Future of Citadelschools.ca

This site is being moved to a new server.   I will be keeping it online as an archive, and so that people facing similar issues with the same players, be they school boards, provincial governments or consultants have a nice little resource.  I like the fact that this site shows up pretty high on Google and Bing…

Thanks again everyone,

Waye

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A bitter sweet victory for education.

It has been two and a half years since we started to fight for our children.   We have fought for smaller schools, community schools, parental involvement, board responsibility, government accountability.  During that time, we have tried some ideas that worked, some that failed.

The Minister took our calls on her cell phone, the HRSB Superintendent did not, the consultants started by ignoring us and in the end they too took our calls.   The elected school board got fired, though we cannot take sole responsibility for this.  In the end, we succeed, and none of the schools proposed for closure will be closed.

Let’s review, for a moment.  The original proposal on fall 2006 was a staff proposal to closes Inglis, St Mary’s and Le Marchant/St Thomas to create a single mega-school, 700 students P-6.  Parents fought and defeated that.

We insisted that parents should be involved, as they were in the 2002 school review and that we should make recommendations to the Board.  We were initially promised that by Carol Olsen, in June of 2007, but by September it had turned into parents talking to consultants from Toronto who would then write a report for all of the peninsula, with no direct parental involvement.  Nevertheless, parents came out for meeting after meeting to try and shape the process, no matter how biased and unfair the process the consultants were running was designed to be.

The consultants proposed, in spring 2008, to close three schools on the peninsula.  HRSB staff submitted their own report, and proposed to close different schools.  Parents and school communities organized again, came out again, to argue their case.  In the end, the one man school board, Howard Windsor, decided to close St Mary’s and St Patricks/Alexandra.  One school had been recommended by the expensive consulting process that no one supported.  One had not.

In October 2008 a new smaller board was elected.  They decided to review the decisions.  Today, they have decided to close St Pats.  St Mary’s for the millionth time has been saved from the chopping block.  While today there are some parents at St Pats who are very upset, most believe a single better resourced school will serve that community better.

While we have every reason to celebrate beating back the poorly thought out decisions of a bureaucracy at HRSB that no longer seems associated with the reality of education in this city, you can expect the celebrations will be muted.

Why?

Hundreds and hundreds of hours of parent volunteer time has been poured into saving schools, participating in processes, fighting the school board, mobilizing communities.  There is only a finite amount of time each parent has in each school to help make that school a better place.  Instead of raising money for playgrounds, organizing extracurriculars, supporting teachers in the classroom, parents have been sending emails, writing press releases, making placards, attending endless meetings.

We can only hope that the school board will force staff to accept a new model of capital planning that would ensure parental involvement at the beginning, to ensure the communities are heard at all levels of planning, not just in the dramatic and emotional end.

Congratulations to all the families who have worked so hard to save these schools, you deserve a break, and I am sure you will all enjoy a return to your normal, uninterrupted lives.

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St Mary’s – It’s Over!

I hadn’t arrived at tonight’s meeting expecting to be biting my fingers. Quite the opposite, I’d arrived thinking that there was no way the board could possibly elect to close Saint Mary’s. We’d presented too compelling a case to the contrary for them to seriously consider closure. We’d turned out in numbers so great and with logics so clear and undeniable that they couldn’t help but see the wisdom in leaving us open. We’d been methodical and thorough and we’d considered and anticipated every eventuality. Tonight belonged to victory.
 
But it was not a clear shot to the finish line, not at all. There was challenge and distraction, anxiety and uncertainty right up to the end and it turned out the Saint Mary’s people, the many with whom I subsequently spoke, had all shared a collective sense of dread at the turn things had appeared to be taking and the trainwreck that seemed to be manifesting before our very eyes. But it was averted, fortunately, and in the end, IN THE END, we did emerge completely and utterly victorious and it was extraordinarily sweet.
 
On behalf of everyone who will benefit from tonight’s decision, I thank the committee. On behalf of the committee, I thank the hundreds, HUNDREDS, of community members that showed up when and wherever they could and made an impression that the board could neither forget nor dismiss. I don’t even know whether it’s appropriate for me to be thanking everyone on everyone else’s behalf but we did a great job, all of us, and so there it is: THANK YOU. This is an unconditional success, no strings attached, and I hope everyone takes a moment to enjoy that to the fullest extent possible.
 
