K-9 spared, but supporters vow to continue fight for 10-12s
© Ross Mair Photo
Dianne Barrett (right) speaks with the Eastern School District's board shortly after hearing that Swift Current Academy will remain a K-9, but will see its high school students bussed to school in Clarenville. She has a son in Grade 10 at Swift Current Academy.
Supporters of Swift Current Academy won a small victory during last Wednesday's Eastern School District of Newfoundland and Labrador (ESDNL) annual general meeting (AGM) in Shoal Harbour.
They heard the board of directors had at least taken into consideration what they had to say about the effect long bus rides would have on small children with the announcement the ESDNL now recommends school continue to function as a K-9.
Previously, the ESDNL had recommended the entire school close - with students bussed to schools in Clarenville and Shoal Harbour - but had bent slightly on that recommendation with their most recent notion of motion.
Another round of public consultations is to take place before the ESDNL makes their final decision, with a meeting being held at Swift Current Academy on Tuesday, Nov. 27 at 6:30 PM, but in the meantime the school's supporters will take solace in the victory.
"It was a mixed reaction," Dianne Barrett, who has a son at Swift Current Academy in grade 10, told the Packet shortly after the announcement.
"We are keeping our K-9, so in that sense we got a small victory, but the fight is not over. Now we have to fight for our ten to 12s; their lives are just as important."
Barrett said she thinks her son's grades will likely suffer if the board sticks to this notion of motion in their final decision.
"I think that it is going to affect his ability to learn. I think his marks are going to go down."
She also said her son is very much involved with extra-curricular activities at his current schools - including as robotics club, the green team as well as serving on the school's student council - but said he won't be as likely to participate in as many activities should he attend Clarenville High School next fall.
"No, because my son is involved with this because he grew up with these kids. He is not going to try to get involved in Clarenville.
"I don't think it will be very enjoyable for him."
Barrett said she and many other supporters of Swift Current Academy will be on hand for the final public consultation with the hopes of swaying the board further. She admitted it's likely that younger students would be more affected by the estimated hour-long bus rides each way, but added the effect it will have on older students will be detrimental as well.
The argument she will use will hinge on the education they are currently receiving, which she said is above the provincial average - which is one of the main reasons the board cited for closing schools; not receiving the best possible education.
"100 per cent we are going to go into that meeting on the 22nd with our students with us and we are going to be prepared with facts and figures on how well they are doing," she said.
We are keeping our K-9, so in that sense we got a small victory, but the fight is not over. Now we have to fight for our ten to 12s; their lives are just as important. Dianne Barrett, a parent whose son attends Swift Current Academy
That same night, supporters of Catalina Elementary School in the municipality of Trinity Bay North found out the board gave them no concessions and still intends on seeing the school closed in June, 2013 with students bussed to schools in Bonavista.
Barrett said she fees for those parents, knowing first hand what it's like when strangers make decisions that will affect their children.
"My heart goes out to them, really goes out to them, and what their kids might have to face in September," adding the process of closing rural schools is one she feels will be a regular pattern regardless of any final decisions from the ESDNL.
Last Wednesday night, before any announcements were made at the ESDNL's AGM, many wondered aloud if the public consultations served any purpose or if they were just a case of formality.
Chairperson Milton Peach, who previously said no questions would be answered and no decisions were final, took the time to respond.
"When we went to the consultation, we said we would listen. We heard and we considered as a full board. Now we have come to the point where we say, 'here is our notice of motion,'" showing that in the case of Swift Current Academy, concessions were made.
Dale Kirby, the New Democratic Party's MHA for St. John's North and education critic, attended the meetings and spoke with the Packet afterward about his concerns when it comes to closing rural schools.
"I have no idea about the board members changing their minds. I think they are absolutely entitled to make those decisions. They have autonomy and we have to honour that, but that doesn't mean we can't try to change their minds," he began.
He said the decisions the board faces stem from the over-riding problem of a lack of funding when it comes to schools.
"What I would like to see happen is, this really stems for underfunding. When we got rid of non-denominational schools, we thought we would have good community schools and I don't think the public is getting what they were promised."
He said he hopes the supporters of all schools facing consequential changes don't get too discouraged from the night's results. He would like to see them come back with stronger arguments the board simply can't say 'no' to.
"I don't think they are going to be successful unless there is a concerted effort to demonstrate to the board that these schools are worth keeping and the people in those communities won't stand for anything else."