WENTWORTH - Residents of Wentworth say the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board didn't take all considerations into account when they prepared an assessment report on the viability of Wentworth Elementary School, and wish the board would be more transparent in their dealings with the community.
That was the plea that many parents and politicians had for the CCRSB and the Nova Scotia Department of Education during a public meeting Monday at Wentworth Elementary School.
The assessment report created by the CCRSB has placed Wentworth Elementary on a list of schools that could be closed for good, but about one quarter of the 60 people in attendance at Monday's meeting said the CCRSB assessment was too negative and one-sided.
Carol Hyslop was one of the speakers.
Hyslop is a retired teacher who spent most of her career teaching at Wentworth Elementary and also served one term as an elected board member of the CCRSB.
"I was directly involved with three of the four school reviews with regard to this school and have been an observer at committee meetings of this review," said Hyslop. "In my dealings with the local trustees and school board over the years I have found the administration of this latest version of the school board to be the most disrespectful towards the communities they're supposed to be serving."
Hyslop accused the CCRSB of doing sloppy work when creating their assessment report on the future of Wentworth Elementary.
"The assessment report prepared by a committee of educational and operational services of the CCRSB and given to our review committee was not well research or presented," said Hyslop. "Information that should have been available to the committee was not included, and when asked for was refused outright, given as part of other information that did not serve the purpose, or was promised, never to appear."
Hyslop made clear her frustrations with the CCRSB.
"As the review unfolded I got the feeling that the operations department of the CCRSB was of the opinion that communities have no right to question their actions or motives," said Hyslop. "Their continued refusal to part with information, which the Education Act states must be available to a review committee, produced an atmosphere of confrontation which was definitely unhelpful. This attitude served to jolt within the community the already widespread conviction that the CCRSB is determined to shut down Wentworth Elementary for whatever reason they can produce."
Jamie Baillie, MLA for Cumberland South, also spoke at the meeting and said he has run into similar walls when dealing with the government of Nova Scotia.
"Parent volunteers are trying to get the facts about this school out and they're being frustrated by their own government," said Baillie. "I had to do a freedom of information request to the school board and the department of education in Halifax to get facts about the cost of running the (Wentworth) school and the quality of the building, and they're ignoring their own freedom of information laws to try to hide that information.
"People here are very suspicious that there's a political agenda at play, and we have to do all we can to stop it."
Scott Armstrong, MP for Cumberland, Colchester, Musquodoboit Valley, spoke at the meeting and blasted the provincial NDP for closing rural schools.
"The department of education has told our school board that we have to reduce space," said Armstrong. "What they don't understand is when you take a school out of a small rural community it's like taking every single school out of Halifax, but because they're off in Halifax they don't understand rural communities.
"Until they've cut every school out of Halifax and empty their community they should leave the rural communities alone," added Armstrong.
Linda Patriquin, a former teacher and administrator at Collingwood, Westchester, Wentworth and Wallace, also has many suspicions about the CCRSB and the report they issued.
"The negativity (of the report) immediately gave me a feeling of hopelessness," said Patriquin. "As a public document it gave a one sided view. It was all about finance and how to improve the bottom line.
"To make an informed decision, both the pros and cons have to be investigated," she added. "I fail to see where the impact report reports the pros for the board members to study."
Cecil MacLeod, who is the chairman of the Wentworth study review committee developing a response to the CCRSB impact assessment report, said "dividing a community is not in the school boards mandate."
"The closing of the school is unacceptable and should not even be considered," said the businessman and the father of three who moved last year from Halifax to Wentworth. "Wentworth is currently a popular destination for young families and businesses. A community with a history of fluctuating population is currently in a state of growth.
"Closing this school would put an end to future developments and young families wanting to locate to the area," he added. "We are a strong community and our children, families and businesses deserve the support of the CCRSB."
"I believe in this community, the people of Wentworth believe in this community, and closing the school will knock the feet right out from under our rebuilding process," she said. "I shudder to think of the cost of that to our citizens, our community, our county, our province, socially, psychologically and financially."
After the meeting MacLeod said it was a great night but he was disappointed by the lack of CCRSB board members at the meeting.
MacLeod said that three board members visited Wentworth Elementary in the afternoon and took a tour of he school, and that only one of the three members, Vivian Farrell, remained for the evening meeting.