Cindy and Michele
Co-chairs
Saint Mary’s Elementary now defunct Study Review Committee

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Board votes to close St. Patrick’s-Alexandra | Herald |

Board votes to close St. Patrick’s -Alexandra

The Halifax regional school board voted 5-3 Tuesday to close St. Patrick’s-Alexandra School after a review and public meetings on the fate of the peninsular site.

Members had debated closing the Maitland Street school by September of this year but decided to have a separate vote on the date of the closure, a move that ultimately gave the school some breathing room.

In a separate decision, the school board voted 8-0 to keep Saint Mary’s School open.

St. Patrick’s-Alexandra serves pupils in grades Primary to 9. At its meeting Tuesday, the school board initially talked about keeping the school open but that proposal died on the floor.

Then the board debated closing the school this year, and finally discussed delaying the shutdown until 2011. The vote to close the school in 2011 was tied, and board chairman Irvine Carvery broke the deadlock, opting for the later closure.

Board members said they appreciate how important the school is to many families in the community, but the meeting also heard that lots of parents over the years have sent their children to schools out of the district.

St. Patrick’s-Alexandra not only had a declining enrolment to deal with, but “an image problem” as an undesirable school to attend, board members said.

An audience of parents, students and teachers heard that a new school is planned to replace St. Pat’s-Alexandra, but principal Ken Fells wasn’t optimistic it’ll be built any time soon. He told reporters he’s worried about his students having to adjust to new schools.

“None of the (board) members that talked up there talked about transition time, and what the transition’s going to be like for our children to go to other schools,” Mr. Fells said. “It’s going to be very hard.”

Saint Mary’s, situated on Morris Street, serves students in grades Primary to 6. Board members said the school has much to offer pupils and parents, but a couple of them worried about potential fire hazards inside the building.

According to the Halifax board’s website, Saint Mary’s was built in 1950 and had 110 students in 2008. St. Patrick’s-Alexandra was built in 1971 and had 80 students registered last year, the website says.

Howard Windsor, the retired civil servant who was a one-man school board for almost two years at the request of former education minister Karen Casey, had ruled that both Halifax schools and Alderney School, a Dartmouth elementary, needed to be reviewed for closure.

His decision was a response to the first phase of Imagine Our Schools, a long-term master plan for facilities prepared by Toronto consultants.

The only way to appeal a school closing will be through the courts, Mr. Carvery said this week. Any appeal will have to be based on how board members carried out the process, he said.

Alderney School’s fate will be decided tonight.

( mlightstone@herald.ca)

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HRSB Board Meeting to take place at Citadel High.

It is a big day coming up. Tuesday, March 24, 6:00pm, is the moment of truth for schools facing closure.

The board has elected to bring that week’s board meeting to us, into the heart of the Saint Mary’s and St. Pats-Alexandra communities, for the votes on whether or not to close one or the other or both of the schools. Citadel High will host the event. Hats off to the elected board for giving this part of the process the recognition, accessibility, profile and conclusion it so thoroughly deserves.

It’s been a long slog since last March when we were targeted for closure by Mr. Windsor, the one-man board. It is to him that we owe our current challenge. But we’ve been here before and demonstrated to the board, the four democratically elected bodies that preceded him, that we’re relevant and effective and distinct. It’s no different this time round. Let’s see whether the board’s been listening and show them that we’re all ears.

Come on out on the 24th and get behind this effort one more time.
Citadel High,
Tuesday, March 24, 6:00 pm.
Lots of on-site and on-street parking.

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Kids cry out for school – Students among those who speak at public meeting in effort to prevent closure of Saint Mary’s Elementary | The Herald.



Carole MacLean, a retired teacher, speaks during a public forum Tuesday discussing the possible closing of Saint Mary’s Elementary School. City councillor Dawn Sloane, who represents the area, waits for her turn at the microphone. (Staff)

Teachers, parents and most importantly, the students themselves, all wore their hearts on their sleeves Tuesday evening as they stood up and spoke out to save Saint Mary’s Elementary School in Halifax.

