The following story originally appeared in the February 12th edition of the Spruce Grove Examiner/Stony Plain Reporter. Photo and story by Marcia Love
For nearly four decades, Darlene Marcinkevics has dedicated her career to providing better opportunities for education for her students.
Now the principal of Spruce Grove Composite High School (SGCHS) is preparing for retirement and can proudly look back on her 39-year career and see the improvements that have been made – and it makes her proud.
Marcinkevics has been with Parkland School Division for 37 years. After graduating from the University of Alberta, she spent her first two years as a physical education teacher within the Northern Gateway Regional School Division at Sangudo Junior High School.
Marcinkevics joined Parkland School Division in 1979 at Stony Plain Junior High School (now Stony Plain Central School) and moved to the high school the following year, eventually becoming Science Department Head, Assistant Principal and, in 2009, Principal of SGCHS.
She feels extremely blessed to have spent the last 36 years at the school, where she’s seen remarkable changes take place within the education system.
“We are a school of change,” said Marcinkevics, who was there for the opening of the new SGCHS at its current location.
One of the biggest changes she was excited to be a part of was High School Redesign. Originally dubbed the High School Flexibility Enhancement Pilot Project, SGCHS was one of 16 schools in the province to become involved in the drive to improve the education system by moving away from the traditional “stand-up-and-lecture” format of the classroom. Undertaken in 2007, the intention was to dissolve the century-old Carnegie Unit, which required students to complete a specific amount of classroom time.
“(The Carnegie Unit) didn’t take into account those students who needed more time to learn…or those who could just fly through something,” Marcinkevics explained.
The goal was to increase the number of students graduating high school and decrease the number of those dropping out. This was all to be done while allowing flexibility for students to learn “anytime, any place, any pace.”
At SGCHS, this meant building in seminar time so students have the opportunity to connect with any teacher they wish to get more clarification from. In addition, students were introduced to personalized learning time for half a day once a month when they could speak with any teacher, work on projects, or redo assignments or exams. Inreach was also created at SGCHS for students as an alternative to its Outreach program and allowed struggling students to benefit from one-on-one time with teachers.
Nine years later, Marcinkevics said the high school’s completion rate is 83 percent – up from 72 percent in 2007. Its dropout rate has decreased from 4.3 percent to 2.2 percent.
“We’re one of the leading schools in Alberta compared to the provincial rate,” the principal proudly stated.
She attributes the successes at the school to the staff’s willingness to take a risk and embrace change, which can be difficult to do.
Over the last few years, the positive improvements in a variety of areas have been “like night and day,” Marcinkevics said. Participation has improved in athletics and drama, and the school’s music program was completely revamped two years ago to thrive more than ever before. SGCHS has 47 different clubs and activities.
“It’s amazing, and I feel very blessed to have been given the opportunity to have been a part of it,” Marcinkevics said of the positive growth at the school.
The key, she said, is to maintain a passion for the job, which extends into dedicating more time to the students who want to participate in a variety of extra-curricular activities to ensure they have those opportunities.
While she will immensely miss working with students and seeing them grow, Marcinkevics feels the moment has come for her to hand the reins over to someone new for the 2016-2017 school year.
“It’s life-changing,” she said of her upcoming retirement. “But I’ve spent 39 years as an educator, and it’s time to turn it over to the younger people.”
But that doesn’t mean Marcinkevics will be slowing down much. When the school year wraps up, she’ll complete her 15th and final year teaching summer school, then has a few volunteering ideas in mind to keep herself busy. The educator would like to provide tutoring through the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, assist at seniors’ centres, and dedicate time to the YMCA. She would also consider mentoring should the opportunity come up with the Division.
As she wraps up her life-ling career, Marcinkevics will continue to lead her life by the motto that has always guided her every day at SGCHS: “Live, love, laugh, learn and leave a legacy.”
The following video was produced by staff members in 2014 to celebrate Darlene’s 35th Anniversary with Parkland School Division.