…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.



Saint Mary’s Elementary Study Committee

Posted in News, News Flash!, St Mary's | Comments Off on WE’VE BEEN TOLD….

David Bentley on the School Board

David’s article in the Herald, reprinted with permission.

“I wonder what skeletons you’ve got in your closet?”
When somebody asks you a question like that it’s a pretty sure sign you’ve taken leave of
your senses and announced you’re a candidate for public office.
As a complete novice who only heard the siren call a few days after I began receiving
my old age pension, I’ve obviously resisted the temptation longer than most repressed
On the other hand, a thick skin is a definite asset, as witness the indomitable
performance of veteran political exponents like my idol, Ernie Fage.
So I take some comfort in knowing that a lifetime in the news business is an excellent
way to learn how to take calls from people who know you’re an idiot because you just
wrote something they know is completely misinformed.
As for skeletons, there’s a particularly large one – and my campaign mis-manager and
former colleague, Clifford Boutilier, has just started to remind potential voters of that
from the trenches at Frank Magazine.
But I digress. This is supposed to be a serious call to arms to all of you who, like me,
have sat on the sidelines virtually our entire lives, thinking we could do so much better.
Never mind that we’re all terminally afflicted by the notion public life has sunk to the
point where the only inhabitants are people who have decided they can afford to
sacrifice their reputations, such as they are, because the pension benefits are so
As far as I know, Halifax Regional School Board doesn’t have a pension plan for elected
members. And why should someone who already has his name down at Northwood care
Thus, I hope to convince potential supporters that my bid to become the next school
board member for Peninsula Halifax is motivated by something other than the
accumulation of pensionable time.
I happen to live next door to Saint Mary’s on Morris Street – one of the elementary
schools Howard Windsor has carelessly decided he’d like to see shut down.
Saint Mary’s is one of those excellent small schools that thousands and thousands of
students have been fortunate enough to attend since it was built in 1955.
The Imagine Our Schools consultants from Toronto recently recognized its qualities.
They forecast an increase in enrollment – and recommended that it remain open for five
Alas, Mr Windsor, in his capacity as the one-man, unelected school board, chose to
reject the advice of the experts, deciding he knows better.
So ten or a dozen parents, teachers and neighbours of Saint Mary’s are having to
volunteer hours and hours of their time this summer to prove him wrong.
If electors get some decent candidates to vote for this coming October, I’m confident
they will.
At the same time, I’m also hopeful that the school board can be persuaded to realize that
the chronic, ongoing round of school closure threats is really a form of bullying
behaviour that has to be stopped.
Our schools, every last one of them, are the precious institutions that hold the key to
educational success – not collections of buildings that can be neglected and then torn
down in an endless quest for consolidation.
I don’t think this is something that parents or teachers want. They know that bigger
schools are only rarely better schools. Just ask them.
When it comes right down to it, there’s a wider question that has to be asked. Is the
current, top-down attempt by school boards to improve education in this province
working very well?
I see every one of the 137 schools in the HRM system as an individual franchise that has
the potential to deliver the goods – if the parents and teachers at those schools are given
more autonomy and the resources to go with it.
Private schools generally excel because they essentially belong to the parents. They sit
on the boards of governors and see to it that their children get the best education that can
possibly be provided.
Well, all those 137 schools in HRM also belong to their parents and to their teachers.
They just need to know that and to be invited to take the reins.
Yes, of course the school board sets the standards, provides specialized support and
maintains the fabric etc.
But, when it comes to effective delivery, I suspect that goal could more effectively be
achieved by empowering parents and the teachers at the individual schools.
I’d like to see Karen Casey & Co do some experimentation to test what would happen if
individual public schools were given their own boards of governors.
Besides parents and retired teachers, I could see schools inviting leading professional
managers from their communities to become board members.
The Ken Rowes of this world think nothing of pouring millions into our universities.
I think the IMP founder would get a far bigger bang for his educational buck if he could
loan some of his executives to help improve the performance of our schools – which
have far more influence in how young people will turn out.
It’s obviously not the ones who get to university who need the most help when it comes
to coping with life and learning how important it is to make a positive contribution to
And it doesn’t just have to be white collar managers. There are plenty of very skilled
people on the IMP shop floors who could lend some working-world experience and
Despite all the negativity surrounding the firing of the last board, it seems to me there is
an excellent opportunity to try to make a difference on the Halifax Regional School
Board – and all the other boards around the province, come to that.
There are nine seats throughout HRM. If you’ve never run for public office for all the
usual reasons why, here’s your chance.
You never know, at the very least we might get to find out you have some more
interesting skeletons in your closet than I do in mine – though Clifford Boutilier says he
doubts it.

