How a community pulled together to save Lakeside Academy

The Lester B. Pearson School Board decision to keep Lakeside Academy open came after months of hard work by a tight-knit community of parents. Here's how they managed to keep their school from closing.

'We weren't just hoping or wishing,' governing board chair says of efforts to keep school open

Lachine's Lakeside Academy, which was set to close at the end of this year, will stay open after all. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC )

When the Lester B. Pearson School Board decided last night to keep Lakeside Academy open, that outcome represented the culmination of months of hard work by a tight-knit community of parents which fought to keep the Lachine high school open.

The victory could hold clues for other parents and students determined not to lose their schools in the face of declining enrolment within the English-language school system.

What we showed is more than just about the number of students there during the day.- Karen Bleakly, chair of Lakeside Academy governing board

The vote reversed an earlier board decision to close the school last June. 

"Obviously, initially people were very upset, but that turned pretty quickly to determination to figure out what we could do to keep the school open in the long term," Karen Bleakly, who chairs the school's governing board, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

The school board took another look at its decision in January, agreeing to delay the closure and giving parents more time to come up a plan to save the school. 

Beyond the classroom

Lakeside Academy in Lachine is one of two schools closing by the end of the school year in the Lester B. Pearson School Board. (CBC/Jaela Bernstien)

In the period since, the school's governing board took steps to encourage more students to enroll in the school and to find ways to make the building itself available to others in the community.

"The initial decision was largely about numbers," said Bleakly, whose son just completed Grade 8 at the school.

"What we showed is more than just about the number of students there during the day. We showed that the building is integral to the community."

In particular, they had the school designated as a "community learning centre," a provincial government designation that "makes it easier to bring community groups into the building and get more bodies into the building," Bleakly said.

They also improved the curriculum, by adding the options of a robotics concentration, a coding concentration and a basketball concentration. 

Bleakly believes those moves were integral to persuading the board to keep the school open. 

"What they showed is we were very serious – that we weren't just hoping or wishing, but that we were actually going and reaching out to partners in the community and trying to secure their co-operation," she said.

Thinking 'way outside the box'

Enrolment for Grade 7 this fall is already up, compared to last year. 

School board chairwoman Suanne Stein Day praised supporters of Lakeside Academy for thinking "way outside the box."

She said the proposals and efforts by parents, teachers and the surrounding community convinced commissioners to keep the school open.

"The community came together and really marketed the school in their community and showed the community all the good things that were already happening there," she said.


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