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After The Fire: A Fort McMurray Public School District Update

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Replaced ceiling tiles: about 700,000 square feet; Man hours: 200,000 and counting; Maximum people working on schools: 400. Being ready for our students: Priceless. With an intense summer of restoration and renovations behind us, all 15 Fort McMurray Public School District (FMSPD) schools hosted delighted students for the first day of school on September 6. For thousands of children this was their first day back since the May 3 wildfire evacuation, and FMPSD ensured several supports were in place. 

Alberta Health Services hosted Welcome Centers within each school from mid-August to late September; and had a mental health therapist onsite to support staff, students and families that were struggling with reentry into the school routine.

“Fort McMurray Public School District (FMPSD) is working closely with the Calgary Board of Education trauma team to better understand specific strategies and goals that FMPSD administrators can use as a way to implement positive and predictable routines within their schools. District Office as well as each administrator will work on a “resilient schools action plan,” which will outline specific tasks and key activities that their schools will participate in,” explained Shannon Noble, Assistant Superintendent, Inclusive Education, FMPSD.

A District Resilience team was ready to coordinate activities to support administrators ensuring the basic psychosocial needs of staff, students and families were met.  

“Alberta Health Services provided training in programs such as Heart Math, which reduces anxiety; Psychological First Aid for all staff so they can recognize when a co-worker or student needs extra support; and a Grief and Loss session for all staff,” added Noble.

Doug Nicholls, Superintendent, FMPSD, applauded administration and staff for being ready for students.

“Our staff has been amazing through a stressful time. They’ve been diligently training, gathering resources, and collaborating to help each other, and students. We are ecstatic that our students are back as our community continues to strengthen,” Superintendent Nicholls enthused.

A significant change for this school year is that Beacon Hill Public School is now housed at Dr. Clark Elementary School as a “school within a school.” 

Garette Tebay, Principal, Beacon Hill Public School shares more.

“I’m so thankful that our school board made the decision to keep our school community together. The Beacon Hill school family is a unique group and having the opportunity to come back together, heal, and rebuild has been invaluable in this whole process. Dr. Clark School is the ideal location to house our school within a school as it has just the right fit room so our school can truly operate as one distinct space,” said Tebay. 

“All of our staff members this year were members of the Beacon Hill staff last year, and are excited to be back. We are moving forward with plans for full school mindfulness programming that we began to envision in April. These skills for focusing, living in the present moment, and self-regulation will serve our students well into the future,” she added.

Speaking of students, our much-awaited graduation ceremonies happened on August 27, 2016. An estimated 300 graduates from Fort McMurray Composite High School, Frank Spragins High School, and Westwood Community High School came together for the first ever Grand March in the evening at MacDonald Island following individual school ceremonies in the morning. 

Minister of Education, David Eggen was in attendance for all three ceremonies along with MLA Tany Yao, Mayor Melissa Blake, and Jeff Thompson, FMPSD Board Chair. He brought greetings on behalf of Premier Notley.

“We are proud of all that you’ve achieved despite the difficulty of evacuation. Graduations are a symbol of hope, and of new beginnings. Thank your parents, and teachers, who have helped you get here. Make sure you look after each other. This is a special moment,” said Minister Eggen.

Linda Guo, was named Westwood’s Valedictorian and spoke on what the school has meant to her. She is a future doctor heading to Western University.

“Westwood has been my school for the last three years, and even though I have not graduated long, I find myself missing it already. But I think we will soon realize, regardless of where we go, that we have not truly left Westwood, or it us, just as Fort McMurray will always be our home. It has claimed a deep and inexorable part of us, a part of our history, just as we have become part of its culture and diversity. The memories, friendships, and bonds we have forged in our high school years will remain with us in the years to come.”

“It has been a hard few months. For some, it has been especially difficult. No matter where life takes us, we will keep our heads high and proud, for we have the courage and strength to face it. This may be the end of our high school experience, but the adventure itself is only beginning. I wish you all the best in your future endeavours. When we see each other again, we will have many stories to tell,” said Guo, during her Valedictorian speech. 

Momin Syed, Fort McMurray Composite High School’s Student Council President echoed similar sentiments in his graduation address.

“The plethora of achievements of this class would not have been possible without the help, support, and guidance of our parents, teachers, counsellors, coaches, and the overall inspiration from the entire school community. To these mentors, I say: Our success is your success, for you have given us the courage to dare, the knowledge to excel, and the belief that we can succeed. You have been there for us with encouragement and care; you have had faith when we doubted ourselves. You have instilled in us the self-confidence needed to reach for our dreams. For all of these things, we, the Class of 2016, thank every single one of you.

As graduates, we face many uncertainties in both the immediate and distant future. However, uncertainty is another word for opportunity. Thank you all for coming to witness this very special day. Congratulations, happy graduation, and best of luck to the Composite High School class of 2016!” enthused Syed. 

We’ve sent off our graduates; greeted new and returning students. It’s a dynamic new academic year. Thank you to our trustees, administrators, staff, teachers, students, parents, guardians, volunteers, and the community for always helping us in Doing What’s Best for Everyone!

We are #YMMStrong and #FMPSDstrong. 

What You Need to Know for the 2016/17 Academic Year

District Instruction and Material fees have been suspended for the 2016/17 school year. Other fees and charges such as: program fees for ECDP, Reggio, PEAK Athletic Academy, Montessori, transportation, extracurricular, for sale items etc., are still in effect.

Beacon Hill Public School will operate as a separate school within Dr. Clark School. The building in Beacon Hill will remain closed for the 2016-17 academic year due to the effects of the fire. Principal Garette Tebay can be contacted for further information via

Construction was delayed due to the wildfires for Christina Gordon Public School. It will operate as a separate school within Timberlea Public, with an expected January 2017 opening of the Parsons Creek Drive location.  For further information, please contact Principal Rick Thorne: or call 587-276-2017.

Sparksman Transportation is ready for students. Due to the possibility of late registrations, we are asking parents to be patient as bus routes are adjusted from last year.

Fort McMurray Christian School will remain at its current Birchwood location. September 2017 is the new date for the Christian School to be fully operational in Timberlea School. The Board remains committed to the change.

Fort McMurray Composite High School will now be a grade 7-12 school with an early start and dismissal time of 8:10 a.m., and 2:49 p.m.

Fort McMurray Islamic School has new bell times. Classes start at 8:30 a.m., and end at 3:10 p.m.

Visit to register online and follow our Twitter accounts @FMPSD and @DougNicholls2 for real time updates. District Office is open Monday - Friday: 8 a.m., to 4:30 p.m., located on 231 Hardin Street. Call 780-799-7900 for additional questions. 


Grad 2016 by Greg Halinda Photography
Fort McMurray Composite High School’s Student Council President, Momin Syed receives the MLA Citizen Award from MLA Tany Yao.
Frank Spragins’ Class of 2016 at the graduation ceremony held on MacDonald Island.
Linda Guo: Linda Guo, Westwood’s Valedictorian addresses the Class of 2016. Photo Greg Halinda Photography.
Fort McMurray Christian School Principal, Joe Champion welcomes students on the first day of school.
Minister of Education, David Eggen with Greely Road Public School student leaders who were his tour guides during the visit.

Minister of Education, David Eggen (middle) with Fort McMurray Islamic School staff (Principal Mehar Rashid left and Vice Principal Shabana Rahman right) and student leaders.


Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.