Sunday, December 14, 2008

Many questions still on Pacific Coast School issue

Still rather stunned by Prince Rupert City Council’s denial of a rezoning application for the Pacific Coast School, School District 52 officials were pushing ahead to secure an alternative location for their new model for education, one which did not find favour with their would be neighbours of the Cow Bay District.
It was a decision which, as we outlined in a blog item on Thursday has provided for no shortage of debate in the community over just what is behind the decision to deny the School District use of the Seasport location on 1st Avenue East. The controversial decision has continued to echo around the community through the weekend, as residents digested details of the decision and the background on it provided over the last few days.

In the headline, front page story in Thursday’s Daily News the School District made their case for the proposed location, expressing disappointment at the turn of events and the some of the underlying impressions that have arisen from the controversy.

Thursday’s paper also provided some commentary in the Letters to the Editor page, where Brenda Leighton questioned School District’s planning on the new school and wondered about any consultation with the First Nations community in the region. Her letter provided a number of questions that she would like more information on from the School District regarding the mission of the new school.

While City Council seeks ways to quell the festering backlash against their decision and the School District works on Plan B and perhaps a few more details for the now very curious public, a local taxi driver has taken the initiative to seek out the assistance of the Prince Rupert population, Friday’s paper features the story of Frank Racy, who collected 127 signatures last Wednesday morning, all in support of the school that had been destined for Cow Bay.

With that show of support gathered in a short time, there may yet be a wedge in place to revisit council’s decision at least if we read between the lines in Mayor Mussallem’s response to the petition of Mr. Racy.

It seems that perhaps this issue is destined for council once again, providing for a proper debate on the merits of the location and how it fits in with the spectrum of services and businesses in the region already.

We have a feeling that while the School District may be looking for a new location, there are more than a few citizens, taxpayers and voters who may wish to hold council accountable for the loss of the old one.

As they say in those TV cliffhangers, stay tuned next week…

School District must now go back to the drawing board to get school open elsewhere
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Pages one and five

Despite opposition for locating School District 52's newest school on the edge of Cow Bay, senior school district staff and trustees are confident that new students of Pacific Coast School will begin classes in February.

Superintendent of Schools Eric Mercer said the resolve of the district has not weakened, and that another location would be secured immediately.

Mercer said that while it was unfortunate to see the Cow Bay merchants oppose the project as it was, the school district would continue to serve the needs of all students in the community.

Planning for the site location with the City of Prince Rupert began back in the spring, after the district expressed an interest in leasing the First Avenue East location for the purpose of hosting the unique alternate secondary school. Learning that a wrench had been thrown into existing plans for locating the school, many SD52 representatives had harsh words for city council's decision and the collective Cow Bay Merchants Association.

"The nature of the discussion left us with a bit of confusion as to what they were talking about," said Mercer.

"Some things were being said with such an undertone to them that we have a feeling there is something else lurking beneath this.

"Comments such as the 'type of students,' mentioning playgrounds when we're talking about young adults, and the safety concerns from some of the light industrial businesses that were there.

"They were fearful that they pose a risk to the public, and didn't want to be held liable for hurting and harming people. I really had no idea that students being in Cow Bay was such a public risk, and that would be a concern to us. Perhaps they should consider that for the tourists and Young children who also bring adults into that area."

SD52 Board Vice-Chair Bart Kuntz. said he was disappointed to hear ahOll1 the city council decision, given, the positive working relationship the' district had maintained with the City for more than six months.

Kuntz said until Tuesday he believed everyone in the community was united in the belief that Pacific Coast will be a positive place to give many students the chance they need to succeed in Prince Rupert, and that all past meetings with the city were indicative of that goal.

Trustees Louisa Sanchez and Russell Wiens also expressed disappointment that area merchants decided to voice opposition to the project at such a late date, and questioned their motivations for concern.

"I didn't think that the reasons for denying it were valid," said Wiens. "There seemed to be an undercurrent of other things there. I'm optimistic that we'll find a spot, and we're still anticipating that it will open in February just like we said it will be. We're going to have a great school, and there's no point in having our students in an area that, as it was said at the meeting, is a 'hostile environment.'"

Mercer was particularly bothered by the fact that the Hecate Strait Employment Development Society moved into its new location without any similar resistance, despite the fact that it provides educational and workplace training to youths and adults.

"Given that there was no opposition to the opening of Councillor Bedard's learning centre, we were more than confident that this would be a great place to be, in proximity to that institution and a number of others for vocational reasons," said Mercer. "It was noticeable that she wasn't there, and being also an educator moving into the area I thought that her insight would be very useful for council to have. But her absence was noted by many."

