Meeting hears parents’ plea | Metronews Halifax

Parents made passionate pleas to keep their schools open last night at a public meeting for people to share feedback on the school board’s proposed 10-year facilities plan for Halifax and Dartmouth.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Peter Lavell, about the proposal to replace Joseph Howe Elementary with a bigger school also serving St. Joseph’s-Alexander McKay Elementary and St. Patrick’s Alexandra.

Following recommendations made by consultants hired by the Halifax regional school board, board staff proposed a plan that would see five schools on the peninsula and 10 in Dartmouth reviewed for potential closure over the next decade.

Some of last night’s 23 scheduled presenters spoke about the necessity of keeping north-end Halifax’s small, inner-city schools because they have a thriving sense of community and their close proximity to low-income families, many of who don’t own cars.

St. Joseph’s Alexander- McKay Elementary student Xander Jordan attended the meeting wearing a bright yellow T-shirt saying “Save our school.”

Several people made presentations asking one-man school board Howard Windsor to also rule out reviewing Cornwallis Junior High in south-end Halifax for closure.

“Explain to me why the HRSB with the stated goal of becoming the most improved board in Canada could seriously consider closing a successful school that has the capacity to meet the demand of the foreseeable future?” said Jane Thorburn, a mother of two children in Grade 5 and 8.

About 150 people who showed up at last night’s meeting applauded suggestions that the consultants’ method of polling the public was flawed. The meeting followed two others scheduled last week.

The next public meeting is April 2 at Dartmouth High, 6 p.m.

Windsor deferred a decision until April 23.

lindsay.jones@metronews.ca

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The View from Halifax Needham – Maureen MacDonald, MLA’s HRSB Presentation – Imagine Our Schools

March 19, 2008
Halifax Regional School Board Presentation
Imagine Our Schools

Maureen MacDonald, MLA
Halifax Needham
(North and central Halifax Peninsula, Citadel Family of Schools)

Given the tight time limits for verbal presentations I have brought a written presentation for your consideration. I will speak briefly to summarize the main points.

Introduction
Having received the report and recommendations of the consultants, the Board has had the benefit of what certainly can be characterized as a dispassionate external overview of school facilities on the peninsula by a consortium of professionals with considerable expertise in educational facilities planning. I am not going to use any of my limited time critiquing the consultation process itself. Suffice it to say that it had strengths and weaknesses, as any process of this nature has. The important thing is that that process is augmented with more nuanced perspectives, such as those of the Board’s senior management team, who bring their own expertise, experience and understanding of what is needed, further refining the recommendations to the Board.

These public hearings offer another layer of experience and expertise, which is the on the ground experience and expertise of parents, community leaders and community partners.

I have read all the material made available by the Board and I accept the premise that we have aging infrastructure that requires renewal. One has only to visit our schools to observe this. It’s my commitment to my constituents that I will work hard to secure a financial commitment from the provincial government to invest in our school infrastructure, but I will not work to close schools, unless the community accepts school closures as being in the educational interests of their children and their communities.

Demographic analysis
While I accept the declining enrollment analysis, particularly as it relates to the past 10 years, I want to challenge what I consider to be a serious overstating/exaggeration of the extent of this problem in the foreseeable future and the resulting recommendations from Board senior staff to close five/seven additional schools on the peninsula.

I want to draw the Board’s attention to page 27- 28 of the consultants report regarding declining enrollment in the Citadel Family of Schools. When the numbers were crunched by the consultants using the methodology they extol for its accuracy and validity the result was that there will be 354 fewer children in peninsula schools over the next ten years. 354. Those are their numbers. 354. That’s what their report says. 354, or on average 35 fewer students each year for ten years.

In fact at the first public meeting at Leeds Street, NSIT Community College site Ms.
O’Shaughnessy used the term “stabilized” to describe the enrolment projections for Peninsula Schools.

So with projections indicating on average 35 less students per year for the next ten years Board staff are recommending closing Oxford elementary, St. Pat’s Alexandra elementary, Ecole St. Joe’s A. MacKay elementary, and St. Mary’s elementary plus Oxford Junior High, Cornwallis Junior High and St. Pat’s- Alexandra Junior High, in no small part justified by data that indicates 354 fewer students in our schools over the next ten years, or on average 35 less students each year for ten years!

