Celebrating a decade of learning

Samuel Robertson opened its doors 10 years ago with plans to expand

Principal Dennis Dickson

Ten years ago, Samuel Robertson Technical was born. The building was underweight, and is still waiting for a growth spurt.

The school was built for $16.75 million, completed in 2005, and opening for 600 students in 2006. The provincial government of the day said a new addition would effectively double the size of the new technical high school, but that has never materialized.

That said, there have been as many as 12 portables on site, and registration has been at times, more than 1,000 students.

Mike Keenan was a first-time principal at SRT, with an opportunity few school administrators are ever given – to hire his own staff from scratch.

“It was a very exciting time. We had keen energetic teachers and support people, all coming into a new building,” remembers Keenan, who has since moved on to administer at Pitt Meadows secondary.

“The biggest strength of the school was the staff – dedicated, committed, hard working … The building always had an energy, and they made that place hum.”

Keenan, who is also a former vice-principal at Maple Ridge secondary, said the school had modern building technology, the shops and tech facilities were all “college calibre,” and teachers all got laptops for the first time in the district.

The school established partnerships with colleges to deliver vocational and trades programs.

Those partnerships are still in place, with Vancouver Community College offering hairstyling and chef training, BCIT metal fabrication and Kwantlen woodwork.

Trades programs weren’t a popular option for students a decade ago.

“We really had to pound the pavement to get kids to enroll,” said Keenan.

“It’s much easier to attract kids (to trades) today. They know there’s more opportunities for employment.”

That trades strategy pioneered there has since spread to all high schools in the district, with others partnering with colleges for programming.

SRT started young. Keenan said the district opened the school with 275 Grade 8 students – which is a huge class by today’s standards. There were no Grade 12s – so no grad ceremonies in 2006 – and fewer than 100 Grade 11s. But Grad 2010 – when that first huge group of Grade 8s finally got their Dogwoods – was a gala event at the Red Robinson Show Theatre in Coquitlam.

Present principal Dennis Dickson said SRT has gone from a technical focus to a “full community school” offering all grad requirements – there are 870 students enrolled in regular classes and 60 to 70 trades students. There are still 10 portables on site.

“It’s always been popular, since the day it opened.”

He said the 10th birthday celebration is set for May 13 and will offer a “carnival-type atmosphere” for alumni and former teachers, with a photo booth, SRT trivia game, science and magic show, robotics demo and even a dunk tank.

“You can try dunking one of your old teachers, if that’s your bent,” he said.

It will run from 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Keenan said the school has had its share of successes, from the spirit of a football program, to trades excellence that led to students winning in the Skills Canada competition.

School board chairman Mike Murray has felt that energy in what he calls the spirit of students and school traditions.

“In its relatively short history, it has created some strong traditions,” he said.

Unfortunately, until other high schools fill up, SRT will not be growing in size. The school district still has room in its high schools, including nearby Garibaldi secondary, so the education ministry will not approve an addition at SRT.

“We have capacity in our secondary schools, so it’s hard to justify expanding any one of them,” said Murray.

SRT’s first decade has flown by, said Keenan. “I’m finding it very hard to believe it’s already been 10 years.”

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