Hundreds show support for Westisle family of schools at school review meeting

Those attending the school review meeting for the Westisle family of schools sent an overwhelming message that they will stand together and fight for their schools.

'We are not OK with losing one, not one'

A big crowd came out Tuesday night to stand together in support of Westisle schools (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Standing together and fighting for their Westisle family of schools was the message sent to the school review committee at a meeting Tuesday night.

Around 300 people gathered in the lecture theatre at Westisle Composite High School  hear presentations from school principals and home and school representatives, standing and cheering several times as they listened.

Presenters said they felt the process was designed to pit people in different communities against each other. It was something they decided to avoid explained Jaclyn Gallant with Bloomfield Elementary Home and School Association. 

"We decided that we are going to put our own agendas aside and we are going to to get together as a united home and school with the same purpose and that is to save all of our schools.We are not OK with losing one, not one," she said 

The school review process is now in the second round of meetings which allows the public to make their opinions known.

In West Prince, it was heard over and over the area is lacking in resources, with long wait lists for things like mental health and physiotherapy services. Educators like Rachel Noye voiced their opinion on it along principals and home and school representatives.

"I understand that province wide enrolment is decreasing, however what the data doesn't show is that, and I'm sure it's island wide, the needs in the classroom are increasing significantly. We are dealing with more needs than we have ever seen before. And to deal with that we have teacher cuts, we have cuts to EAs, we have less resources, we have less services," Noye said.

"Where does the data show that closing schools, increasing class size with increasing needs and less resources is a better learning for anyone let alone learning for all." 

Savings found elsewhere 

The school review committee was repeatedly told schools should be left alone and money saving measures could be found elsewhere. 

"It's about our kids right now, it's not about money, why is the issue about money, the issue is about our children. If you need to save money take a pay decrease yourself," said Sally Betts, a parent.

"There's lots of unwanted buildings like they say, cut those out. There's ways to utilize money, it shouldn't be at the expense of our children." 

The topic of savings came up in the unitedhome and school presentation as well, with the suggestion overcrowding in Charlottetown schools and rezoning there should be looked at first, instead of rural communities paying for that situation. 

Problematic process

The process of the school review was criticized often at the meeting. Many people told the review committee it was too quick and data being used was not accurate. Many complained the fate of school was in the hands of a three person board. 

Bob Andrews, school reorganization project manager with the P.E.I. Public Schools Branch says the school review is an emotional but important issue for all parents. (Stephanie Brown/CBC)
"A board of three though really? Three people. We feel like that is an unequal representation for up here, there's no one from our area," said Brandy Doucet with St. Louis Elementary home and school association.

"A three person board should not exist for such a portfolio because there's so much that needs to be considered. We feel as though there should be a broader variety of people. I mean the O'Leary Co-op they have a board of 12, this is thousands of people and a board of three really?"

At the end of the evening Bob Andrews assured the crowd that no decisions about closing schools have been made yet and their complaints about the process will be heard and passed on to his higher-ups.

The public can also make written or online submissions or book an appointment for a small group presentation with Bob Andrews.

A report is expected in early 2017.