Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The dominoes begin to tumble at SD 52

Tuesday nights School District 52 meeting seems to have pushed the middle school option a little further down the road to application, as school trustees voted on the contentious issue of closure for Prince Rupert Secondary School, introduction of a middle school option and with that, the first notice of potential closure for three more of the city's elementary schools.

As the Northern View outlines in a post to their website from last night, the push for the middle school configuration appears to be fully underway now, this after two consultation sessions with parents and interested Rupertites outlined the plans of what were at the time presented as a proposal, with Tuesday's vote that proposal that once upon a time seemed dead, now seems to have become a blue print.

Only trustee Janet Biel voted against the middle school option and the elementary school closures, outlining for the weekly paper how she always believed that the school board had it's mind set on the middle school plan.
It's a belief that a number of Rupertites believe as well, with the recent public consultations considered to be more of an exercise in turning the public towards the plan, than actual debate on the issue.

With that vote to permanently close Prince Rupert Secondary School after the 2010-11 school year and introduce the middle school system in September of 2011, the other dominoes on the educational front have now been put into play, that of the potential closures of other elementary schools in the city.

With the school district set to remove grades six and seven from the current elementary system, it would appear that the worst case scenario for local neighbourhood schools has been put in place.

With Tuesday's vote, Westview, Roosevelt Park and Port Edward schools have all been put on notice for potential closure as well. A move which some observers to Tuesday's meeting suggest now puts the three schools into a competition to see if any will survive the final cut, perhaps to come as soon as January.
That announcement of notice of "potential" closure should provide a return to some of the concerns of the recent past when it came to proposed changes on the west side of the city.

In her response to the outcome of the vote, Trustee Biel expressed a concern that the process hasn't been particularly transparent, and there may be some truth to that thought about the optics of the decision making process here.

While the public consultation meetings had been widely promoted and reported on over the last couple of months, each declaration from them always seemed to end with the caveat that "nothing was for certain", yet with the most recent meeting only a few weeks behind us, it seems that much of the SD's plans are now for certain.

Leaving one to wonder how much of the community participation and feedback from those meetings was considered in the short period between the meetings and the vote on Tuesday.

School Board chair Tina Last reinforced the constant School District talking point that "Because a school gets read a bylaw for closure doesn’t guarantee it’s going to be closed. What it does is start a very serious discussion that includes a minimum 60-day consultation period".

It's a statement which has been issued before, but in the end, a proposed school closure announcement does seem to actually end in the closure of the school, ask the former students, teachers and parents of Seal Cove and Kanata schools and now PRSS about that process and the inevitability that it seems to bring.

There clearly are hard decisions to be made about School District 52's future configuration and the expense of running a school system in trying economic times, but for those critics of the current process, the image of selling the proposal to a middle school seems to be of more concern to the School District than an actual debate on the issue.

The elementary school closure issues stemming from the middle school introduction should have been more prominently discussed in those public consultations, allowing the parents and students to better understand what the future would bring for them as far as their neighbourhood schools were concerned.

For many that feel that those schools serve an important part of life in their neighbourhoods, pushing towards the middle school plan may be too costly an emotional adventure than they may wish to take.

In the end, it may mean removing the familiarity of the local neighbourhood school and turning to what many fear will be a smaller number of "super" schools, moving students of all ages out of their neighbourhoods and into the larger centres of learning.

It proved to be a controversial and emotional move on the east side of the city when Kanata and Seal Cove were closed and those students streamed into Lax Keen and Conrad schools. We suspect that the feedback will once again prove to be boisterous when it comes to the West side schools as well.

If it's financial issues at the heart of this debate, then the School District needs to be upfront about that, outlining the expense of running the system in its current configuration compared to what they would ultimately like to see.
Expanding the process to provide for all of the details of the proposals, costs of implementation and potential closures from them to the public for further study. Explaining the number of potential job cuts that could come from these decisions and how that would impact on the budget, as well as outlining the cost of a bus program to move students to the new options that would come from the configuration program.

Then once again offering the opportunity to the public to provide the feedback that the School District says it wants.

In the end the decisions for change, may be a solution which parents and taxpayers may wish to make for themselves in a referendum vote, but only after having had the time to examine all the relevant points to the debate.
Note of clarifcation, Dec 9, 5 pm : In the item above, it could be interpreted that the actual building hosting PRSS was to close, that is not the case. As part of the middle school program, the PRSS building would cease to be a high school and would instead house the middle school (after what we imagine would be extensive renovations), our apologies if anyone understood the article to mean that the actual building was to close. So in short, only the use of the building as a high school would change, the building itself reborn as a middle school.

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