It was easy to miss as news about COVID-19 pandemic fills everyone’s news feeds. Within the Government of Saskatchewan’s announcement of 2020-21 expenditure estimates on March 18 (in lieu of the usual tabling of the budget), funding was announced for a new St. Frances Cree Bilingual School.
Since it’s humble beginnings as a kindergarten to Grade 3 program in 2007, Cree language instruction at St. Frances has grown to be the largest bilingual Indigenous-language program in Canada. Now, over 600 students, pre-kindergarten through Grade 9, coming from over 50 neighbourhoods and surrounding areas of Saskatoon, attend St. Frances for Cree language and cultural learning.
The number of families accessing Cree language learning overtook the school building’s capacity long ago. There are more portable classrooms than permanent ones, and washrooms and gym space has been inadequate for some time. As a temporary measure, the student body was split to two physical locations in 2018: pre-kindergarten to Gr. 5 at the McPherson Ave. location, and Gr. 6 – 9 at the former St. Patrick School on Bateman Cres.
Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools’ Board of Education, senior administration and a very dedicated parent group have spent a lot of time and energy pursuing funding for a facility that better suits an award-winning educational program. “A new or renovated St. Frances facility has been our top capital priority for some time now,” said Diane Boyko, GSCS Board Chair. “Everyone I heard from either let out a cheer or said, ‘Finally!’ which sums up our collective response pretty well.”
Over the past year, the division has used the “scope funding” announced in March, 2019, to work with project architects and consult with several stakeholders—elders, parents, students and staff—on the preliminary design of the school. With this new funding announcement, that work will continue in earnest.
In addition to funding for a new St. Frances Cree Bilingual School, the provincial government announced funding to determine the need for a new joint-use high school in the east end of Saskatoon—an area of rapid growth—and funding for portable classrooms for St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Holy Trinity (Warman) and École Holy Mary (Martensville) Schools.
Operational funding for 2020-21 will increase modestly to cover projected student enrolment growth and inflationary increases in operating.
(pictured: St. Frances staff working with an architect on design ideas)