In my view the recommendations to close such a large number of schools is not supported by the consultant’s demographic information and analysis.

I want also to express my disappointment at the total lack of attention given to the approximately 5,000 children in HRM, many who live here on the Peninsula, whose parents have opted out of the public system and who attend private school. It’s regrettable that no thought was given to seriously grapple with any possibility of attracting back into the public system those who have opted out. This begs the question “how much attention throughout this planning process was paid to preventing even more parents from leaving our public schools in the future?” I would urge the Board to give this some consideration.

Excess Space Capacity
I also want to raise how excess space capacity is being calculated. Perhaps the Board understands the space calculations far better than I, but I am having a great deal of difficulty understanding the extent to which there is excess capacity in our schools, because I can assure you that I visit these schools and have observed for example in the case of St. Joe’s-A. MacKay every available space is in use, perhaps not as a classroom, but certainly for special education, specialized learning environments, fine arts, computer labs, a breakfast program and resource recovery rooms. The DOE now recommends a classroom/instructional space is 900 square feet. Classrooms in all our schools built 30 + years ago are 650-750 square feet. So when the consultants use an “instructional space” are they working with a 650-750 sq feet classroom, or are they factoring in 900 sq feet? It’s not clear from the report or background documents what square footage per instructional space is being used in calculation surplus space, and at any rate there is an additional issue for schools designated “inner city schools” These schools have additional program space needs such as for 4+ or resources and special needs. These needs do not appear to have been assessed in the space calculations.

Recommendations for individual schools
I now would like to address the recommendations in the staff report associated with each of the schools located within or serving residents of Halifax Needham.

1. Staff recommends building a new 350 capacity Joe Howe School as the Board’s number two priority using provincial money already approved for what had been an intended to be a new south end elementary school. I support this recommendation in principle, but I have several questions that I would hope the Board would ask staff for additional information on and that this information be provided to the public, and that the Board then hears from the public before making a final decision.

a.) What is a “model school based on community partnerships”? This needs to be defined in a much more concrete manner. The consultants in their executive summary talk about St. Pat’s-Alexandra being a “site for the creation of a model community centered school.” And say “Alterations would include the expansion of childcare programming and the addition of other family, recreation, adult education and social services programs needed in the north end community”.
(If this is what is being envisioned there needs to be a significant amount of community consultation. I will not second guess the community, but it’s certainly my perception that the community is not thrilled to use one example with the Flex program currently being located in an elementary school, and during the consultation phase of this process, opposition to locating social services in schools was very clearly expressed. Children living in an inner city neighbourhood need tools to survive and thrive in an imperfect world where inequality and racism is all too prevalent. Where little children are stigmatized simply for being who they are and where they live I believe that schools have an added obligation to not only deliver the core curriculum, helping children read, write, speak, do math, problem solve, think critically, be creative and develop a strong sense of civic and cultural pride rooted in a rich history of struggle, resilience, and accomplishment. I question if adding many other services into an elementary school already with more than it share of challenges will place an additional workload on administration and staff, whose priority should be a focus on the curriculum and good parental and community relations.)

b.) Is it envisioned that this school would be built on the existing Joe Howe site or elsewhere?

c.) Would the school boundaries ensure that elementary school children would not be
walking across North Street, a major artery for traffic to and from the Macdonald
Bridge?

d.) If built on the existing site, where would children attend school during
construction?

e.) Would the Halifax Development Centre be accommodated in the new school?

f.) where does the capacity of 350 come from and why is this the proposed capacity when the consultants through then public process are recommending capping elementary schools at 300? Is this predicated on closing St. Joe’s A. Mackay and what would the new boundaries look like?

