A History of Innovation at Westmount Charter School, Calgary
Westmount Charter School was founded in 1996 by the Action for Bright Children (Calgary) Society, under the name of ABC Charter Public School. Initially offering classes for gifted grade 1-3 children in little Bridgeland School, kindergarten was soon added. For this first year, the school's public accountability was through the Calgary Board of Education. In 1997, efforts to add grade 4 to begin expanding the program to a K-12 school were delayed until the Alberta government made changes to the reporting and accountability framework of charter schools.
In 1998, now publicly accountable through its own Charter School Board in a larger location on the old Currie Barracks in SW Calgary, ABC added grades 4 and 5. One additional grade was added to the school each year until 2005, when the school reached its full K-12 grade continuum.
From 1996 to 2002, ABC Charter Public School's principal was Jo-Anne Koch. Jo-Anne was a visionary leader in bringing this publicly funded school for gifted children into reality. ABC's unique contribution was the combining of gifted education principles with Multiple Intelligence theory, a compacted curriculum, Personal Education Plans (PEPs) for each student, and re-grouping in core subjects while maintaining an age-peer home room. Many of those concepts remain hallmarks of the Westmount program today. Parent participation was particularly high during these years, including "Treasury of Talent" days in which parents came to do presentations for gifted students on a variety of vocations and interests. As the student population increased and "mid-grades" were added, Magy Butterfield joined the ABC team as Vice-Principal.
The 2001-2002 school year was filled with transitions. The program moved again from the Currie Barracks to the Viscount Bennett Centre and by mid-September Ms. Koch had become very ill. Acting Principal Magy Butterfield and Vice Principal Marylyn Waters did an admirable job in managing this year of transition which saw a huge increase in student numbers in a facility that was still under renovation. One innovation of this year was the combination of mid-grades Language Arts and Social Studies into Humanities, which allowed academically-advanced students to move ahead without having to engage subject matter for which they were not yet emotionally ready.
Dr. Elaine McDougall became Principal in 2002. Vice Principals during this time were Marylyn Waters, Marlee Cole and Martha Faulkner. High School was added, focusing on the question, "what qualities do we want to see in graduates of our high school?" High value was placed on volunteerism which became an expected component of all high school students' lives and on the need for the school to keep honouring the multiple-intelligence-related areas of excellence that are so much a part of a gifted student's reality. Fine Arts programming was added including the Summerstock Drama program, Band and Visual Arts. Grade 7 students had the opportunity to choose "Project Earth,” an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to core subjects which includes an emphasis on Outdoor Education. The importance of Differentiated Instruction became a focus area for the teaching staff with the innovative "Professional Partners" program (our Cycle II AISI project) providing cross-subject, cross-grades professional learning communities for all teaching staff.
Now that the ABC program had expanded to include middle school and high school, it was also time for a new name. The name Westmount Charter School was selected after considerable consultation; a name chosen in part because it did not have a lot of preconceived connections - it would be up to the school's students and staff to create a reputation of excellence for the Westmount name.
In 2005, Martha Faulkner became Principal, with Vice Principals Marylyn Waters, Arnold Nugent, Neil Robinson, and joining the team in 2007-2009, Dani Sever, Hal Curties and Chris Hooper. The school held its first Grade 12 graduation in 2006, with students receiving Gifted Education Diplomas according to their accomplishments in Academics, Community Volunteerism and School Leadership, in addition to their Alberta High School Diploma. Advanced Placement (AP) courses were added to meet the needs of motivated, high-achieving high school students. The "Community Impact Project" and "Footprints" now joined "Project Earth" to give three options for an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to grade seven core subjects and the locally-developed "Human Condition" courses and associated humanitarian travel opportunities established themselves as strong part of our school culture. In addition, Westmount came to provide increased leadership in the area of "gifted underachievement" and brought these learnings, and others, to the world at the 2009 World Conference for Gifted and Talented Children.
In the spirit of sharing and welcoming, Westmount presented the first annual Pillars of Gifted Education Conference on Oct 22-23, 2010. Featuring keynote presenters Dr. Tracy Cross and Dr. Richard Olenchak, this Conference included presentations from fifteen other speakers including university researchers, administrators, teachers and counselors of gifted students, all related to the social-emotional development of gifted students.
Dr. Shelley Robinson was Principal in 2011, as Westmount moved campuses again, this time to two new homes, the Parkdale campus for elementary students and the Van Horne campus for mid-high. Through the Cycle IV AISI project, Westmount initiated work on a number of unique fronts including the engagement of gifted learners who do not have English as their first language, and the importance of fitness, health and wellness among the gifted population. In order to increase the amount of Westmount's work being shared with the rest of the educational community, much effort is being invested in sharing our best and emerging practices in gifted education with the world through an online forum, the Westmount Window.
In 2012, Westmount started its seventeenth year with Hal Curties named as Principal of the Elementary Campus and Janneke Frank named as Principal of the Mid-High Campus. The year has started with great energy as we review our practices in student intake and assessment, acceleration and our work supporting gifted learners with English as an Additional Language (EAL). We look forward to an exceptional year.
Westmount Charter School continues to invite educators from all school jurisdictions to come to Westmount to discuss gifted education! In the past, we have hosted delegations from Alberta and the Northwest Territories, as well as international visitors from the Ukraine, Australia, the UK, and Finland.
4 March 2013