How The New Northwest School Got It’s Name, Robert Thirsk High School

If you live in Northwest Calgary you are probably like me and my kids who have watched the new high school being built from the ground up and have wondered…what are they going to call it?  Well the wait is over as last week the Calgary Board of Education announced the name of the new high school located in the community of Arbour Lake will be called Robert Thirsk.

At the risk of sounding corny, I am “Over the Moon” with the name.  Robert Thirsk is an engineer, physician and a Canadian Astronaut and a former student of the Calgary Board of Education, attending RT Alderman and Lord Beaverbrook High School.  He holds the Canadian record for longest space flight at 187 days and 20 hours and the longest time spent in space 204 days and 18 hours.

Robert Thirsk is a man who believes in public education and said “he was pleased to accept the honour, saying he is the beneficiary of a first-rate public education. “Without a doubt, my inspirational teachers and coaches at R.T. Alderman School and Lord Beaverbrook High School laid the educational foundation under the dreams that propelled me into space. I wish the same for today’s young people and take every opportunity to explain the benefits of education and lifelong learning to students.”

So how did the school get it’s name?  Well within the Board of Trustees policies, specifically Governance Culture, there is a policy called Board Committees or GC-5E, and under that falls School Naming Committee.  The membership of the committee is made up of the Chair which is the Ward Trustee for the community that the school is being built in.  The Chair or the Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, Corporate Secretary of the CBE, and members of the school community, at least 2-3.  On the naming of Robert Thirsk we had four members from the community and four students from each of the middle or junior high schools that are feeder schools to the new high school.

The following is taken directly from the Board of Trustees School Naming Committee – GC-5E

The purpose of the committee is to provide recommendations to the Board of Trustees for the naming of a school.  It is also to ensure that reputation of the CBE is given utmost priority when making recommendations and the values be guided by the principles:

  1. Schools should be named
  • For the district in which they are located
  • For locations or events that show great Canadian historical significance, or after a Canadian whose life work aligns with achievement of the organizational RESULTS, or who has demonstrated exemplary achievement of the organizational RESULTS; or
  • By any other name deemed appropriate by the Board of Trustees
  1. When naming schools after individuals, the use of the names of individuals who are deceased or who have retired will be considered first.
  2. Prior to naming a school after an individual, that individual or immediate family will be requested to grant permission.
  3. Except for high schools, it will be the practice to exclude grade configurations as part of the school name.
  4. Consulatation with the school community to discuss the matter must take place prior to making a recommendation to the Board.

As the community watched the school being built I was approached many times by students, parents, teachers and community members wondering what the school would be called.  I kept a notebook with me and throughout this past year and a half I wrote down each and every name suggested to me.  I took the names to the first committee meeting and presented them to the committee as a starting point.  The committee initially met to decide on how to get input and how to consult with the school community.  The committee felt that they wanted to first get input by seeking input on names.    A survey was posted on the new school website and each feeder school was sent the link to the survey asking for input on a name.  Respondents to the survey were given the parameters described in the Board of Trustees school naming committee, however they also indicated that they were specifically looking for a connection to Calgary either by event, landmark or an individual.

We got an overwhelming response from the school community with suggestions from sports heroes, doctors, philanthropists, inventors, politicians, former staff, famous landmarks, prominent leaders and yes even teenage heart throbs such as Justin Beiber.  The committee specifically wanted the name to have a link to Calgary and with that in mind it came down to four names; Eric Harvie, Brian Keating Peter Lougheed, and  Robert Thirsk.

A second survey was sent out to the school community again and once again posted on the website and we waited anxiously to see the results.  With the survey complete it was now time for the naming committee to hand it over to the Board of Trustees to take a look at and in a nutshell that’s how Robert Thirsk High School got it’s name.

I have had the fortunate opportunity to meet with students, parents and community members who have watched the school being built.  From the digging of the ground, to the ever changing Crowfoot library entrance being rerouted what almost seemed daily to it almost being complete it has truly being exciting.  Robert Thirsk will be the designated High School for students in the communities of Arbour Lake, Citadel, Hawkwood, Ranchlands, Rocky Ridge, Royal Oak and Scenic Acres.

Last week I was fortunate to tour Robert Thirsk High School with Prinicipal Chris Meaden and all I can say is WOW!!!  What a great learning space this will be for our students.   I hope our students feel excited as I am about the exciting opportunities that lay ahead for them when the doors open in September 2013.


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