EDMONTON – Alberta’s Auditor General said Tuesday attendance figures in the Northland School Division remain “unacceptably low.” The news comes five years after the province fired the school board.
Merwin Saher told the provincial Public Accounts Committee if the province and the division do not act, we risk “failing another generation of the division’s children.”
In 2010, Alberta’s education minister fired the school board over student performance and attendance problems.
Northland School Division eventually wants students to miss a maximum of one day of class per month.
Last year, only 31 per cent of students met the school division’s target.
Using the Auditor General’s criteria, one third of the division’s 2,500 students are “chronically absent.”
The division created a plan in January called “Every Day Counts” to improve student attendance. Since it was implemented, officials say attendance has slightly improved but much more needs to be done.
“In the jurisdiction, we have seen an increase, a very small increase…in the neighbourhood of two per cent,” said Colin Kelly, the official trustee for Northland, appointed by the province.
“I wish there was some kind of a magic bullet where we were able to do one thing and address it,” added Kelly. “But it is going to require a significant input from a number of organizations and resources within this province.”
“Most definitely – I believe we need help from others.”
In the fall, Northland hired someone who will monitor and manage attendance data from all 24 schools in the division.
According to school officials, one thing that would help is getting the community more involved and bringing back an elected board.
“I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” said David Eggen, Alberta’s current education minister. “The school board itself has been in suspension for more than five years now.”
Eggen said he wants elections restored in the Northland School Division.
“I would like to see an elected trustee board reinstated by the next election,” he said. “I think it’s an insult to so many that use these schools that the former government left them in suspension for more than five years now. So I intend to do something about that.”
He would also like to see more First Nations teachers and staff working in the schools.