Thursday, February 25, 2010

What difference does it make which capacity is used (ACU or ACOL)?

I have mentioned in previous blogs that I do not feel the provincially-calculated ACU capacity is a fair or accurate capacity measure when it comes to Sector Reviews or school closures. Why? What difference does it make? (Scott from 630 CHED asked me this question today.)

The best way to illustrate my point is to look at a specific school. I will pick Delton School because it has been designated as the receiving school should Eastwood and Parkdale close. Having a fair and accurate understanding of what is reasonable capacity for a receiving school is critical. With a faulty capacity measure, you can easily over-estimate the excess space at a school and this may lead to overcrowding or diminished educational opportunities for kids.

Delton's ACU capacity, as rated by the province is 650.
Delton's ACOL Capacity, as determined by EPSB and as appears on their school profile, is 480.

There are 22 existing classrooms in Delton. There are also 2 large rooms that are currently identified as "not used for instruction" that our administration feels could be converted into 4 classrooms. There is also a large library and a small art room/lunch room.  So if you convert every single room in the school into full-time instructional space, you would have a grand total of 28 rooms. To get to the ACU capacity of 650, you would need about 23 kids in each classroom. Well, that's not a big deal really, is it? What is Sue going on about?

However, let's take a closer look at these rooms and decide whether they should all be converted into full-time classrooms. At Delton, there is a computer lab, a music room, a math/science lab and library- these are all used 1/2 time. Should they be removed and turned into full-time classrooms? I would argue no and I think many parents feel that these spaces provide essential educational opportunities that enhance teaching and learning. In fact, a survey EPSB commissioned with Cambridge Strategies, indicated that the public places a high value on schools having designated, specialized rooms for enriched educational opportunities for kids.

At Delton, there is also an early-learning classroom (a specialized, enriched preschool) and 3 rooms leased to child care. Are we going to revoke these critical leases? For that matter, if every room is converted into classrooms, what will happen to the countless supportive partnerships that we have developed to "wrap around" some of the city's most socially vulnerable children? At Delton, we currently have a Family Therapist (supplied through Family Centre), a school nurse (through Alberta Health Services), a nutritionist (through Alberta Health Services), a Partners for Kids Worker (Big Brothers Big Sisters), an In school Mentor (BBBS), an Aboriginal Liaison Worker, an Enhanced Snack program, and a Child and Family Services Liaison. These wonderful partners need some space to operate in the school. How will the Snack Program, as sponsored by E4C, be possible without the small lunchroom used to prepare the snacks? I believe these partners are currently housed in the two large rooms in the basement which are listed as "not currently being used for instruction" and this is the space intended to be converted into 4 classrooms. Where will they go if this space is converted?

So, let's go back to the classrooms again.
At Delton, we have 9 existing regular classrooms, add 3 of the 4 new ones in the basement (keep one for the partners), add the one unused classroom upstairs, perhaps consolidate the library and the computer room (thereby adding one more classroom)--- we come to 9+3+1+1= 14 useable classrooms.
With 20 students in each classroom, we arrive at 280 students.
In the three special needs classrooms, which hold 10 students each, we will add another 30 students.
We are now at a total of  310 students. 
With the two full-time kindergartens, add another 40 students, bringing us to 350.
The preschool doesn't "count".
The childcare doesn't "count".
The library/computer room & music room don't "count".
Perhaps you decide that the math/science lab isn't essential, so you convert it into a classroom and add another 20 kids to arrive at 370. 
370 seems pretty full to me.  I would guess if the Principal and teachers at Delton were asked, they would also feel that 370 is full, especially when you consider the needs of the students they serve.

I am having a hard time arriving at the ACOL capacity (480) without removing some of the supportive services or adding more kids to every classroom. I see no way to get even close to the province's ACU capacity of 650 without very overcrowded classrooms AND removing the daycare lease AND removing the preschool AND removing all the supportive wrap-around services (not to mention things like music rooms!). To me, the ACU capacity is completely devoid of any educational rationale. It is not an "on-the-ground," common sense approach to capacity and I will continue to argue against it being used in the Sector Reviews because I believe it presents a distorted view.

I will say it again: measuring a school's capacity based on a square footage calculation does not work for kids or teachers or parents. It does not make any sense once you apply it to a real live school with real live kids.


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