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.