I am writing this on behalf of many parents, students and community members who have reached out to me for assistance on trying to understand why small rural schools seem to be disposable to the province and school boards in general.
Based on my experience of growing up in a rural community, attending a small rural school, having two children in the school system, experience in seeing three wonderful Truro schools consolidated to one large impersonal elementary, my personal frustration at lack of accountability, my two years as a member of Chignecto-Central Regional School Board (CCRSB), visits to these schools, many letters and discussions from dedicated parents and community members and presentations by same to the board. This opinion is my own.
On Wednesday evening, the school board put forward a motion to delay a request by Education Minister Karen Casey until March 2015. Casey was requesting the board consider giving River John, Maitland and Wentworth elementary schools an extra year to pursue a possible hub/community centre use within its school. Unfortunately, I was unable to be there for the vote. Words cannot express how disappointed I am with this decision by the board to continue the uncertainty for these communities. These citizens have put in countless hours, researched, begged for reports, did presentations, attended numerous board meetings, wrote letters to local government, and more. They should be respected for that. When did we stop listening to what the public, parents and students want?
I believe these schools should be set "free.” Free from community tension, anxiety, constant fear of the unknown and the time consuming bureaucratic process they have had to contend with since 2012 and prior.
As West Pictou board member Vivian Farrell said, "communities have worked hard to investigate how hub centres could work at their sites and they deserve the extension. The least we can do is extend ( the date) . . . let’s be daring and creative.”
The "hub" concept, in my opinion, was born out of desperation. Desperation to save a community school that offers students so much more than a good education. The concept will not work, nor should the onus be on the public to put forth a proposal. These schools are isolated and should be treated as such.
Casey introduced amendments to the Education Act, April 23, that support and outline a new school review process;
"We have heard the concerns of parents and teachers and, as a result, the new school review process is a significant departure from the past, with an emphasis on better planning and more collaboration.”
I agree school boards should undertake long-range planning, involving the community, to discuss the future of schools and education delivery at the school board level.
Examining a group of schools together will provide a more complete discussion about the options available and the impacts and opportunities for the students of those schools.
Casey also introduced a department/school board team that would be responsible for developing a set of general criteria to guide school boards and community groups in their consideration of possibilities for a hub/joint-use/community school facility, with student safety, cost neutrality to the school board, and compatible use as the primary elements. This team will consult with other stakeholders as necessary in the development of the criteria. The team was just put in place and had their first meeting last week. Prior to this the schools in question had no direction for the past year although they were expected to be "working on a plan." I have yet to receive a list of the hub school team members, but I am led to believe there are no elected board members, concerned citizens or public on the team - only bureaucrats and salaried government employees. This is a huge oversight in my opinion.
The citizens of Nova Scotia also have the Now or Never Ivany Report discussing the state of our local economy and rural communities. What concerns me is there is no discussion on local schools and how they help secure the economy of that community. The OneNS Coalition panel has representatives from political, business, labour and civil society to “develop and deliver” a 10-year work plan. Where is a representative from education? The panel has ambitious targets for increasing immigration, retaining international students, improving youth, First Nations and African Nova Scotian employment. Doubling tourism, fisheries and agriculture revenues, and boosting research and venture capital investment are goals, as well. Much of this can be accomplished by keeping the smaller communities alive and vibrant. A daring and innovative idea is to keep small rural schools in their community.
In closing, the past year has been busy with new initiatives and processes put in place;
- Now or Never, Ivany Report, February 2014.
- A new school review process report completed, April 2014.
- Hub model team committee, June 2014.
- Minister’s panel on education, May, ongoing.
These new initiatives, along with the problems, inaccurate reports and lack of direction in regard to the community hub model, lead me to beg of you to reverse the decision to close these three schools. Yes, let's be daring and creative and show the parents and students in these isolated rural communities that we do care.
I am naive and believe everyone has good intentions, but at this point all I can say is I am so disillusioned.
Susan MacQuarrie is a parent, concerned citizen and Chignecto-Central Regional School Board member representing Truro.