More con­cern for Tan­cook school’s fu­ture

South Shore Breaker - - FRONT PAGE - HEATHER DESVEAUX hdesveaux@gmail.com

A split vote from the for­mer elected school board saved their ele­men­tary school in 2016, but par­ents on Big Tan­cook Is­land have fears it could still close be­cause of staffing is­sues stem­ming from the is­land’s re­mote lo­ca­tion and stu­dents’ spe­cial needs.

Nor­mally at the end of a school year, chil­dren find out who their teacher will be in Septem­ber but not those who at­tend BTES (Big Tan­cook Ele­men­tary School), said par­ent Ann Westhaver. The teach­ing prin­ci­pal hired for the last school year didn’t fin­ish out the year and there was no re­place­ment by

June 29.

“Go­ing into the sum­mer months not know­ing if you’re go­ing to have a teacher or a TA [teacher’s as­sis­tant] in your school come Septem­ber is very frus­trat­ing for a par­ent,” said Westhaver. “Not hav­ing a school or a teacher there means a whole pile of stuff for the par­ents in terms of how we go for­ward and what we do.”

Par­ents say the teacher who gets the job has to ei­ther adapt to is­land life or the ferry sched­ule to travel there for it to work out. It’s about an hour one way, and the sched­ule of the near­est main­land school, Ch­ester District, isn’t in sync with the ferry ar­rival and de­par­ture times.

Westhaver’s youngest son Wil­liam is re­turn­ing to the school in Septem­ber with five other stu­dents. The Westhavers moved to the is­land from Liver­pool last year to help care for a fam­ily mem­ber. “We got her placed in care but we loved it so much here we de­cided to stay,” Westhaver told the South Shore Breaker. Wil­liam has ADHD (at­ten­tion deficit hy­per­ac­tiv­ity dis­or­der) and needs sup­port.

“The school board will tell you ‘Well, you made the de­ci­sion to live on the is­land,’” she said. “If they’re go­ing to con­tinue with a school on the is­land, they need to of­fer up the same ser­vices that any school is get­ting on the main­land. We have to be seen as no dif­fer­ent than any other school. We’re still en­ti­tled to that visit from the su­per, or mak­ing sure the equip­ment we have is up to stan­dard and get vis­its from be­havioural sup­port staff. There should be no dif­fer­ence in our rights. Be­ing just a half school is not enough for our chil­dren.”

Laura Baker has lived on Big Tan­cook for 47 years and her six-year-old son Josh is the sev­enth gen­er­a­tion of their fam­ily to live on the is­land. Josh, who has autism and ADHD, be­gan pri­mary at BTES last Septem­ber. Baker said due to the lack of sup­port, the for­mer teach­ing prin­ci­pal lim­ited his time to morn­ings only. She said she knows Josh would be bet­ter sup­ported in Ch­ester if they don’t get the proper sup­port on the is­land, in­clud­ing a teacher’s as­sis­tant that he and other stu­dents re­quire that hasn’t been ad­ver­tised yet, said Baker. “But how do we get him (to Ch­ester) ev­ery day? With his be­hav­iours, daily travel is not an op­tion. If they had a quiet room on the ferry, he could be in it [and] would be OK if they also hired a boat mon­i­tor,” she said. All chil­dren un­der the age of 11 need to have su­per­vi­sion on the ferry. “We would have to move,” she said, which would make her un­em­ployed from her lob­ster fish­ing liveli­hood and take Josh away from the out­door is­land life he loves.

Westhaver added the qual­i­fi­ca­tions for the teach­ing job — a mas­ter’s de­gree and prin­ci­pal back­ground — elim­i­nates a lot of peo­ple that can ap­ply for the po­si­tion. It was sug­gested that the pre­vi­ous long-term teacher, who still lives on the is­land after she re­tired, could job share the ad­min­is­tra­tive por­tion of the role. “But they didn’t want to con­sider it,” said Westhaver.

Scott Mil­ner, who be­came the su­per­in­ten­dent of the South Shore Re­gional Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre after the school was saved from clo­sure, said they’re do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to en­sure the school stays open. A job post­ing on the cen­tre’s web­site stated the teach­ing prin­ci­pal po­si­tion was to be­gin on Au­gust 1.

Mil­ner said he un­der­stands peo­ple’s sus­pi­cions when things don’t go smoothly, but there is no hid­den agenda to close the school. “It’s an NSTU [Nova Sco­tia Teach­ers Union] po­si­tion so it has to go through its rounds.” Mil­ner added he ex­pects ap­pli­cants to be fully briefed on the work­ing con­di­tions and sup­port the ap­pli­cant as much as pos­si­ble.

“Con­sid­er­ing the shaky ground we seem to find our­selves on when it comes to our lit­tle school, I know the par­ents here are of­ten ner­vous when there is any sort of change, but I am con­fi­dent that in Septem­ber we will have a fresh new start to an awe­some school year,” said the chair of the school’s ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee Hil­lary Dionne, who is in­volved in the hir­ing process.

Con­trib­uted

(Front) Half of Big Tan­cook stu­dents for this Septem­ber: Felic­ity Zwicker, Josh Baker (back), Wil­liam Westhaver with par­ents Laura Baker and Ann Westhaver.

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