Several youngsters also shared their feelings about their beloved school. They hung their artwork inside and outside the Morris Street building, scribbled heartfelt valentines to their school and sang during a passionate public performance in the school gymnasium.

The community gathering was hosted by Halifax regional school board to hear directly from those affected by the school’s possible closure. Several people in attendance were stuck standing on the fringes of the gym since there were no empty seats.

Chairman Irvine Carvery, superintendent Carole Olsen, district representative David Cameron and other school board members listened patiently as dozens of people lined up at the microphone to share their thoughts on why Saint Mary’s should stay open.

Grade 4 students Kathleen Stewart and Ann Elizabeth Finnigan were the first of many children to bravely express their thoughts in front of the large crowd.

“We need Saint Mary’s School to stay open because little kids need little schools,” the nine-year-old girls said in perfect unison as supportive claps echoed throughout the gym.

“Well, that’s a tough act to follow,” Mr. Carvery said with a chuckle.

Scott Purcell lives about a half-hour outside the city core, but said he chose to start his daughter off in Grade Primary at the school because of its high quality. He pointed to the school’s small class sizes, its multiculturalism and the daycare next door as major benefits.

“This school should be what we strive for,” he said.

Fellow out-of-area parent Charles Crosby agreed Saint Mary’s helps his family feel like a part of the community, adding “this school is the embodiment of what we should be trying to build.”

City councillor Dawn Sloane, who represents downtown Halifax including the area that covers Saint Mary’s, agreed the school board shouldn’t “close something that’s not broken.”

Teacher Jill Macumber said it doesn’t matter that there’s no specialized music space at Saint Mary’s. She said the gymnasium actually provides concert-like acoustics.

“Children have more room to explore with materials such as scarves, ribbons, balls and instruments without feeling constricted,” she said.

Ms. Macumber said she “would far rather teach at a unique and special school like Saint Mary’s, without a music room, than at another school with a perfect musical space but no Saint Mary’s community surrounding it.”

Grade 6 teacher Andrea Fader choked up with emotion as she said her choice to come to the school was “the best decision that I ever made.”

She said students there have “zero behavioural issues.”

“You either have to retire or die from the school in order to get a position,” she said, inciting laughs all around. “And that speaks mountains.”

Helena Sparavalo spoke articulately about her appreciation for the school.

“We have unforgettable teachers and they treat us all equally and they always have smiles on their faces,” the little girl said. “Even though Saint Mary’s is a small school, it has a big heart.”

The small south-end school with a population of about 115 students is one of three on the potential chopping block this year.

St. Patrick’s-Alexandra, an elementary and junior high school in north-end Halifax, and Alderney Elementary School in central Dartmouth are also up for review.

The public meetings for the other two schools have already wrapped up, but the school board will continue hearing from Saint Mary’s community members on Thursday evening. Mr. Carvery has said the school board should hold its final votes on all three schools by the end of next month.

Click here for more information on the school review process.

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Saint Mary’s Elementary: Call to action

We have one more job to do as a school community. It could be our last or the first of a new beginning. The job: show the school board that we care about what we have at Saint Mary’s and want to preserve it.

Tuesday, February 17, 6:00 pm, Saint Mary’s Gym

This is our last chance and final responsibility under the school review process. They have our report, they’ve heard from the committee chairs, now they want to hear directly from you. It is essential that anyone who cares about Saint Mary’s – anyone with a child they’re hoping will attend the school next year, anyone who’s benefitted from it in the past or hopes to in the future, anyone who likes having Saint Mary’s as a neighbour, a resource, or a model – show up and say so.

Recently the board held the first of these meetings with St. Pats-Alexandra, also under review. According to the press the meeting was well-attended. This is what the board is looking for. And the media will be watching. We want to give the board and the public the biggest and clearest message we can muster.

Cindy Littlefair and Michele Gerard
Co-chairs
School Review Study Committee

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We are back

Sorry for the website disappearing for a while, I had forgotten to update the payment info and the renewal emails were going to an old email account!

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School Board Election Looms, Public Yawns.

Republished from Halifaxpolitics.ca

The school board elections are a short two weeks away.  In Halifax, the new, smaller Board means fewer seats, but the last few years of controversy seems to mean more interest and more candidates.  Election signs and pamphlets abound.