Posted in News | Comments Off on David Bentley on the School Board

Saint Mary’s Closure Review: Public Meeting

For those of you who don’t know or might benefit from a reminder, Saint Mary’s Elementary was put up for review last spring. This means that the Board decided it wanted to close Saint Mary’s, notified the school community of that, and set in motion a review process that has spanned the summer and will continue to unfold during the school year. School closure, if it were to occur, would happen at the end of June 2009. The Saint Mary’s Study Committee, a group of community members, will be submitting our response to the Board on November 30, 2008. The Board will then go about the business of considering our response and announce on March 30 of next year whether or not the school will be closed.

It’s a multi-faceted effort and we’ve been moving ahead on all fronts. Researching, gathering support, planning the publicity. The committee working on the response has been meeting throughout the summer, developing its arguments, and now we want to present it to the public.

There will be a meeting on Monday, September 15, 6:30pm. You’ll hear what we’ve come up with and have an opportunity to respond. It will be the first of many opportunities. Between now and the end of November we want, need and encourage as much feedback and input from the public, in particular the Saint Mary’s community, as possible.

Everything’s on the line in this review. It would be a good time to give whatever you’ve got in the way of support. We can give you some ideas as to the form that support might take but feel free to jump in with your own.

Cindy Littlefair

Co-Chair with Michele Gerard

Saint Mary’s Study Committee

Posted in News, St Mary's | Comments Off on Saint Mary’s Closure Review: Public Meeting

Education minister extends deadline for input on school boards | the Herald

It’s a start.  The Minister has extended the opportunity for input, but unfortunately, not far enough that school communities will be back in session and able to communicate and respond.  Herald article follows:

Education minister extends deadline for input on school boards
By KRISTEN LIPSCOMBE Education Reporter Halifax Herald
Wed. Aug 20 – 5:44 PM

Nova Scotians now have more time to have their say on how school boards should work in this province.

The Education Department said Wednesday it’s extending the deadline for public feedback on the discussion paper Increasing the Effectiveness of School Board Governance in Nova Scotia, released July 31.

The original deadline was this Friday, but has been moved a week and a half back to Sept. 2.

“It is very important that we ensure the public has a reasonable amount of time to provide input on our proposed changes to school board governance,” Education Minister Karen Casey in a news release. “Because of vacations and summer schedules, we decided our deadline may be difficult for some groups and individuals to meet.”

Education critics and several citizens have both expressed concern that the Education Department did not provide enough time for input on the important issue of school board governance.

Ms. Casey said the deadline extension will give the public more time to respond to the suggested regulations, while also giving people who are thinking about running for a spot on their local school board the opportunity to know exactly what they’re getting into before nomination day Sept. 9. Municipal and school board elections take place across the province Oct. 18.

Some of the suggestions outlined in the document include giving elected boards more power to discipline their own members, while also allowing censured board members the opportunity for an appeal. The proposal is a result of past struggles among members on both the Halifax and Strait regional school boards.


Posted in News | Comments Off on Education minister extends deadline for input on school boards | the Herald

Time Is Running Out!

I hope you are all having a good summer.  Soon, it is back to school time, which means, back to fighting for quality education for our communities and our children.

There is a great deal of concern about the lack of time allowed to respond the proposed changes to the Education Act.

I hope you will take the time to read and respond to the following email.

Begin forwarded message:

From: “Percy Paris, office” <paris.office@ns.aliantzinc.ca>
Date: August 13, 2008 4:45:28 PM ADT
To: “Percy Paris” <percy@percyparis.ca>
Subject: Public input needed for School Board governance changes


I am the Education Critic for the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party. I am contacting you because of your involvement with P-12 education, or because your name has been passed along to me as someone concerned about education. I wanted to let you know that the Minister of Education, Karen Casey, is currently carrying out a very important public consultation on how our school boards will work. The Minister will be introducing amendments to the Education Act this fall. On July 31st she released a discussion paper for public comment on these proposed amendments. Unfortunately, she gave people just three weeks to comment.