2. Staff recommends review for closure St. Pat’s – Alexandra. I may be the first MLA in history to support the closing of a school in her community. I have agonized over this and I’ve met with many, many people in the community with first hand experience of this school. I have concluded this school, which has enjoyed the involvement of many dedicated principles, teachers, staff, parents and community leaders over the years is a victim of circumstances beyond it’s control. The area in which the school is located is rightly or wrongly viewed as an unsafe area beset by crime, drug dealing and prostitution. The Maitland Street entrance to the school faces the back of the old Derby tavern and parking lot, and a junk shop with a gapping hole in its wall and roof, in the former Metropolitan store. HRM has been dealing this building as an unsightly and possibly dangerous premises location for more than three years. Stepping Stone, a service working with sex trade workers is just across the street and on the Brunswick Street side the school within close proximity is a Halfway house for men on parole. No other neighbourhood would tolerate the location of their elementary school in these circumstances. The community haven’t been passive victims however, they have already decided to close this school by voting with their feet. Today the junior high has less than 40 students. 9 grade 9, 12 grade 7, 15, or 16 grade 8’s. Annual staff turn over is very high in some years it approximated close to 90% . My observation is that things have not gotten better, only worse, over the past ten years. My best guest, because the Board tells me they don’t collect out-of area transfer data, is that certainly more than half, perhaps as much as 2/3rds of the children who live in the boundaries of this school aren’t attending this school.

3. Staff recommends review for closure of St. Joe’s A MacKay. I do not support this recommendation. St. Joe’s A. MacKay is the largest elementary school in North End Halifax. Population data used by the consultants indicates this school’s population will grow over the next ten years, reflecting the infill housing being developed in several areas surrounding the school, and the repopulation of single family houses. Designated as an inner-city school, St. Joe’s A. MacKay serves Mulgrave Park and the surrounding residential area bounded by North Street and Duffus, although children from as far North as Kencrest at the very top of Novalea attend this school. It’s had a successful French Immersion program for 18 years, and reflects what I would wish for every community, and that is the ability of families and children from a broad spectrum of soci-economic and ethic, racial and cultural origins to live and work in harmony. Children from this school enjoy strong community partnerships, through Ward Five, North End Day Care, Needham Pre School, and CFB Stadacona. I would argue that this school is a key piece of infrastructure to be considered in the HRM plan to densify the peninsula.

4. Staff recommends reviewing Oxford for closing and Highland Park for expansion.
Frankly it would be my preference to see the Board recommend a new Central North Junior High School, which was the Board’s original proposal back in 2005. The Board needs to reflect on the importance of a successful junior high educational experience for all our children and I would argue this is even truer for children from the inner city feeder schools. We have had a history of specialized programs in the inner city elementary schools, but have not followed those children into the junior high schools. This review gives us an opportunity to think about this. Now is the time and I believe there would be much community support of a central north junior high school built through a process not unlike the one used to arrive at Citadel High.

Conclusion
In September 2005 in its Capital Project’s submission to the DOE the Board in discussing the closing of small schools and consolidation into larger schools consistently talks about program and operational efficiencies. Repeatedly it cited that program efficiencies include “the reduction in the numbers of administrative staff and secretarial support”, greater efficiency in using specialist staff such as guidance counselors, French teachers, physical education teachers”, “fewer class sizes”. To be fair it also envisioned libraries with more resources and a wider range of extracurricular options for students. While the Board’s documents stated that while it was harder to quantify fewer teachers, this was clearly anticipated.

When I imagine the schools in the community I so lucky to live in and represent in the NS Legislature I don’t imagine fewer teachers, larger class sizes, and bigger case loads or longer wait times for specialized staff.

Do not let this process for renewing our schools infrastructure be driven by concerns that schools must be reorganized as a method of saving money. That game has winners and losers and it’s been my experience that once a program or service closes in a community it does not ever come back.

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50 New Classrooms, 4 schools closed? Mike Kilfoil’s HRSB Presentation – Imagine Our Schools

My name is Michael Kilfoil and I am a SAC representative from LeMarchant St. Thomas Elementary in Halifax.

It has been well over a year since I first started speaking to the importance of meaningful public consultation to discuss the future of our schools and our children’s education.

In that time we have gone through a process which, while public, fell far short of meaningful and consultative.  I have been a sharp critic of Imagine Our Schools from the beginning for the same reasons Sue Durani summed up so well in her presentation.

