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. In 1975, knowing how capable their son was yet recognizing how little special educational programming was available for Patrick to be successful, the Mackaseys’ approached Mr. Gordon Bullivant and Mr. Tom Aylesworth, who were professionals working with special needs students, for support.
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 specializing in supporting 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 from the community 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. In 1980 Foothills Academy became a Registered Charity. The current centre was built in Parkdale in 1990, and with a burgeoning student population it expanded in 2012 to accommodate 290 school students. The expansion also provided a larger space for the Community Services offerings; facilitating significant growth in the ability to provide psychological and educational supports to individuals and families whether or not they attend school at Foothills Academy. In 2013 the Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta – Calgary Chapter was absorbed into Foothills Academy, bringing with it the Let’s Be Social program and Camp Amicus.
In June 2015, with Tom’s passing and Gordon’s retirement, Foothills Academy entered into a new era, building upon the incredible vision of these founders. The Board of Governors chose a new Co-Executive Director governance model to oversee the School and Community Services, and appointed Mr. Simon Williams and Dr. Karen MacMillan into these roles.
The impact of Gordon and Tom cannot be understated, as their vision to ensure that no child or family would be turned away due to financial need remains a core value of Foothills Academy. The commitment and dedication of the Foothills Academy staff members, the Board of Governors, and numerous supporters in the Calgary community over the past four decades has had a profound positive impact on thousands of young people and their families.