It has been some time since I have written about education.  Call it a combination of burn out on the issue, and an interest in returning to anonymity.  Like dozens of parents, I spent hundreds of hours lobbying, fighting and threatening to save our schools, starting with my kid’s school, then spreading to peninsula schools, and then spreading to reforming the school capital planning system. The fight was over three years long.

In the end the “Imagine Our Schools” process, put forward in part because of our demands, produced almost no serious change from past plans.  Lots of citizen’s energy, lots of hope, vacuumed up into a vortex of ambiguity and paternalistic policies determined from above.

Without a doubt, the whole thing was a disappointment, and it continues to damage our communities around the proposed closures of an almost full school, St Mary’s.

A lot of people have asked why I didn’t run for School Board.   With respect to the many decent, hardworking people who are running, I have a simple answer.

It won’t make any difference who is elected, as the Board serves little to no purpose.

Even before the changes the Minister has proposed to the Education Act, the Boards were ineffective, neutered, and without purpose.

Boards in Nova Scotia do not sign contracts with their own employees, the Province does that.  Boards in Nova Scotia do not build schools, or even maintain them for projects over $200,000, as the Province does that.  The curriculum is not developed by the Boards, the Province does that.  The revenue is not determined by taxation power at the Board level, the Province and the municipalities do that.

Halifax Regional School Board does not control the revenue, or the overwhelming majority of the expenses of the Board.  The only way to address staffing costs is to cut staff.

Even worse, the boards are deeply underfunded.  Compared to Waterloo, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Victoria, the Halifax board receives 35% less funding per student.  This works out to over $100 million dollars in underfunding.

On top of all this, the proposed change to the act would effectively end the role of Board members as representatives of the public, in the way councilors and MLAs represent their constituencies.
Indeed, the Province based its defense of firing the HRSB in part on the “inappropriate” meeting between Lynn MacGregor and her constituents on the issue of closing schools.

By changing the Act, the boards will be transformed into advisory panels to the Minister, where only the means of selection is public.  Once elected,  a board member will be there to tow the party line, or be fired.

So for me, it was an easy decision not to run. All that board members are elected to do is take the heat from the angry public for decisions about funding, programming and capital that are actually made by the Department, Minister and Cabinet.

Sadly, until we have a comprehensive reform of funding and governance, we can all expect more of the same, no matter who is elected.

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Saint Mary’s Elementary: the message

Thursday, September 25, 2008

 

REPORT FROM THE SAINT MARY’S CLOSURE REVIEW COMMITTEE

 

At a meeting this past Monday the review committee created a strategy for spreading the Saint Mary’s message. In order to get the public’s attention and support in opposing closure we decided we needed to highlight certain points. It is in the best interest of our effort to save the school, and those who want to help us save it, that we keep our message simple, emotional and memorable. This will be accomplished with a platform built on three central pillars. As we go forward the Saint Mary’s community and its supporters need to emphasize that:

 

consensus was clobbered: In a display of unilateral and arbitrary decision-making the HRSB ignored the recommendation of its own consultant, subverted due process and changed the rules of engagement mid-stride.

community in all its forms was brushed aside:

·         around the school: the impact on business, residential and institutional members in the immediate geographic community was minimized;

·         within the school: a school of and by choice and likewise a community of choice and of spirit received repeated criticism for harbouring too many out-of-area students;

·         within the region: the importance of preserving and fostering a youth presence in the downtown core was marginalized and the resulting effect on urban revitalization and renewal dismissed.

 

“small” is being slammed: government is rapidly pushing toward the bigger- is-better philosophy and we are at risk of being its next victim. We are falling prey to bullying by those in power because we don’t fit their model of education – big-box schools.  Small is under attack both in principle and in fact: as an effective model of programme delivery and as a community that’s been targeted for closure five times in the last 20 years.

 

Whenever discussing the proposed closure, and we hope you discuss it often, these are the points we suggest and hope you will make. This is the way we hope to guide the discussion and attract support. The report that the committee is writing will stand as our full and official response to the board but our public message will emphasize these points:

 

Consensus, Community and Size.

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the committee. You can leave messages for: Michele Gerard, co-chair, at Atlantic News, 429-5468; or Cindy Littlefair, 423-4229.

 

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