Now, even the results of this flawed process are being dismissed and the HRSB has created their response to the IOS 10 Year Facilities Master Plan that puts us right back where we started.  The HRSB staff seeks approval for a plan to consolidate and close community schools.

I’ve attended every meeting of Imagine our Schools for the Citadel Family, and the one thing I have heard throughout the process is this:  the people of Peninsular Halifax want smaller community-based schools, particularly at the elementary level.

The consultants heard this and made it a cornerstone of their plan with very specific recommendations on school size.  Now, the report before us takes this most basic desire and dismisses it.  It is dismissed in the staff response to these specific school sizes on page 3 of the report:

The HRSB staff understands that there are greater economies of
scale and flexibility in educational programming with somewhat larger
school populations.

“Greater economies of scale…with somewhat larger school populations.”
For me, this is the key phrase in the whole document for it demonstrates the underlying theme of this report and the current superintendent’s tenure.

This plan calls for the review and closure of 4 community elementary schools and one junior high on the peninsula.

The arguments for these closures are the same we’ve heard before: declining enrolment, underutilized space and demographic projections of further enrolment drops.

So we have to close schools because there won’t be enough students.

But if we have to close schools because of diminishing student populations why does this plan call for EXPANDING the ones that remain?

Buried in Appendix 6 of the Staff Report you find recommendations for the building of new classrooms across the peninsula:

Inglis St.             5 new classrooms
Sir Charles Tupper        5 new classrooms
Gorsebrook             2 new classrooms
Highland Park             9 new classrooms
St. Stephen’s            2 new classrooms
LeMarchant St Thomas    6 new classrooms

And the list goes on.

In fact if you include the replacement school for Joseph Howe, which would require a minimum of 14 classrooms this HRSB senior staff recommends the construction of no fewer than 50 new classrooms across the peninsula.

It should be noted that these are 50 educational spaces and do not include lunch rooms, music rooms, drama rooms etc.  Each of these classrooms will contain a minimum of 25 students.

If there aren’t going to be any students, why are we expanding the capacity of all of these schools?

I can only surmise that staff believes that there will be students to fill these classrooms; that the remaining schools will exceed their current capacities and require enlargement.

It is worth noting that this recommendation is made by a staff that steadfastly refuses to accept the possibility of HRM by Design succeeding in its goal of increasing the population of the peninsula.  It is my belief that these classrooms won’t be enough, and that we are heading for a future of overcrowded classrooms and trailers.

I said earlier that we were right back where we started in 2006. The real reason for closing 5 schools and enlarging the others is the same reasoning that thought a 750 student elementary school was a good idea:

Economy of Scale – the belief that bigger schools save money.

By consolidating smaller schools the HRSB will save some money and never mind the desires of, or the impact upon, students and the community the HRSB serves.

This plan is a plan for consolidation – plain and simple.

We, the parents and citizens of Halifax, must not accept a plan that flies in the face of the expressed wishes of the people of peninsular Halifax, a plan that diminishes the safety and walkability of our existing schools, a plan that sacrifices quality of education and sense of community in favour of Economy of Scale.

Mike Kilfoil
Halifax

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Leave schools alone, parent says | The Herald



If the Halifax regional school board wants its schools to be community hubs that produce successful students, it should scrap an idea to combine three Halifax elementary schools, a public meeting heard Wednesday.

Howard Windsor, the region’s one-man school board, was hosting the second of three public meetings on school board staff’s response to Imagine Our Schools, a 10-year facilities master plan put together by a Toronto consulting firm.

One parent of a student at St. Joseph’s-Alexander McKay Elementary said that school is already the kind of place officials imagine.

Under the proposal, St. Joseph’s-Alexander McKay Elementary would be combined with Joseph Howe Elementary and St. Patrick’s-Alexandra into a new facility at the Joseph Howe site.

“The most difficult part of having a successful school community has already been accomplished at St. Joseph’s-A. McKay,” said Chris Poole, who has a daughter leaving and a son about to enter the north-end school. “The students and teachers have that connection already made.”

Just over 100 people attended the meeting at Dartmouth High School, some arriving with placards opposing potential school closures. One parent questioned why a meeting about the fate of schools on Halifax peninsula would be held at suppertime in Dartmouth.

