Giant ideas for a tiny school

Radical changes to schedule, more course options for students

by Andru McCracken


Gunnar, a McBride Secondary School student, spins out a wooden ornament destined to grace McBride’s train station. Local historian Matthew Wheeler discovered these little flourishes on the station in historic photographs. But there was no sample to work with… the last of them were gone by the fifties. Wheeler brought the project and some wood for the shop class to help recreate history. /ANDRU MCCRACKEN

“In order to keep being awesome with less students, we need to innovate.”

That was the message McBride Secondary School Principal Dan Kenkel brought to parents and the community in a meeting last Monday night. The McBride Secondary population currently sits at 63, but current projections show it may drop to 35 by 2023.

But Kenkel wants to show that getting even smaller doesn’t have to be negative.

“We are an incredible school; we have incredible results to support that. I actually argue that we’re the best school on the planet,” said Kenkel.

He cited exceptional performance in the first semester English results, a 100 percent aboriginal graduation rate, and a very high participation rate in academic classes like Math 12 and Chemistry 12.

“We also have the highest participation in athletics – probably higher than any school in the province,” he said.

In order to adapt to a shrinking student population, Kenkel has pitched a complex time table, where teaching is done in short seminars and where students spend more time in an inquiry block or commons supervised by one teacher. This way, students can take more classes and more courses can be offered.

“Even though it is more work and more complicated, and little bit more difficult to figure out, it allows us to do way more,” Kenkel said.

“The timetable was a restriction that was like handcuffs. By going this route, it frees us up to offer more with less,” he said.

He’s hoping to introduce more courses next year and an honours program open to all students including those who prefer Shop class to English or basketball to Math.

Kenkel hopes the unique programming will attract international students to the school, which can boost attendance.

The teachers support the new schedule, even though it’s clear it will involve more work.

McBride’s Parent Advisory Council (PAC) chair Karen Dube was enthusiastic about the changes.

“The PAC and citizens who attended the meeting were very excited about the concept,” she said. “Teachers have been working very hard on this since January.”

“It’s really exciting. We hope the school district will be on board supporting the concepts with appropriate funding.”

Dube said the school could be a model for others, and it is a good option for a school with a diminishing population: “Why not be the drivers of that change instead of having it dictated to us?”

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