You can find the six-page discussion paper on the government’s website: http://www.ednet.ns.ca/events/leg_consultation/documents/IncreaseEffectivenessSBGov.pdf
You can find a brief background summary at: http://www.ednet.ns.ca/events/leg_consultation/

I have serious concerns about the government’s proposal. First, the time the Minister is allowing for you to have input into these changes is far too short. You have until next Friday, August 22nd, to get your comments to the Department. If you think three weeks in the dog days of summer is insufficient and poor timing for proper public consultations, I would like to urge you to call the Minister’s office, at 902-424-5635, and demand that the deadline be extended until after schools are open and people are back into the swing of education issues. You can also e-mail the Minister at educmin@gov.ns.ca. You should also call or e-mail your local MLA’s office.

Second, I have concerns about some of the proposed amendments. The Department of Education is suggesting significant changes to the Education Act, including doing away with by-elections. Another amendment gives school boards the ability to suspend elected members or recommend their removal to the Minister. (No context is provided about the process for censuring an elected member.) These changes deserve proper public input and a more reasonable consultation period.

If you have time to review the discussion paper and make comments, you should e-mail them to educconsultations@gov.ns.ca, fax them to (902) 424-0519, or mail them to:

School Board Effective Governance Review
Nova Scotia Department of Education
Corporate Policy Branch
P.O. Box 578
Halifax NS B3J 2S9

Please feel free to call or e-mail me with your concerns.

Best regards,


Posted in News | Comments Off on Time Is Running Out!

Update #6: WE WORK!

“There aren’t many institutions that work in this life.”

These were the words of a fellow SAC member as we spoke about Saint Mary’s. If not our rallying cry that statement is certainly at the heart of our desire to save it. There aren’t a lot of institutions that we’d bother to get excited about these days but Saint Mary’s is a very different story. It’s worth saving because it DOES work!

It works not only for the reasons that come immediately to mind – diversity, inclusiveness and student success – but also for the very reasons that the school board says it does not. The school board says our building is inadequate and deficient and unable to deliver the education programme and home to too many out-of-area families. We disagree with each and every one of their claims and over the next five months we’ll be preparing a report that tells them why.

On the charge of out-of-area families being problematic, for example, we’ll be arguing that community is about belonging, not about  geography. And when it comes to creating a sense of belonging Saint Mary’s has it hands-down. Our kids belong. No matter where on the map we come from, whether it’s from another neighbourhood or another hemisphere, we’re a community, And in an age when so many of our relationships are virtual and take place electronically and at a distance it is ridiculous to say that students and families travelling from beyond an imaginary boundary line to get to school are in the wrong.  Our community works.

This and our many other reasons for seeing Saint Mary’s survive are the messages we have to send. Our reasons are as many as we are. Each student, each parent and teacher and alumnus and those who have in some way benefitted from Saint Mary’s now need to say so. Whenever we can, as often as we can, over the next few months we need to tell others and particularly those who are in the position of deciding our fate.

We now have our core organization in place. We have those who will work directly on writing our response to the school board’s report and those who will support the effort to make it the best response possible.  We’ll all be working toward the same goal but we’ll each do so from our own area of strength and experience. I’ll be asking Ms. Larken and a Grade 3 parent, for example, to capture the story, in pictures and in words, of why her art instruction programme is as successful as it is. I’ll be asking Ms. Coady to describe the cherished things about our school from her perspective as principal. We all have stories of this type and they’ll all be included in our report.

And of course there’ll also be a group or groups out there attracting attention to our cause. I’ll be asking Michele, our PTA chair and local business owner, if her store might serve as a hub for collecting expressions of community support and spreading the word. And I’ll be asking Jamie and Pete and Sophie and Jon to knock on their neighbours doors, petition in hand, to collect the signatures of those who are prepared to say they want Saint Mary’s to stay.

That’s all for now. I’ve got work to do. WE’VE got work to do. For starters I have to get in touch with all those people I mentioned above to ask them to do the things I mentioned. We’re flying by the seat of our pants with this. None of us are experts. Don’t be bashful about speaking up. We’re all amateurs – doing it for our love of the school.




PS – please write with any questions, concerns or suggestions. Here’s my email: c.littlefair@ns.sympatico.ca


Posted in Meetings, News, St Mary's | Comments Off on Update #6: WE WORK!

