Sunday, November 23, 2014

Optimism schools will stay open

The chairs of the Accommodation Review Committees at both Sturgeon Creek and Crossroads are “cautiously optimistic” their schools will remain open after last week’s committee of the whole meeting revealed Rainy River District School Board trustees are opposed to consolidating the two schools with Donald Young School in Emo.
“I’m thrilled,” enthused Jackie McCormick, who chaired the Sturgeon Creek School ARC.

“It makes it feel like all our hard work has paid off.
“I know it hasn’t been finalized as an official vote but I think it looks very promising,” she added.
“I really appreciate what the trustees had to say,” echoed Crossroads ARC chair Krista Kellar.
“Of course, when you are dealing with people, you can never assume anything,” she conceded.
“But I felt a great wave of relief knowing that they heard not only what the community, but the general populous, has said—that consolidation doesn’t make sense,” Kellar added.
“And it looks like common sense is going to prevail.”
The future of these schools had been up for review since June, 2011 when concerns about declining enrolment and surplus capacity, facility condition, and loss of funding for small schools was brought forward.
The three schools each went through the accommodation review process, with each committee recommending their respective school remain open.
Senior administration of the school board, however, recommended consolidating the schools in question.
“I was a little bit surprised,” McCormick admitted after last Wednesday afternoon’s committee of the whole meeting.
“I was expecting a bit more resistance [from the trustees],” she noted. “The impression I had been getting all along was that they weren’t entirely open to this.
“That’s why I was working hard to convince them to keep the schools open,” McCormick added, though saying they always seemed to be playing devil’s advocate.
But the most recent committee of the whole meeting, which saw more than 40 members of the public in attendance, was a different story, with each trustee openly expressing their opinions.
At the meeting, eight possible options and four actions were up for consideration by trustees.
But it seemed the two options most considered have been “Option 3” (consolidation of all three schools with a new school to be built in Emo) and “Option 1” (keep all schools open, and continue regular maintenance and repair).
Trustee Dan Belluz was first to make his opinion known, indicating he felt the schools should be maintained as is for the next few years until more certainty about mining operations in the area can be determined.
While trustee Dianne McCormack said it’s not an easy decision to make not knowing what the future holds, she agreed the three schools in question are “serving our students well and right now there’s no need for change.”
“All we can do is make the best decision with the data we are given,” echoed trustee Ralph Hill, adding he is in favour of “Option 1.”
Trustee Earl Klyne, meanwhile, indicated First Nations’ communities are not prepared to bus their students farther than necessary and are strongly against consolidation of the three schools.
Trustee Dave Kircher said he doesn’t feel this decision is based on finances and offered his opinion that all three schools should remain open, but with Donald Young in Emo being rebuilt due to its previous “prohibitive to repair” status.
“[But] not to accommodate the other schools,” Kircher stressed, noting he’d also like to see the new school designed in such a way that it could be added onto down the road if needed.
“I think it could be done with a little foresight,” he remarked, adding he didn’t feel it necessary to close Crossroads or Sturgeon Creek.
Trustee Marg Heyens and board chair Mike Lewis agreed with Kircher’s suggestion.
“I really think our schools are worth keeping the way our geography is,” Heyens remarked.
Lewis, for his part, noted schools are a large part of sustaining a community.
“There were a couple [of trustees] that I was positive were going to vote for the bigger, better, grander idea,” Kellar admitted.
“It was quite shocked that it was unanimous. But obviously very pleased.”
“I applaud the trustees,” McCormick said. “I think one of the things I had wanted all along was for them to speak their own minds and I think they have really done that.
“They stood up for the people they say they work for—the students—to do the best thing for them.
“Making this decision is definitely the best thing for the kids, so it shows a lot of courage, leadership, and integrity in the education system to stand up for what is best for the kids even though administration didn’t agree,” she added.
Both McCormick and Kellar are hopeful there won’t be a huge change of heart on the trustees’ part between now and the official vote in two weeks.
“If this is successful and we buy our schools another five years, it’ll all be worth it—all the sweat, tears, stress, and headaches,” Kellar stressed.
“Our children are worth it.”
The formal vote is scheduled to take place during the board’s regular meeting Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Education Centre (board office) in Fort Frances.

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