Foothills Academy was born of the frustration experienced by Bill and Beth Mackasey as their search for an appropriate academic setting for their son, Patrick, proved futile. Knowing how capable their son was, yet recognizing how little special educational programming was available for Patrick to be successful, the Mackaseys’ approached Gordon Bullivant and Tom Aylesworth, who were already working with special needs students, for help.
Over the next two years, from 1975 to 1977, a major research project documented the services available in Calgary and across North America and concluded there to be a need for a segregated school for students with Learning Disabilities. The report was accepted by the Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta – Calgary Chapter, however, a consortium of stakeholders including the two public boards, felt a research centre would be sufficient and would not endorse the segregated school project. Undaunted, Mr. and Mrs. Mackasey, Gordon and Tom, decided to continue to pursue the idea of a segregated school, and formed a society whose purpose would be to start a private, non-profit school and centre. Financial support was sought and in September of 1979 the first 33 students began their school year at Foothills Academy, located in the old St. Pius School in Capitol Hill.
For the next 35 years (1979 – 2015) Foothills Academy thrived with Gordon Bullivant as the Executive Director and Tom Aylesworth as the Business Administrator. The current centre was built in Parkdale in 1990, and expanded in 2012 with a burgeoning student population which will reach its maximum this year at 275. The expansion also provided a greater number of counselling, assessment, and individual instruction rooms, facilitating significant growth in all of those areas as well. In 2013 the Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta – Calgary Chapter was absorbed into Foothills Academy, bringing with it the social skills program and Camp Amicus.
The vision of these founders and the commitment and dedication of the employees over the past three and half decades has had a profound and positive impact on thousands of young people and families. The impact of Gordon and Tom cannot be understated, as they always wanted to ensure that no child or family would be turned away due to financial need. In accordance with their vision, Foothills Academy Society continues to raise over $800,000 annually to support the bursary fund, allowing access to our school and community services for all.
The commitment and dedication of the employees over the past four decades has had a profound and positive impact on thousands of young people and families. In 2015, with Tom’s passing and Gordon’s retirement, Foothills Academy entered into a new era, yet still focused on the incredible vision of these founders.