$1B for education falls short: Boards | Metro News

Public students shortchanged, president says


April 30, 2008 12:25

Yesterday’s budget short-changed students in the public system, the Nova Scotia School Boards Association says.
The announcement of a 4.9 per cent increase in the total amount spent on public education will only cover the basics, said association president Elliot Payzant in a news release.
“We can’t continue to tread water if we want Nova Scotia to be viewed as a leader in public education,” Payzant said.
The province spent just over $1 billion on public education in this year’s budget. All 13 schools on the province’s capital construction list received funding this year, Education Department spokesman Dan Harrison said.
About $2 million will go toward expanding a high school co-op program to Grade 12 and to 10 more schools.
The government is also spending $4.6 million to change the age of entry date for Grade Primary students.
The province went back on its promise to cap Grade 4 classes at 25 students, at a saving of $4 million. Instead, Grade 4 classes will be capped at 28 at a cost of about $900,000.
Education Minister Karen Casey said it was too expensive to cap Grade 4 classes at 25, and absorb additional Grade Primary students through the age of entry change.
Liberal education critic Leo Glavine said the new cap is a setback.
“All of a sudden you take an extra one or two (students) and you’re back to 30, where many classes are now,” he said

Posted in News | Comments Off on $1B for education falls short: Boards | Metro News

Three schools on board’s final hit list | The Herald.

The Halifax regional school board recommended Wednesday night that three schools be listed for immediate review for closure.

Howard Windsor, the one-man board, named Saint Mary’s School on Morris Street in Halifax, St. Patrick’s-Alexandra School on Maitland Street in Halifax and Alderney Elementary on Penhorn Drive in Dartmouth as the schools to be reviewed.

In response to a consultant’s report, staff asked that the board not identify the schools but Mr. Windsor rejected that recommendation.

The earliest any of the three schools could close is September 2009. The board will also ask the Education Department to fully fund construction of a new $25-million high school in Bedford and to redirect $8 million previously allocated for renovations at Bedford Junior High to renovations at Dartmouth High.

As well, the board approved a recommendation that funding be dedicated to building a school to replace Joseph Howe Elementary on Maynard Street in Halifax.

To the dismay of many parents, the board decided a new high school is not needed for the Eastern Passage, Shearwater and Woodside areas. Students from those areas will continue to be bused to Cole Harbour District High.

Mr. Windsor said further study must address the rationale for abandoning an existing high school only to build another multimillion-dollar high school and still having to transport roughly the same number of students.

Posted in News | Comments Off on Three schools on board’s final hit list | The Herald.

Board giving public more time to Imagine our Schools | The Herald

Halifax regional school board is shuffling around some meetings to allow for more public input on the Imagine Our Schools report.

Howard Windsor, the man at the board’s helm, was scheduled to make his decision on the future of Eastern Central and peninsular Halifax schools tonight but has said he will postpone the matter until April 23.

Tonight’s meeting will instead serve as a fourth public-submission session, with a fifth opportunity to provide feedback set for next Monday. Both gatherings will start at 6 p.m. at Keating Hall in Dartmouth High School on Victoria Road. Those interested in making a public presentation on either night should make their requests to do so by noon today.

There is also a regular school board meeting scheduled for next Wednesday evening, but spokeswoman Shaune MacKinlay told The Chronicle Herald that Mr. Windsor doesn’t intend to deal with the Imagine Our Schools staff report at that time.

When he does make his decision, Mr. Windsor can approve, reject or modify the school board staff report. Any schools that are recommended for review are also subject to a year-long study required by the Education Department.

Imagine Our Schools is a 10-year master plan for school facilities across the municipality, with the first instalment of recommendations put together by a consulting firm from Toronto. The firm’s recommendations and the staff report are both available online

Posted in News | Comments Off on Board giving public more time to Imagine our Schools | The Herald

More Info On Save Cornwallis JHS

From the Save Cornwallis committee:

Closing Cornwallis would be a travesty and would impact not only our kids education but the overall structure of the neighbourhood. From real estate values to the desire to remain in penninsula Halifax, the impact would be widespread.

To date there have been a handful of people expressing their feelings on behalf of all of us, It’s time for everyone to get involved, sign and forward to your friends and social networks, whether you have kids there or not, closing Cornwallis would negatively impact the neighbourhood and the city as a whole. The last public meeting is this Monday night, let’s try to get 1000 or more signatures before then. The petition is included here-


There is also a facebook group set up called “Save Cornwallis Junior High”

Posted in News | Comments Off on More Info On Save Cornwallis JHS