Nova Scotia

Chignecto-Central school closures devastate parents

Some parents and supporters of three rural schools are still breaking into tears today after a vote determined three schools of the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board will close.

River John Consolidated, Maitland District Elementary, Wentworth Consolidated slated to close

River John Consolidated School supporter, Sheree Fitch, said the voting process to close down River John Consolidated was 'a nail-biter'. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Some parents and supporters of three small, rural schools are still breaking into tears today after a vote determined three schools of the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board will close. 

Last night, CCRSB members voted to shutter River John Consolidated, Maitland District Elementary and Wentworth Consolidated Elementary School.

The decision came down despite a vigourous battle by parents and community members to convince the board that the schools fit the criteria of a hub school. Proponents say the process was flawed and not attainable.

The way the votes were cast suggests there's more support among board members for keeping the River John school open. Even though the vote on that school was a tie, the vote still spelled the end for the River John school. 

Sheree Fitch belongs to a group called River John Support Our School, and she says the vote was tense.

"To say it was nail-biter and dramatic would be an understatement," Fitch told CBC's Mainstreet.

"It's was really confusing … We didn't think a tie meant defeat … I was excited. I thought, 'Oh, these elected board members really got what we're doing and can embrace new ways of thinking.' … And then, we hear a tie means defeat."

Fitch said the result is especially frustrating because if one counsellor currently in hospital was able to attend, the vote would have gone in the community group's favour.

'Flawed review process'

The vote on the schools in Wentworth and Maitland were not as close. Members voted 12 to four against reconsidering closure.

Linda Patriquin, who chairs the Wentworth School Sustainability Association, is saddened by the board's ruling.

"We were not at all surprised," she said.

"We went through a flawed review process and the minister of education agreed at the time that it was flawed, and struck a new process and we've asked to go through the new process and have been denied."

Patriquin said the criteria the communities were expected to meet for a hub school were unreasonable.

"We knew from the get-go, as we said in our presentation, we knew we would not score well. We had no unused space in our school," she said.

"For anything, any kind of a venture such as a hub model … to be workable, you have to have achievable and realistic goals. And those realistic and achievable goals were not there from the beginning."

Fitch agrees the board's definition of a hub model wasn't doable.

"You don't start off by saying to a school, 'So, you've got to pay for yourself,' because that would be a two-tiered system of public education. That doesn't wash. There's no community that can do that."

Fitch says the amount of money the schools were expected to raise to fit the criteria of a hub school was totally out of reach.

Trade-offs

Fitch said she believes the work the community groups were doing was "Ivany in action" — a reference to Ray Ivany's report on keeping the province economically vibrant.

"The Ivany Report was so exciting for Nova Scotia … This is not just about one small school and one rural community. This is about the fabric of rural Nova Scotia and rural Canada."

Both Fitch and Patriquin have said if their community school closes, children will have to spend about two hours a day on the bus being transported to other locations.

Robert Berard, a professor at the faculty of education at Mount Saint Vincent University, says while the board was in a tough spot and had to make a difficult decision, he agrees that small schools have proven their worth. (Diane Paquette/CBC)

"I just believe with all my heart that Nova Scotia can be better than this," Fitch said, fighting back tears.

Robert Berard, a professor at the faculty of education at Mount Saint Vincent University, says while the board had to make a difficult decision, he agrees with Fitch and Patriquin that small schools have proven their worth.

"Many parents have often talked about looking for research claiming that small classrooms are better," Berard said.

"Most of the research suggests that over a long term, small schools are more effective academically than small classrooms."

Berard explains school size is important, because communities naturally form around them.

Sheree Fitch says an email has already been sent to both Education Minister Karen Casey and the Premier, asking for the government to intervene in this decision.

Fitch said even though she has heard the minister doesn't intend to stop the schools from closing, she says school supporters like her aren't giving up.

"We are down but not out! … Doesn't this at least require further consideration?"

About the Author

Diane Paquette is based in Halifax as a producer for Mainstreet Nova Scotia.

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