While some elementary schools are operating well below capacity, enrolment at St. Joseph’s-Alexander McKay has been stable and is projected to grow, said parent Loraine Petrie.

She said Halifax Regional Municipality is encouraging people to settle on the peninsula.

“We need our school to remain open to be at the core of our community, to keep and attract new families to make this plan work,” Ms. Petrie said.

Lezlie Lowe, who has a daughter in Primary at Joseph Howe, was pleased the school is not being considered for closure but worried that a larger school incorporating students from two other buildings wouldn’t do as well at meeting the specific needs of its community.

“There comes a point with certain schools in certain communities where simple enrolment calculations, like 111 kids in a 286-kid school (the present enrolment at Joseph Howe), don’t hold sway,” she said.

“Rather the extra attention those students need and the small school environment where they can best get that attention has to come first sometimes.”

She cited the school’s Four Plus program, created long before a provincial pre-Primary program now on the chopping block, as an example.

At an April 2 board meeting, Mr. Windsor will decide whether to approve, reject or modify the staff report or defer a decision.

http://www.thechronicleherald.ca/Metro/1044657.html

( jgillis@herald.ca)

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The Process – Sue Dirani’s HRSB Presentation – Imagine Our Schools

My comments tonight will be limited to the public consultation process itself.  I am a member of the SAC for Sir Charles Tupper School and I have attended every meeting of the Imagine Our Schools process, including the so-called SAC focus groups.  This was my first experience being involved in a public consultation.

After sitting through Ms. O’Shaughnessy’s presentation on March 5, I want to clarify some points.  First and foremost, it must be noted that the consultation process that we were promised by Carole Olsen on June 14, 2007 is NOT the consultation process that we ultimately ended up with.  The consultation committee for the Citadel family of schools that Ms. Olsen promised was to include: 1 SAC rep from each of the 17 peninsular schools, 4 school administrators, 2 students, 2 community members, 6 HRSB advisors, and 3 external urban planning experts.  In fact, this structure was included as a requirement set out in the RFP that the school board used to recruit the consultants.  Despite this requirement, at the first meeting between the consultation team and the SAC reps, Ms. O’Shaughnessy advised us that the structure of the consultation process had been radically changed.  The SAC reps were no longer going to be directly involved in the process, other than as a “focus group”.  The school board would no longer be directly involved either.  Now, given that the schools board’s staff response to the proposed plan clearly indicates they “disagree with consultants” on 10 of the specific school recommendations, I would suggest that it might have been advisable to retain the involvement of the school board and the SACs in the consultation.  Had we kept the original structure, we might have ended up with a plan that satisfied all parties involved.  What we have instead is a 10-year facilities master plan that doesn’t appear to make the school board happy and certainly doesn’t make the public happy.   And, it cost us $240,000. 

At the very first meeting between the consultants and the SAC reps, we expressed concerns about the fact that there were no educators or school administrators directly involved in the process; plus, we encouraged the consultants to send their survey questionnaire home with all students in the family of schools rather than to ask parents to come out to a meeting in the winter to complete the survey.   Our suggestion was rejected outright by the consultation team.  Ms. O’Shaughnessy told us that they didn’t feel that all parents were informed enough on the issues to be able to properly answer the survey questions.

Second, the survey questionnaire itself was problematic and was without question a biased or leading one.  Many of the questions were confusing and many others did not provide a full range of response options.  For example, a question gauging our interest in enrolling our own children in a “centre of excellence” provided no response choice to indicate no interest.  Some of us who completed the survey made up and added our own response choices when none of those provided were suitable. Keeping with the same sample question about centres of excellence, only 151 of the 231 survey respondents actually chose one of the three possible answers provided.  That left 80 of us who either didn’t answer the question because a suitable response wasn’t available or who made up their own answer.  These other answers were not included in the tabulated survey results published by the consultants. 