SD52 spent minimal funds in preparing the First Avenue location and held off signing a lease until after zoning approval. Mercer said the location of Pacific Coast School will need to be central, whether that be close to Cow Bay or somewhere in the downtown core. There are still locations on the district's short list to consider. But before anything else happens, Mercer said SD52 has presented the City of Prince Rupert with a simple question: "Where will you have us?"
Letter to the Editor
Prince Rupert Daily News
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Page four

School plans need answers

To the editor,

An open letter to School District 52 Superintendent of Schools Eric Mercer Dear Mr. Mercer,
For many years I have been involved in the education field, albeit in the realm of post -secondary education.

However, after reading the article regarding the Pacific Coast School in the newspaper on Fri., Nov. 21, 2008, (City's newest school begins to take shape) my interest in the secondary school system was piqued and I found myself wondering about a number of things regarding the school.
I decided to write this letter to give you the opportunity to answer some of my questions so that I will have a clearer picture of why this school is being started, the programs it will offer and the staff that will be employed.

To begin, I am curious as to how this new school came to be. It is my understanding that the previous alternate school was closed. I would appreciate it if you would explain the reasons for the closure of one alternate program and the opening of another. I believe that the previous program focused on students attaining their high school diploma or school leaving certificate. Please describe the programs that will be offered in the new alternate school and the reasons for offering each particular program.

Also, it is my understanding that there was a high enrollment of First Nation students, approximately 94 per cent, in the previous alternate program. I assume that there will be a number of First Nation students in the new one as well. In a district that has a First Nation student population of approximately 57 per cent, please explain how much involvement the First Nation professionals working within School District #52 have had in the design of this new school, the development of curriculum for the programs that will be offered and in the choice of instructors and facilitators for these programs.

The newspaper article mentioned that "council circles" will be held each morning at the school. I would appreciate it if you would give me a detailed explanation on what these circles are, why the circles are used, how they are conducted and who leads and directs them. The article also stated that $100,000 of "school closure savings" has been allocated for the implementation of this school. Please explain to me how the district intends to sustain the school once it begins. In light of the fact that in this district there were two other schools closed besides the alternate school; I would like to know if residents were notified before the closure of Kanata and Seal Cove schools that the district planned on opening an alternate school using "school closure savings"? I look forward to your explanations to my questions.

Brenda L. Leighton

Taxi driver's lobbying hits high gear
Frank Racy collects 127 signatures on petition for alternate school
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Friday, December 12, 2008
Pages one and three

Taxi driver Frank Racy was watching Monday's city council regular meeting and said he couldn't sit at home and let the conversation go on any further without his input.

So, Racy got in his car drove over to city hall and stepped up to the microphone to share his story and explain how, as a single father of three boys, he believed Pacific Coast Alternate School would make a difference if it were located near Cow Bay.

"When I saw what was going on at city hall on TV, I decided to go down there and say what I thought.

"One of the shop owners down there was reading a petition, I think he said he had seven or eight signatures against having the alternate school in the Cow Bay area," said Racy.

Opening an alternate school could make all the difference in the world to Racy's middle son, whose had difficulties keeping up with his peers, he said.

"I have a 16-year-old boy who has passed from Grade 8 to Grade 10, whose grade level is maybe not even Grade 8 but they kept passing him so when it got to a point he's looking at school work it's like looking at something foreign to him," said Racy.

After city council's decision on Monday to deny the re-zoning application for Seasports building on First Avenue - helped by the signed petition from some Cow Bay merchants - Racy decided to create a petition of his own supporting the school at that location.

On Wednesday morning, after an early morning taxi shift, Racy walked up and down Second and Third Avenue West collecting signatures for his petition and the support was stronger than he dared hope for.

Amazingly, Racy received 127 Rupertite's signatures in support of the First Avenue location for the alternate school.

"It wasn't easy. There were some people that were against it - in fact, they were the toughest ones to talk to. One fellow must have talked to me for about 15 minutes and I just stood there listening saying 'why not this and why not that' and I told him I am just a parent I don't know all the background like that. I just know that this school is needed for students like my son who just can't make it in (regular) high school," said Racy.

While city councillors have said they support the school in principle, the decision to not open the school near Cow Bay has divided people in town. Racy hopes that his petition will change city hall's mind because the school is much too important to be ignored.

Prince Rupert Mayor Jack Mussallem said that reconsidering the initial zoning application is not possible under the Local Government Act but if there was enough city groundswell support for another re-zoning application for the Seasports building, then the city would consider it.

"If somebody were to make an application for rezoning at that location, or perhaps another one, then perhaps that petition was added to it or more properly the people who signed the petition showed up at the public hearing it may change the outcome," said Mussallem.

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