July 29, 2019

Growing a Responsive School System

Investigating the capacity and potential of Alberta Public Charter Schools

An Evolving System

Established in 1994, the Alberta Public Charter Schools were designed to enhance choice and innovation in the province’s education. With nearly 8,000 students enrolled in the 13 school jurisdictions, and a waitlist of about equal size, the schools have attracted parents seeking greater input over their child’s education, a greater sense of community, and a common vision and mission for the school.

While numerous studies have investigated individual schools, large-scale research into the broader system was needed. In 2012, the Association of Alberta Public Charter Schools (TAAPCS) commissioned Drs. Dianne Gereluk and Eugene Kowch, along with PhD graduate Dr. Merlin Thompson, to conduct an analysis of the current strengths, challenges, and opportunities for the future of the schools. In particular, the study focused on the schools’ ability to adapt and change education, and their impact within and beyond the schools at that time.

Challenge and Potential

The study uncovered a number of challenges and potential areas of growth within the Alberta public Charter School system. Being removed from other boards and each other, the study found the schools were limited by having few connections beyond the school, and weak relations with its local school jurisdictions. School leadership also spent considerable time with administrative and facilities concerns, given demands on available resources and space.

The study noted a high turnover rate of schools leaders at the time, with most administrators having worked in Public Charter Schools for less than six years. This, in combination with being largely focused inward on their own schools, reduced the system’s capacity to make an impact outside of their own boundaries. Thus, while the schools may be strong individually, with limited resources, and lacking an established leadership network, the TAAPCS had little freedom to organize its interests to promote change and grow its influence.

Despite systemic challenges, the Alberta Public Charter School system displayed high potential and current strengths in various areas. Some schools were well-connected with their community, and engaged their local stakeholders within the school. The opportunity to specialize and focus on a particular emphasis, promoting a strong set of shared values and ideals among stakeholders, helped shape and guide these schools. Renewing relations within the Association, across the schools, and beyond can help pave new avenues to expand networks and promote adaptability and growth within Charter Schools.

Looking Ahead

Since the report, government and Charter School executives have conducted a reorganization, and work has been done to improve their capacity for change and strong leadership. Now over two decades since their creation, these schools show a promising collection of diverse and innovative schools. Connecting to and supporting each other through established networks, and expanding their impact focus beyond their individual schools can help the system grow. The research emphasized that, despite their challenges, these schools offer examples for other education systems to grow and improve.