After visiting all the school boards in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo this week, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says she has one priority to make schools better: teacher housing. 

For years, teacher housing has been a barrier that makes it difficult for remote schools to attract and retain teachers. 

“Certainly some of the remote areas, some of our rural areas such as Fort Chipewyan, there’s an issue with deteriorating housing for teachers,” said LaGrange. 

Renovating and improving the housing “would certainly go a long way to retaining teachers,” the minister said. 

She said her priority is providing good education to students, and part of that is finding a way to entice teachers to work in rural Alberta schools. 

LaGrange visited the region two months after Wood Buffalo council sent a letter to her office asking for assistance with what was described as an “education crisis.”

In Fort Chipewyan this year, no students graduated because of absences, missing assignments and because 12 teachers left the school.

In Conklin, the entire teaching staff, including the principal, left. 

LaGrange said she wanted to have a “firsthand look” at the schools and a chance to build relationships with community members. 

She talked to teachers, students and community leaders across Wood Buffalo. 

From left to right, Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange, MLA Tany Yao and MLA Laila Goodridge. LaGrange took a tour of a Fort McMurray school on Aug. 28. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

LaGrange said she didn’t want to “presuppose what we’re going to do” to improve the situation, but said they will “definitely be making changes.” 

She said ultimately it is up to Northland School Division to decide on any changes made to the schools. 

Coun. Jane Stroud had a brief meeting with LaGrange to talk about the state of education in Conklin. 

“I felt it was a good meeting and hopefully we will see progress on these concerns in the near future.”

She said the Conklin school is still short one teacher. 

Stroud said she’s going to keep lobbying the province to help improve the level of education in Wood Buffalo and get better housing for teachers. 

“A student who is in Fort Chipewyan deserves the best education and as best an education as any other student in the province,” said LaGrange. 

“My goal would be for every student to graduate from Fort Chipewyan with an excellent education and that they have their high school diploma and can go on to post-secondary or into the trades if they so choose.”

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