Catholic school board partners with Sprucedale

Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board has taken over educational duties at the Sprucedale Youth Centre in Simcoe. Jacob Robinson / Simcoe Reformer

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Sprucedale Youth Centre in Simcoe and the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board have entered a partnership that has seen the local board take over educational duties within the correctional facility.

This past spring, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services approached the board to discuss taking over the learning program offered at the facility for young offenders. Sprucedale had long been a member of the Grand Erie District School Board, but Grand Erie divested itself from the program for financial reasons.

In July, the Catholic board received short-term funding to allow staff to analyze the feasibility of the program and develop interim plans for a transition from the public to the board.

Rob Campbell, a former principal at Assumption College and St. John’s College in Brantford, was assigned the job of exploring the financial and logistical practicality of a partnership.

At that meeting, the Catholic board approved the hiring of two retired principals to get the program off the ground, Campbell was one of the two named.

“Certainly there was clearly a need because there wasn’t an education partner for Sprucedale at the time, that was No. 1,” Campbell said Wednesday. “No. 2, I was really impressed by the facility staff at Sprucedale and just how well run the facility was, and also their philosophy of rehabilitation being No. 1 with the youth.”

Six secondary teachers were approved – one dealing with intake, one short-term, two focusing on technology (woodwork and auto) and three leading core subject classes. Just like their peers at Holy Trinity, students attend four 75-minute classes per day. The major difference is that classes include students of all grade levels – a math period might include a roster of both junior and senior students. Classes officially began in mid-November.

“We have a variety of new and experienced staff and all of them seem to have taken to the new task,” Campbell said. “It’s a slightly different delivery model in that, in a class, they’ll have students studying at different grade levels.”

The board approved a discretionary budget of up to $50,000 to cover operating and supply costs. The entire project – named the St. Mary’s Catholic Learning Centre – was expected to cost about $1 million, a bill that includes teacher salaries, educational assistants, benefits, operations, and capital.

Provisions were included in the deal to prevent over-staffing and one giving the board an out-clause should costs become prohibitive.

The number of students fluctuates from day to day but the maximum enrolment was set at 27 on a regular basis. Class sizes don’t exceed eight, except for construction and transportation shops, which won’t exceed six.

“The teachers have really been working hard to teach engaging lessons and the students have responded really well,” said Campbell, who thanked both the Grand Erie District School Board for assisting with the partnership and the Sprucedale staff.

“They have been wonderful at welcoming us and that’s been a very smooth transition,” he said.