WE’VE BEEN TOLD….

…and we couldn’t be happier!

After three months of toiling in dog-day obscurity the Saint Mary’s Study Committee finally got what it wanted: a bunch of open ears and minds into which to pour the results of its school closure response efforts and an expanded base of exhuberant, vocal and exceedingly sharpminded support with which to go forward. The committee and for that matter the entire community now have the instructions and the energy needed in order to see this challenge through to the end.

Those instructions, whether they came from Paul Donovan or Maureen MacDonald, John Davie, Irvine Carvery, David Bentley or any one of a number of others returned continually to what became the prevailing theme of the evening: politics. The instruction was to get political and stay political until this thing’s done and done in our favour. There were some brilliant suggestions, one of which involved Saint Mary’s hijacking the board’s anti-bullying campaign to demonstrate to the larger public just how unrelenting and heavy-handed the board’s treatment of Saint Mary’s has been now and in the past. During the last 15 years we’ve been on the chopping block no fewer than five times and this time in the most gratuitous display of force yet: the board was told by its own consultants to leave us alone and chose not to! That’s bullying!

Everyone agreed on the need to continue to build and polish and refine the formal report but there was also this very insistent and repeated call to action.

Over the next couple of days you may receive a range of related messages from me, it depends on the degree of organization I can bring to bear. (The more organized, the fewer there’ll be):

You’ll get a list of the candidates running for school board. It’s on the HRM site but only in pdf format. I’ve cut and pasted it into a list from which you should be able to select names, click and write. Write!

You’ll get a link to the Chronicle Herald site that takes you to Voice of the People where you can write and write and write to your heart’s content to the editor. Not only will your letters get seen by the public but the media generally will begin to realize that Saint Mary’s is once again a story, as it has been in the past, and that it’s still worth reporting on. Now more than ever! We mean business. This time we want to be so successful in spreading our message that even the board thinks twice about looking our way again.

If you’re David Yetman you might get a message from me asking whether you’d pursue the Chamber of Commerce thread you mentioned and seeing how they might be able to help given that closing a school in the downtown core can only be bad for local business.

If you’re Stephanie Nickerson I might tell you that I finally found the directory and you can pick it up at the daycare Wednesday morning.

Volunteers! We need you to volunteer! Who’s going to produce the anti-bullying campaign aimed at the board? That’s one’s just too good to let pass. Contact me with details of the way in which you’d like to contribute.

And if you’re any one of our many community members with talents in the video production field I may tap you for a project that’s already under discussion with parent Johanna Elliot; a strong, smart, short piece of video that we could post on web, distributing its url to the world and viral-izing our message. If you’re Facebook savvy we’ve also got a Save Saint Mary’s School page that you can visit and post to and generally have your way with.

And you’ll get a copy of the contact sheet produced by Catherine Maclean and offering suggestions on what to say and how and to whom you might say it in the letters you write to elected and public officials. Think Karen Casey, Minister of Education! Think Carole Olsen, HRSB superintendant! Think Howard Windsor and, more importantly, the soon-to-be elected board! (Catherine will you please forward your sheet to me for forwarding to the group.) You’ll also get a copy of a letter sent by parent John Davie to the Minister of Education that he offers as another template.

LETTERS, LETTERS, LETTERS. WRITE NOW. WRITE OFTEN. And if you could, copy me, c.littlefair@ns.sympatico.ca, so that we can add them to the written submission being delivered to the board November 30.

For those who weren’t able to be at the meeting or were and simply want reminding, here’s a snapshot of the evening of September 15 and a sampling of the comments and suggestions.

Dave Yetman spoke of going beyond the impact of closure on parents and kids and digging deeper into the cost to community. He referenced the Chamber of Commerce and the effect on downtown businesses and the downtown economy generally of closing a school. He says engage more business support! James Stuewe spoke of the presence of kids in the downtown core completing the whole. Paul Donovan described a novel approach to garnering support (otherwise known as bribery?) that involved contributing to the campaigns of candidates who pledged their support; I think they needed to win as well. Go Paul go! But on a more practical note he reminded us not to lose sight of the fact that it’s really the Department of Education calling the shots on this decision and to go after them. David Cameron, running for school board, pledged his support, unprompted. Stephanie Nickerson advocated for equal parts logic and heart in the fight to oppose closure and felt it worth noting in the report how the larger neighbourhood community mirrored and complemented the school’s own diversity. She also pointed to the “more pavement, less grass, more gas” reality of having to transport the Saint Mary’s community to Inglis Street and, most importantly, to the false economy at work at the board level for failing to consider and account for the large number of in-area children who are attending one of the three local private schools. Where are the tax dollars of those in-area, unserviced families being spent? And what happens if the board’s projections regarding future enrollment of downtown elementary students is as flawed as their projections of Citadel High numbers? Maureen MacDonald was very clear: be political, be political, be political. It’s not all about rationality and numbers. She also suggested recommending to the board that they view and promote Saint Mary’s as a destination school for families facing overcrowding in their own neighbourhood school: two birds, one stone. Irvine Carvery, an out-of-area student himself as a child, spoke of the broadening experience for all involved when entering a new community and of actively promoting out-of-area enrollment as a means of integration. He felt Saint Mary’s should be held up as a model. Rowan Holland, an Inglis Street parent, rightly pointed out that it wasn’t only Saint Mary’s that stood to lose the benefits of a small school education. Their school will lose out as well if we were consolidated. He asked that we explore the commonality of our experience and forge greater ties with their community as we proceed and felt it worthwhile that we continue to hammer away at the unfairness of a process that saw the board force its will upon the public even though counselled otherwise by their consultants. Kim Bernard spoke on behalf of the out-of-area issue and of Saint Mary’s being both a school and community of choice, particularly important to parents juggling responsibilities singlehandedly. She has promised to help sing us to success! John Davie offered the brilliant idea of taking the board to task for its bullying ways, suggesting we capitalize its own anti-bullying campaign by donning pink t-shirts bearing a “Stop bullying Saint Mary’s” message and taking the board by storm. And David Bentley reminded us that we had the support of the attending school board nominees but encouraged everyone to go back to their own districts and speak with their candidates. Shawna Major said the proximity of hospitals made Saint Mary’s the school of choice for her family and special needs child. An extremely good point.

A full and very satisfying night was had by all.

Thank you all. I’ll be in touch.

Cindy

Co-Chair

Saint Mary’s Elementary Study Committee

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