'Large, factory elementary schools' not best approach, says former education leader

A retired education leader on P.E.I. says the province needs to take a closer look at small elementary schools.

Sterling Stratton supported consolidation of elementary schools in the 1970s, but regrets it now

Empty chairs in a school do not necessarily lead to bad education, says Sterling Stratton. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

A retired education leader on P.E.I. says the province needs to take a closer look at small elementary schools.

A review by the Public Schools Branch is recommending the closure of five elementary schools in the province, which it says are underutilized.

"I would not, for a moment, close any of those schools," said Sterling Stratton.

Stratton is a former teacher, principal, CEO of the P.E.I. Teachers' Federation, superintendent of the old Unit 3 School Board, and director of curriculum for the province. In the 1970s, he supported the merger of a number of old one- and two-room elementary schools, a move he now regrets.

Larger schools appropriate for older students

Not all of the mergers were misguided, said Stratton. Larger junior and senior high schools make sense, he said, because larger schools can offer programs such as industrial arts that smaller schools can't.

"However, we also built these large, factory elementary schools, and I thought it was a wonderful idea, the consolidation of elementary schools," he said.

Sterling Stratton would like to see smaller elementary schools in urban areas as well. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

"As I look back, we really should have taken a long look at that one-room school, the two-room school, and said is there anything in there that we should have retained?"

Elementary schools are different kinds of institutions, he said.

"Half of the teaching that goes on in elementary school has to do with socialization, it has to do with getting along with people. It has to do with developing your personality," said Stratton.

"It's an accountant's view, financially, that some of these [schools] should close. That's not what we should be looking for. What's the quality of education like in each of those schools?"

Stratton believes the communities created by these smaller schools, where students, teachers and parents all know one another, create great benefits for young children. Rather than closing smaller schools in rural areas, he would like to see smaller schools created in urban areas.

With files from Island Morning