By JOHN GILLIS Staff Reporter
Thu. Mar 20 – 5:26 AM
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.