Pembina Trails tweaking K-12 programming

The Pembina Trails School Division is preparing for more disruption to address the ever-growing population in south Winnipeg.

Starting in September 2024, the division is tweaking kindergarten-to-Grade 12 programming in 13 different schools. It’s the last phase of a years-long reorganization plan involving recent updates to transportation schedules and bell times.

All ninth graders will start attending high schools once the newest round of changes come into effect next fall, in turn aligning the division with the status quo for senior years in Manitoba.

Assistant superintendent Troy Scott said Grade 9 students benefit from additional extracurricular activities and specialty course offerings when they are under the same roof as older peers.

The semestered system offered in high schools ensures learners can focus on a handful of courses at a time versus the full gamut of programming in middle schools, said Scott, who oversees personnel and education services in the division.

“It allows us, in Grade 9, to be able to get to know them really, really well and as they start to think about life after school, we can start having those long-term career conversations,” the former principal added.

Vincent Massey, Fort Richmond and Pembina Trails are all fully becoming Grade 9-12 sites next year.

As a result, Acadia Junior High will shuffle from offering Grades 7-9 to 6-8.

General Byng, the sole K-9 school in the division, and both Arthur A. Leach and Henry G. Izatt — currently 5-9 buildings — are also dropping Grade 9.

An additional six elementary schools — Bairdmore, Chancellor, Dalhousie, Oakenwald, Prairie Sunrise and Ralph Maybank — are anticipated to shed Grade 6 and become K-5 buildings.

The realignment will allow the division to meet enrolment challenges fuelled by immigration and new developments in Waverley West, along Pembina Highway and in the Refinery District, Scott said.

The senior administrator noted Pembina Trails is welcoming, on average, between 500 to 600 new students annually.

Between September 2021 and 2022, the division registered 687 more pupils — an enrolment increase of 4.5 per cent. The number of students enrolled in Manitoba public schools grew by just over three per cent overall last year.

A number of Pembina Trails schools are hovering around capacity so the division needs to manage growth, especially as it awaits the construction of two new schools slated to open in 2027, Scott said.

Henry G. Izatt was about 200 students over capacity last year before catchment changes prompted students from Bridgwater Centre to be redirected to Bison Run School and Pembina Trails Collegiate, both of which opened this year.

Parent council president Chozanne Gryte said the adjustments served as a soft launch for the grade level changes expected in 2024-25. The community has already seen an improvement in congestion because there are fewer buses and cars required for drop-off and pick-up, she said.

“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from Whyte Ridge residents — not just the people who’ve had kids in the school. It was just kind of a gong show (before),” said Gryte, who has a daughter enrolled in Grade 7.

The early departure of many Grade 9s has also allowed other students to take on leadership roles and work in the canteen, she said.

Gryte noted she has not heard from parents concerned about the latest reorganization plan released by Pembina Trails this week — a stark contrast to the feedback submitted when the division announced it was adjusting start and end times in 17 schools last year.

“There was an uproar in the community,” she recalled.

Division administration introduced scheduling changes this fall, citing concerns related to growing demand for busing, chronic driver shortages and providing timely and reliable transportation. The updated start and end times allow for double-routing.

While acknowledging the division has asked a lot of families in recent years, Scott said administrators are planning for the future and setting the division up for long-term success.

Pembina Trails is organizing a series of engagement town halls to troubleshoot potential issues with the upcoming grade level changes.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press