Review of Imagine Our Schools Draft Proposal

The draft school use proposal that was presented by the consultants at the Imagine Our Schools meeting at Citadel High on January 19, 2007.

It has taken some time to reflect, gather information and work through the ramifications of the proposal.

I am sorry that this post is even longer than usual, but I urge you all to read the whole thing, there is lots going on to think about and be worried about.

What follows are three sections: 1 – the facts, 2 – some analysis, then 3 – my opinion.

THE FACTS:

The proposal will be presented to HRSB March 5th.

Elementary Schools:
The proposal is to close St Catherine’s –or- Oxford, St Joseph A Murray Mackay, and Joe Howe. This leaves nine elementary schools in the Citadel family of schools.

Junior High:
The proposal is to stop providing 7-9 in the P-9 setting, removing the Junior High program from Oxford and St Patrick’s/Alexandra, and to close Cornwallis. This leaves three junior high schools on the peninsula.

Alternatives/Other Options/Rumors:
Parents have been heard to propose closing Gorsebrook instead of Cornwallis, St Catherine’s and Oxford both instead of St Joe’s. and one rumored proposal has French Immersion being bused to St Agnes so that all English kids can fit in Cornwallis. My feeling is this last one is not technically remotely possible, though.

ANALYSIS:

Junior High size:
Technically, on the survey, the lowest enrolment option that could be chosen for junior highs was 500. We have heard over and over from the consultants that “the community said loud and clear that it wanted 500 enrolment junior highs.” The community did no such thing. The community did not have a chance to say it wanted 250-300 student junior highs.

Some St Joe’s students would have to be bussed:
It is interesting that the St Joseph’s /A Murray Mackay is proposed for closure, when there are schools in the West End that overlap each other, but no other school covers a significant number of families at St Joes, just north of Stadacona. If the 1.6 km walking area limit is proposed in the provincial Walking Distance Review is adopted (and I believe it will be) than students north of Stadacona and adjacent to the current St Joe’s site would have to be bussed. http://www.ednet.ns.ca/events/walkingdistance/

Capacity Changed at the Last Minute!
On some other fronts, there were many points that this website and Citadel parents and citizens have been fighting for, and we appear to have won most of those. However, there are concerns about the recommendations.

It is these victories that call the process and the results into question.

Specifically, at the very last pubic meeting before presentation, the consultants have conceded that the calculating a school capacity using the Provincial formula gives the wrong picture wrong.

The new calculations show that Citadel, rather than having almost 3,000 pupil places to eliminate, has to deal with only 1,047 or so to be brought in line with the goals.

This means the whole consulting process and almost all the public input was done under the shadow of cutting the capacity by 38%, and now the figure to meet the goals is just 18%. This is a huge difference. Participants would have made different choices all along if we had been working with these numbers.

Overall, Enrollment is stable in Citadel:
Another important concession is that the consultants have started using the graph that shows enrolment if HRM by design works.

Essentially, the consultants own projections show only a very slight decrease or relative stability in student population in Citadel over the next ten years. This is a huge victory! We are now planning for a steady student population.

HRSB cannot keep saying “student populations are dropping so we have to close schools.”

MY OPINION:
Less then two years ago, the plan was to close all the elementary schools on the peninsula, and replace them with four mega-schools. The new recommendation is to keep nine schools, and in existing but renovated buildings. Instead of two junior highs, we are at three. We have made a serious dent in their original plans!

There are two issues being debated now. One is the future of delivery of the junior high school part of the program in Citadel, the second, how do we reduce capacity to make sure we have hit the target of enrolment + 15% in the system in 2018/

For junior high’s, I personally thing 400-500 student junior highs are fine. I think three junior high schools on the peninsula are fine. I am not sold we need P-9 schools anywhere.

With that said, I don’t think the consultants gave us the opportunity to say we would like 250 student junior highs. Maybe instead of closing Cornwallis, we tear down the extension on Gorsebrook and make it smaller! Maybe we make Oxford a 7-9 and tear down half the school so it is not so big! Crazy? Maybe. But we never had a chance to really explore the options. I also think putting all three just about as far away on the peninsula as possible from central Halifax is not good planning.

To meet the capacity goals is a lot easier with the revised target. Here’s a thought. We go to the community served by St Patricks/Alexandra and Joe Howe. If the community supports a new, 280 student school, the best elementary school ever built goes in this neighbourhood, the Portia White Elementary School. This proposal may make both affected school populations happy and we are investing resources in a community that arguably needs it most.

This alone eliminates 611 spaces, leaving us only needing to find 435 in the remaining 16 schools. Removal of wings built in the 1960s to accommodate the baby boom could address these spaces, though that is only 20 classrooms in 16 schools, and I bet you that at least half of them have YMCA programs, or daycare, already in them. I doubt you need to to much at all, if we forced HRSB and the Province to accept it.

The consultant’s proposal wants to close one of three recognized “Inner City Schools” on the peninsula, and to amalgamate the two others.

This is just not putting students first.

Closing St Joe’s is a really bad idea. Building the Portia White school is not my idea, a leader in the black community proposed it to me over year ago. Investing in St Joe’s and Portia White is not just good planning in terms of buildings, it is good planning in terms of people, and of children.

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