In addition, the definition of “schools of excellence”, for example, was only vaguely explained to us.  Even worse, completion of the survey was extremely rushed and didn’t allow us enough time to properly consider the issues.  This was then followed by a very rushed so-called consensus building exercise where we were asked to provide agreed-upon group responses to the very same questions.  Now, it doesn’t take a great deal of thought to see that asking 10 people to come to a consensus about whether or not they would enroll their own child in a school of excellence is an impossible task.

Third, at Ms. O’Shaughnessy’s presentation to the board on March 5, she misrepresented the public’s input into the outcome of this consultation.  If I had heard Ms. O’Shaughnessy’s presentation without having any prior knowledge of the process, I would likely have been wowed at the apparent thoroughness of the consultation.  But I was there and I know better.  At the public meetings, we discussed a variety of topics such as: shared space possibilities, the importance of walkability, the school as the centre of the community, utilization rates, and school size, among many other topics.  At no time during the first two public meetings was there ever an open and honest discussion about schools closing; although, I think we all suspected that the point of this consultation was to somehow get what appeared to be a public stamp of approval for closing schools.  We did not choose to close any schools.

Then at the presentation on January 29, we sat in stunned silence as they presented us with the possible Options to choose from, with the best case scenario closing six peninsular schools.  These proposed options were completely disconnected from what we had been engaged in up to that point.  The response among attendees was one of anger and frustration and the feedback we provided to the consultants that night led to a modification of the options, which were subsequently presented to us on Feb. 19, seeing only 4 schools close.  It was at this time that the four schools to be “reviewed” were named:  Cornwallis, St. Catherine’s, Joseph Howe, and St. Joseph’s A McKay.  Some time between that presentation on Feb.19 and the presentation to the board on March 5, St. Catherine’s was spared and Oxford was now recommended for review instead.  I don’t support the closure of either school but it begs the question: where is the transparency in the process that led to that decision?

To her credit, Ms. O’Shaughnessy did make two recommendations that should be adopted without hesitation – these are: the recommendation to adequately fund the regular maintenance of existing school facilities; and the suggestion that the DOE revise its current method of calculating school capacities. 

In closing, I would like to remind the board that the DOE requested that the school board implement a full public consultation back in January 2007 in response to the backlash against a proposed south-end mega-elementary school.  The logical supposition is that the purpose of the public consultation was to develop a capital plan that the public could actually live with.  This consultation process has left most of us feeling used and angry, and represents a missed opportunity for true, meaningful consultation; and this proposed facilities master plan is not one the public can live with. 
Respectfully submitted,

Sue Dirani

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Cornwallis Junior High – Anne Folkin’s HRSB Presentation – Imagine Our Schools

“In your deleberation on these Recommendations I am requesting:

  1. That Cornwallis Junior High be REMOVED from the list of schools for review;
  2. That capital fundign related to the future expansion of Gorsebrook Junior High to accomodate Cornwallis students be DEFERRED;
  3. That a request for capital funding be ADDED to the 10 Year Facilities Master Plan to address any differed maintenance issues required to maintain the buildings of Cornwallis Junior High and Gorsebrook Junior High in good condition.”

Full presentation as PDF here.

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Joseph Howe Elementary – Lezlie Lowe’s HRSB Presentation – Imagine Our Schools

HRSB – Imagine Our Schools Public Consultation (session two)

March 19, 2008.

Dartmouth High School

Presenter: LEZLIE LOWE
Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

I am the parent of a child in Primary at Joseph Howe Elementary School.

Joseph Howe is a small school. It’s is underutilized.

The current provincial standard capacity for Joe Howe is 286 students; enrollment is 111.
No parent at Joseph Howe School will argue against the cold hard facts behind those numbers. But they will say the argument that Joe Howe doesn’t hold enough kids to make it worthwhile only makes sense if you’re talking about warm bodies in seats, not the community and the education of the children in it.
I want to comment, as I’ve been asked to, on the recommendations included in the March 7-tabled staff report. But given that was itself a report on the Imagine Our Schools consultants report, I think it’s relevant, as a matter of preface, to say this:

Parents at Joseph Howe were struck in the aftermath of Maureen O’Shaughnessy’s report, on the disconnect between, on one hand, the acknowledgement that the IOS’s process was under-attended by north end community stakeholders, the recognition that these communities are, to quote O’Shaughnessy, “disenfranchised,” and the suggestion that these communities and their schools need, and I quote O’Shaughnessy again, “extra support” and the recommendation to close Joseph Howe, along with St. Joseph’s-Alexander MacKay.
But what parents really felt – and I heard this over and over again, talking to people in the community – was that O’Shaughnessy talked the talk of the big picture, but when it came down to the subtleties, she and her co-consultants didn’t get it. They didn’t see the community that Joseph Howe, specifically, supports and they didn’t see how that community is different from the communities that support St. Patrick’s-Alexandra and St. Joseph’s-Alexander MacKay.

