'Space concerns' at Thunder Bay elementary school mean some students will move next year

Students attending a south-side Thunder Bay, Ont., elementary school who, next year, will be in Grades five and six, will spend the 2018-2019 year at a different school.

Agnew Johnson students starting Grades 5 and 6 in Sep., 2018 will instead attend Edgewater Park school

This year's Grade four and five students at Agnew Johnson school will attend Edgewater Park next year, as there are "space concerns" at Agnew, especially with the closure of Churchill high school (where Agnew's Grade 7s and 8s have class) in June. (Google Streetview)

Students attending a south-side Thunder Bay, Ont., elementary school who, next year, will be in Grades five and six, will spend the 2018-2019 year at a different school.

In a letter to parents with kids in the affected grades at Agnew H. Johnston Public School obtained by CBC News, Lakehead Public Schools said those students will attend Edgewater Park Public School instead. The temporary measure will be in place until the opening — scheduled for September 2019 — of a new school on the site of Sir Winston Churchill high school to replace both Agnew and Edgewater.

The move is due to "space concerns" at Agnew Johnson school, according to the letter. Grade seven and eight students at Agnew have had their classes moved to Churchill high school over the past year to help alleviate those issues, but that building will close in June and subsequently be demolished to make way for the new elementary school.

It's not sitting well with parents of some students who will be making the move, said Ryan Moore, whose son will move from Agnew to Edgewater next year; especially, he said, as Tuesday's note was the first he, and others, had heard about it.

"It upset us a little bit in terms of there was no prior knowledge to this," he said. "There was no sort of consultation from the schools to try to understand what kind of impact this is going to have."
Ryan Moore is concerned about the impact school closures in the city will have on his son. He says his son will be in three schools, in three years. 3:02

In its letter, the board said the decision was made "through consultation with the school council and staff representatives." Superintendent of education Sherri-Lynne Pharand said the move was discussed at Agnew's school council meetings over the course of the current school year.

"The decision was made very much in consultation with the parents from the school council at Agnew," she said. "Following the input from the school, senior administration really based our ... decision on feedback that we had received from the school council and from the staff at the school."

Pharand said the board and the schools have done their best to notify families during the whole school renewal process.

'A bit of a shell game'

The board's move to close Churchill, Agnew and Edgewater schools, expand Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute and construct a new elementary school for Agnew and Edgewater students was largely done in response to declining enrolment system-wide and schools running under capacity.

Agnew hasn't seen issues with under-utilization, but a 2016 report by the board that informed the school renewal plans noted it's too large a building on too small a lot, and doesn't have room to expand.

Moore said he's generally supportive of the board's overall plan on Thunder Bay's south side, but questions why it calls for students his son's age to have to attend Agnew this year, Edgewater next year and the soon-to-be built school after that — moving between three schools in three years.

"It seems to be a bit of a shell game with these kids moving one year here and then one year over there," he said. "Several of the parents that I know at this school ... we're shaking our head over this; this doesn't seem to make sense."

Pharand acknowledged it's "not an ideal situation," but added that the students who are moving from Agnew to Edgewater will be among the most senior kids when the new school opens in 2019 and will already be familiar to Edgewater's younger students.

"Next year, we'll have them all together to help them get to know each other, to build relationships and to do some real planning for when the new school opens," Pharand said, adding that the familiarity will help build community at the new school.