’s growing population. Two modular classrooms were added in 2001. Now, the school’s immediate need for extra space is limited by the physical boundaries of the school grounds, while still maintaining a suitable playground for its 765 students.
Mr. McDonald was joined on the tour by PWSD’s Superintendent Sheldon Rowe; Stacey Pelland, Board Chair; Dana McIntosh, Vice-Chair; Principal Darren Young; and Carolyn Hovey-Johnson, Parent Council Chair for Harry Balfour School.
“Due to the population growth in and around Grande Prairie, our schools are feeling the pressure,” says Superintendent Sheldon Rowe. “Topping our list is Harry Balfour School with a utilization rate of 95 per cent. An ideal scenario would be much lower – around 85 percent. When a school grows beyond 85 per cent utilization, we have to start looking at the support areas, such as the dedicated band and art rooms, the computer lab and gymnasium. As the start of the 2014-2015 school year neared, we saw an unexpected spike in enrolment at this school, so we made the decision to cannibalize a computer lab and another small room to create additional instructional space to meet the demand,” adds Mr. Rowe.
“We have seen a record-breaking enrolment of 94 Kindergarten students at Harry Balfour School this year. We are up 114 students overall, doubling our original projections. We continue to commit to delivering top-notch programming despite our space constraints, but with each passing year, the need for a new school becomes more pressing,” adds Mr. Rowe.
This year, Harry Balfour School welcomed Principal Darren Young who brings 16 years of teaching and administrative background to the role.
“Providing the best possible educational supports and opportunities to students has always been my focus,” says Principal Young. “We offer great programs at Harry Balfour School, but when our staff works on developing future plans and programming for our school community, admittedly the issue of overcrowding does impact our thinking. We want to continue to be able to offer more options for our students, and an additional county school located at the north end of Grande Prairie would certainly remove some of the pressures we are feeling here at Harry Balfour School,” adds Mr. Young.
During his tour of the school, MLA McDonald noted that he will be meeting with the Minister of Infrastructure next week and plans to see what the options are for Peace Wapiti Public School Division as a whole, and Harry Balfour School. “While we are excited about the growth in Grande Prairie, we are concerned about the challenges it creates for our schools,” he says.
Photo Caption (l-r): Mr. Everett McDonald, MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky, received a first-hand glimpse of the issues created by overcrowding at Harry Balfour School during a tour on September 10, 2014. Pictured with Mr. McDonald are Principal Darren Young; PWSD’s Superintendent Sheldon Rowe; and Stacey Pelland, Board Chair.