When I read the senior staff report on the evening of March 7, I felt like maybe HRSB senior staff got those subtleties O’Shaughnessy missed.

I’m happy Joe Howe has been suggested to be saved from the chopping block, but I have a lot of questions about what the staff report means. In the interest of time, I will skip over those questions to say this:

My big question is: is consolidation the right choice here?

I think I’m reading that the senior staff report suggests Joseph Howe become what Maureen O’Shaughnessy ostensibly planned St. Pat’s-A to become. That is, a consolidated three-in-one elementary to house current Joe Howe students, plus the St. Pat’s-A students and the St. Joseph’s-Alexander MacKay students, once their schools close.

In that reading of the senior staff report, I think what’s still missing is recognition for the value of small schools, particularly for “disenfranchised” communities that “need extra support.”

I’m not blind to the business implications of running a school. I realize there is not an infinite pot of money. I have read the Imagine Our Schools Size of Schools recommendation and I’ve read that HRSB senior staff accept the proposed 300-student elementary enrollment target.

But I’ve also read in the staff report that special considerations should be made to meet educational outcomes in specific schools. In other words, there comes a point with certain schools in certain communities, where simple enrolment calculations – like 111 kids in a 286-kid school – don’t hold sway. Rather, the extra attention those students need and the small school environment where they can best get that attention comes first.
We have concrete examples of this “extra attention” working – consider the 4+ program. There’s a reason the 4+ is in Joseph Howe; there’s a reason it was there two decades before the pre-primary pilot program was introduced to the rest of the province. That school needs, more than other schools, early childhood education opportunities.

To close, I urge you Mr. Windsor, to not overlook the issues here. An easy solution is to rubber-stamp a three-in-one elementary for the downtown north neighbourhood, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. A less easy solution is to put money into these schools to help them maintain, in the case of Joseph Howe, the excellence every student and every parent knows that school for, and to help them, and I quote from the senior staff report here – “maximize student achievement through facilities that can best meet the educational program.”

I urge you not to miss the subtleties of this small community and the small communities which surround it. And I urge you to take a stand for communities which are not often stood up for.

Thank you for your time.

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Still Waiting to Be Consulted – Waye Mason’s HRSB Presentation – Imagine Our Schools

My name is Waye Mason. I am the chair of a School Advisory Council on the peninsula and I am the publisher of the parents resource Citadelschools.ca, and my children are in elementary and junior high school.

It will be difficult to summarize my concerns with the staff report in just five minutes, so let me get straight to the point.

The process of consultation run by CS&P was inadequate and has failed to meet its goals

The conclusions were reached without significant or meaningful public input into the process, and therefore, the staff report in response to the consultation does not contain a complete and fair summary of the issues facing our community.

I will come back to this, but first, how did we get here?

HRSB had a capital plan which called for just four elementary schools on the peninsula. From October 2006 onward, Peninsula parents fought to have this process be halted until there had been meaningful public consultation over our options.

In January of 2007, The Minister of Education agreed, and stated no schools will be closed without meaningful public consultation.

In February of 2007 the Minister announced the intention to implement the School Closure Review Report recommendations, changing how school closures occur. Subsequently, these changes to the Education Act were made, with the support of all parties.

In June of 2007, the Department of Education requested a ten year facilities plan from HRSB to replace the older discredited version.

Also in June in a public meeting in St Pats auditorium, Superintendent Olsen presented a proposal for consultation and facility planning, the would be modeled on previsions school closure reviews, and would be largely composed of members of School Advisory Council representatives from the affected family of schools.

