No questions allowed at school plan meeting | The Herald

By DAVID JACKSON Provincial Reporter
Wed. Nov 14 – 5:35 AM

Dartmouth-area residents took some early steps on the long road to new-look schools for the region Tuesday night by answering questions at a public meeting, not asking them.

Toronto consultant CS&P Architects Inc. is leading the team working on the Halifax regional school board’s 10-year master plan for schools. The firm’s Maureen O’Shaughnessy told one man who asked about demographics that there wouldn’t be time during the two-hour session for questions but each e-mailed inquiry would be answered.

The 100 or so people at the meeting filled out questionnaires on topics ranging from what they thought were appropriate class sizes to the appropriate length of lunch breaks to their opinions on schools of excellence, which offer special courses in a particular discipline.

Susan Himmelman said she was there so her daughter, who’s in Grade 1, would have her voice heard.

She said she was surprised the consultants didn’t allow questions from the floor during the session at the Akerley campus of the Nova Scotia Community College.

“I was hoping it would be more of an open forum and people would get to voice their concerns, but I do understand why they did cut it off because we probably would be here until the wee hours of the morning discussing it,” she said.

After Ms. Himmelman and the others at the meeting completed their questionnaires, they discussed their answers in small groups to try to find consensus.

Ms. Himmelman’s group agreed to rate support for schools of excellence as “low.”

“I think this is a huge expense. We would be focusing money on only a few kids,” said Jane Parmiter, who has children in grades 1, 5, 7, and 9.

The school board’s long-range planning project is called Imagine Our Schools. Ms. O’Shaughnessy, an education facility planner, encouraged people to take a holistic view of education, to think about how everything in the community goes into the school and how the physical surroundings matter.

She tried to spur their imaginations with a few examples of innovative schools. One was the zoo school in Apple Valley, Minn., where students work with animals, and another was Reece High School in Devonport, Tasmania, where classroom configurations can change every day for different subjects thanks to movable walls.

The consortium led by CS&P Architects has a $240,000 contract for the first year of the project. Another session for residents on the Halifax peninsula is scheduled for tonight at the community college campus on Leeds Street.

The consultant plans to submit a draft plan to the board early in the new year.

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