'It's a downer for everybody': St. Dorothy school community laments end of an era
St. Dorothy's student population will be merged into Our Lady of Pompei Elementary School next school year
Nick Calasurdo has fond memories of his days at Montreal's St. Dorothy Elementary School, so it was with a heavy heart some four decades later that he picked up his youngest child from the school Tuesday.
This will be the last year that Calasurdo, whose eldest child attended the school as well, will be picking anybody up at St. Dorothy — one of three east-end schools slated to shutter in June.
With the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) facing declining enrolment, the closures announced Monday evening were not unexpected, but Calasurdo said he was not the only one not to see the writing on the wall.
"It's pretty sad," he said. "It's a downer for everybody. All the parents are down. All the kids are down."
He described St. Dorothy as a centre point for the English community in Saint-Michel, with students coming in from surrounding boroughs to attend.
St. Dorothy's student population will be merged into Our Lady of Pompei Elementary School, located 1.2 kilometres away in Ahuntsic. Both schools are operating at less than 50 per cent capacity.
Calasurdo said he's not sure if he will send his child to the Ahuntsic school for Grade 5 in the fall.
"We've never been there. It's just a different school. A different set-up. Whereas here, we've been here for years," he said. "We weren't really expecting it."
'An English footprint' in Saint-Michel
"Everybody's feeling quite emotional," acknowledged St. Dorothy's principal, Denis Maroun. "We're all coming together as a school community."
"Some of our parents' parents went to school here," she said. "It's been a cornerstone of this community — it's been an English footprint."
She said she hopes to keep together as many students, families and staff as possible through the merger.
The decision to close three east-end schools was made by former MP Marlene Jennings, the Quebec-government appointed trustee of the EMSB, who said she had no choice given the lack of English-language students signing up for school in the area.
The deeds of John Paul I Junior High and General Vanier Elementary School are being revoked along with St. Dorothy's.
"I'm actually pretty sad because I love this school and it's pretty fun," said Brandon, eight, a Grade 2 student at St. Dorothy who took a break from his basketball game to speak to reporters.
"I really love this school, and I want to stay here."
At the same time, Brandon said he's excited to go to a new school and make new friends.
St. Dorothy students will have the chance to visit their new school to "make sure they aren't going in cold," said EMSB spokesperson Mike Cohen.
"We're thinking of it as less of a closure and more of a merger," Cohen said. "It's a merger many St. Dorothy's students say they're excited to take part in — especially making new friends."
Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said Jennings' decision was a tough one, but it was necessary.
"Of course, some parents will be sad," he said, stressing the decision was made by the EMSB and not the government.
Jennings was appointed to take over the powers and functions of the EMSB's commissioners last fall after a scathing report found serious irregularities in how the board was run. Roberge said it's too soon to say if her mandate will be extended.
With files from CBC's Valeria Cori-Manocchio and Cathy Senay