Major overhaul needed in school review process committee told

Dave Mathieson
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Barriers between schools, communities need to be lowered

AMHERST – The school review process regarding school closures needs to be more open and transparent.

“It’s more than a school planning issue, it’s a community planning issue,” said Jim Campbell, who is an economic advisor to the Municipality of Cumberland County.

Campbell was one of 50 concerned citizens who attended the School Review Process Consultation public meeting Monday night at Amherst Regional High School’s Susan Taylor Theatre.

With a new provincial government in Halifax, Karen Casey, the Education and Early Childhood Development Minister, put the committee together to gather input from throughout the province. Bob Fowler heads the committee. Fowler is retired civil servant hired to chair the process.

It was just over a year ago, on Jan. 15, that 50 angry citizens packed into the Wentworth Elementary School to voice their displeasure with the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board’s assessment report regarding the closing of the Wentworth school.

One of the concerned citizens at last year’s meeting was Linda Patriquin, and she talked during Monday night’s meeting as well.

“The assessment report was very negative focused. It looked at the cons and not the positives,” said Patriquin.

Patriquin said the assessment report didn’t bother to look at the impact on the students.

“It’s not about the building, it’s not the boards bottom line, and it’s not a dollar value. It’s the impact on the student, socially, morally, and educationally.”

Patriquin said the whole process created distrust.

“To avoid some of the distrust and animosity that arose the community needs to be involved sooner and have some input. All options have to be investigated.”

Campbell agrees, saying there seems to be an inherently adversarial relationship between the community and the school board.

“To overcome that (adversarial relationship) we need to talk to one another much more,” said Campbell. “Our communities are a vital resource to the schools and sometimes that is overlooked.

“A community is often overlooked because of things like policy or collective agreements or tradition, and it’s our experience that all these barriers can be resolved with the will to do so,” he added.

Campbell says communities are a significant resource to schools, not just the other way around.

“Collaboration between schools and boards and communities are needed to create an atmosphere of trust and understanding so that when we are faced with difficult choices we will have some sort of a relationship to build on,” said Campbell.

With a declining population in Cumberland County and an upswing in the age of the residents who remain, Campbell made the link between education and community sustainability.

“Planning for schools and education should be integrated in the community and municipal planning and it should involve all schools not just those considered for closing,” said Campbell.

Mike Corbett, a teacher who has attended committee every meeting, also wasn’t impressed with the previous school review process.

“Everything is put through a numerical grinder where we are more concerned about test scores or the square footage of the rooms and the numbers of bodies needed to fill them,” said Corbett.

He said communities have to rethink what their core values are.

“Maybe we need a new conversation about what those core values are and have a process that defends those values,” said Corbett.

Concerned grandparent, Morris Haugg, was at Monday’s meeting and he had some core values that he wants to defend.

First, he said the benefits of small elementary schools far outweigh the negatives.

“A different approach should be taken with elementary school and high school,” said Haugg. “The difference between children and teenagers has to be recognized.”

He says he would rather see a school stay open even if it doesn’t have a full curriculum enjoyed by bigger schools.

“What goes on in a smaller school is maturing,” said Haugg. “Kids have extra-curricular activities and the kids know each other.”

Second, he said parents can best decide what’s best for their children and should therefore be involved in the province’s decision-making process regarding school review process.

“Parents can decide if their child is going to university or trade school or going work on the farm at home,” said Haugg. “I’d like to see the value of the parent recognized in any future process.”

The visit to Amherst was the seventh of nine stops on the committee’s tour, and Fowler said he’s been hearing many of the same themes across Nova Scotia.

“We heard a lot from the folks in Wentworth and the folks in River John because they’ve been through the (closure) process,” said Fowler. “What I’ve said to them is, ‘OK, you’ve been through a painful process, how can we make it better.’”

Fowler says the committee wants to look to the future and not dwell on the past.

“We want to provide the minister with a real good context to what we heard so she understands what people are saying to us and give her some good recommendations of how she can re-invent or improve the process,” said Fowler.

Weather permitting, the committee was in Dartmouth Tuesday night and hope to wrap up their tour on Wednesday with a meeting with the French school board.

The group will gather together again on Jan. 31, to begin work on their report.

“The minister said (she wants the report) no later than Feb. 28, and our hope is to get it to her before that,” said Fowler. “The process is still in that limbo stage, so the minister was adamant that she wanted something that she and her government colleagues could consider to go forward with as quick as possible.”












Organizations: Wentworth Elementary School, Amherst Regional High School, Susan Taylor Theatre Central Regional School Board

Geographic location: AMHERST, Cumberland County, Halifax Chignecto Nova Scotia River John Dartmouth

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Recent comments

  • Doug P
    January 22, 2014 - 12:28

    “Parents can decide if their child is going to university or trade school or going work on the farm at home,” said Haugg. “I’d like to see the value of the parent recognized in any future process.” ___________________________________________ Only a free market in education can provide this. Government run schools simply pretend to recognize the parents and child's wishes. Public schools are nothing more than a conveyer belt. Your children are stamped by a mold until their curiosity and fledgling talents are thoroughly bridled. All of this so that teacher unions can flourish. The idea of an entrepreneurial teacher needs to be freed from its cell. The problem is that there is a 900 pound gorilla called government that is preventing the idea from escaping.