When Dorval resident Jennifer Park found out school board commissioners voted 8-5 to shut down her children's high school, Lakeside Academy, she was livid.
"Sometimes when you look at a school as a business, you don't look at the heart of the school," she said.
The Lester B. Pearson School Board announced in December it would shutter Lakeside at the end of the school year. The school is one of several which the board is either closing or merging with other schools as it seeks to address an expected budget shortfall.
Park knows a thing or two about school closures. If the closure of Lakeside goes ahead, this would be the third time she would have to switch one of her children to another school.
But instead of staying angry, Park got busy.
Local politicians on board
She founded the Save Lakeside group that's attracted parents, citizens and local politicians — including Lachine borough councillor Maja Vodanovic.
There's a possibility school board commissioners will reconsider their decision to close the school if they're presented with new information, so Save Lakeside is trying to build a case to persuade them the school is too valuable an institution to board up.
Park said the group will have to be creative — for example, taking advantage of the high school's location next to the airport.
"We said maybe we should explore a partnership with the airport and bring in an aviation course — an engineering course," Park said.
Boosting First Nations' curriculum
Park and Vodanovic have been fine-tuning a proposal they hope will staunch the population decline at Lakeside.
That involves strengthening the school's ties with the Kahnawake Mohawk territory across the St. Lawrence River.
More than three dozen Mohawk students from Kahnawake currently are already attending Lakeside Academy.
Save Lakeside is proposing incorporating more First Nations-oriented education in the curriculum, as well as more collaboration with local French-language schools that are part of the Marguerite-Bourgeoys school board.
"Let's say nature is our big issue in the 21st century, and we've gone away from it," Vodanovic said. "Can we make something together — a program that is based on nature and that brings us all together?"
"It could bring the communities together: the French community, the English community and the Mohawk community."
Vodanovic said the president of the Marguerite-Bourgeoys board is considering the proposal, and Save Lakeside has a meeting on Tuesday in Kahnawake with Mohawk representatives to discuss the initiative. The Quebec regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Ghislain Picard, is also expected to be at that meeting.
Only English high school in Dorval or Lachine
The Lester B. Pearson board's chairwoman, Suanne Stein Day, said the commissioners decided to shut Lakeside Academy because it's operating at about 37 per cent capacity, and enrolment is trending downwards.
But closing Lakeside would mean a large swath of Montreal's West Island would have no English-language high school at all.
If Lakeside closes, then students in the borough of Lachine and the City of Dorval who are entitled to an English education would have to travel to Pointe Claire or to the Montreal borough of Lasalle to go to school.
That could mean more than an hour spent on the bus each way.
Park said that spells trouble for some of the school's more vulnerable students.
"There are parents that are in subsidized housing in Lachine (whose children) go to Lakeside, and those parents I worry about," she said. "This is going to cause such a strain on their families, and I don't think that was taken into consideration at all."
Park and her group have launched a petition asking the provincial government support the pilot project.
The mayors of Dorval and Lachine are also on board. Both are expected to adopt resolutions at their respective council meetings this evening, calling on the Ministry of Education to allow the pilot project to go ahead.
The project will be presented to Lester B. Pearson school commissioners on Jan. 25.
Vodanovic said saving the school might seem like a long shot, but she said it's clear commissioners simply didn't know enough about Lakeside Academy when they voted to close it.
She points out the school has an International Baccalaureate program, which means students spend a lot of time volunteering as part of the community service component of that program. For example, there's the Teapot initiative: students spend time with Lachine seniors, bringing them shopping or delivering meals.
Park, too, is is confident Save Lakeside's arguments will be persuasive.
"Lakeside is staying open," she said."If people have an open mind, and people believe that there's something that can be done to change the way things are handled within the school board and the government, then it will happen."
"We will keep our school."