This was in line with the letter and the spirit of the Minister’s changes to the school closure process, which called for reviews would “encourage school staff and administration and require school advisory councils to participate”.

Unfortunately for all of us, when time came to meet the consultative team in November of 2007, the proposed committee that had been promised by the Superintendent had been shelved, and the SAC members had been relegated to a “Community Focus Group” with no actual input or agenda.

The Toronto based consultants wrote this report, and no parents or citizens were directly involved in it’s completion.

There were two meetings between the consultants and SACs, there was not a single formal polling, questioning or systematic gathering of our opinions.

Instead, following lengthy ninety minute lectures, the SAC reps and staff from five school families, around 100 people, would have 30-45 minutes split between them to answer, on the spot, what they thought, at the open microphone, with little or no time to reflect on what had been presented. This is about 45 seconds per person.

At the first meeting, we had about 20 minutes to individually fill out a questionnaire, and then another 20 to review the questionnaire with the rest of our table and complete a “consensus document” for our table.

The questionnaire had 44 questions, and was 10 pages long. This works out to 45 seconds per question.

Subsiquent meetings were ninety minute lectures unveiling new, previously unseen proposals followed by less than an hour to understand and then ask questions and raise concerns.

In my opinion, the only reason people kept going to these meetings is that until the very end, they were waiting for the serious consultation to start. It never did.

The community has been promised meaningful consultation. This promise was coupled with a belief that school review needs to be considered in the greater fabric of the needs of the community. I still hope this can happen, but Mr Windsor, it has not yet happened.

Now we have a staff report itself the draws into question validity of the consultants work. Others have said it best. HRSB Facilities manager Charles Clattenburg said in the March 8 edition of the Metro News “I guess we have some more in-depth knowledge that wasn’t picked up during the consultation that we’ve considered.” as the justification for the staff reports divergence from the consultations fundings.

Well, in this, I agree with Mr Clattenburg. There was a lot that was not picked up during the consultations that needs to be considered, not the least of which is a full and fair consultation with the people in the affected communities that know their own communities best.

I urge you, Mr Windsor, please do not accept this staff report.

Do not accept a report that will close successful community schools in the north, south and west ends.

Do not accept a report that proposes to close schools that are full, and for which demand is currently there, and will only increase.

Do not accept a staff report that does not unequivocally support the small school sizes that the community wants.

Do not accept a facilities plan until HRSB has completed the process of school review that was promised by the Superintendent in June of last year.

Thank you for your time today.

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Meeting for Halifax Citadel Regarding School Closures

Leonard Preyra, MLA for Halifax Citadel, has organized a meeting to discuss the Imagine Our Schools report, the staff report, and the proposed closure of St Mary’s School, and the impact of all of this on his riding, Halifax Citadel.

Schools in the riding incude Gorsebrook, St Mary’s, Le Marchant St Thomas and Inglis.

This meeting will take place Monday March 17th from 6-8pm at St Mary’s University – Sobey’s Building – Room 160

All parents and citizens from throughout the peninsula are invited to attend, thought the focus of this meeting will be on the reports and their impact on the riding.

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HRSB Public Meetings Regarding Imagine Our Schools

Three meetings have been scheduled to receive feedback from the public:

March 17, 2008

Eastern Central HRM (Family of Schools: Auburn Drive, Cole Harbour District, Dartmouth High and Prince Andrew
Please Note: The deadline to give notice for a public submission will be Monday, March 17 at 12 noon

March 19, 2008
Halifax Peninsula (Citadel High Family of Schools)
Please Note: The deadline to give notice for a public submission will be Wednesday, March 19 at 12 noon

March 26, 2008
Eastern Central HRM (Family of Schools: Auburn Drive, Cole Harbour District, Dartmouth High and Prince Andrew
Halifax Peninsula (Citadel High Family of Schools)
Please Note: The deadline to give notice for a public submission will be Wednesday, March 26 at 12 noon

All meetings will be held in Keating Hall at Dartmouth High School (95 Victoria Road, Dartmouth) beginning at 6 p.m.

If you wish to make a public submission, visit http://www.hrsb.ns.ca for more information.

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