Families in rural areas will no doubt feel a measure of relief as the province indicates it wants to improve the school closure process.
The Education Department has just released a discussion paper on the topic, suggesting inclusion of standard indicators – enrolment, an area’s population – to help identify schools that should be subject to review.
But it’s hard to see how the process could ever become easier, since Nova Scotia still faces the dilemma of too much space for a dwindling student population and aging structures.
No matter how well notification is issued, or how well reasons are laid out for the potential closing of a school, the people affected don’t want to know about it. They simply want their local school to remain – and who can blame them?
The provincial government acknowledges this. Revamped approach or not, Education Minister Karen Casey said the review process will always be emotionally charged.
But if we are at the stage of reviewing the review process, how about going the extra step and reviewing why we insist smaller schools need to go in the first place.
Be sure to factor in transportation costs for buses to round up children scattered around the countryside – for what in some cases amounts to travelling well over an hour a day. Think about the snowball effect on the community as well, in a province where the erosion of rural areas is epidemic. Closing a school means even more will pull up stakes.
Consider the response this year to a review in River John. Community members rallied to show the potential for the school’s use outside of the classroom day, and various groups have shown interest in using the facilities.
As long as we’re pondering how to review the assets a school offers to a given population, why not rethink the process altogether and include the community hub model as a key factor. Smaller, efficient schools in outlying areas might be just as practical and cost-effective as larger, centralized ones.