Student achievement top priority, says board
“As a parent, all I want is the best education for my children,” Coombs said. But he is convinced under the planned reconfigured school system, that is not what they are going to get.
Coombs made it clear “ the people of Harbour Grace are not going to support the closure of a relatively new school.”
He was referring to Harbour Grace Primary, which opened in November, 1989 at a cost of $ 2.4 million. The 21-year-old structure is the newest school building in the Harbour Grace-Carbonear catchment area.
While student enrolment at the primary school was projected to range from 167 to 176 pupils for 2010, Coombs pointed out they currently have some 212 Kindergarten to Grade 5 students.
“ So enrolment is not declining,” he said.
In response to concerns from Carbonear parents about busing their children to Harbour Grace, Coombs responded: “ it’s only five kilometres.”
Coun. Joan Short is also a member of the Harbour Grace Primary school council.
Short said Carbonear “definitely deser ves a new school” to replace Davis, but she does not agree with it if it comes at the expense of closing schools in Harbour Grace.
Short shares the mayor’s concerns about the risk of losing programs like French Immersion.
“Are we going to get the same programming, when the students currently attending St. Francis are split between Harbour Grace and Carbonear?” she asked.
Neither does Short wish to see Harbour Grace Primary close. After she and her fellow school councillors have devoted so much time into improving the school, she said, “ it’s personal to me ... it kills me to see it close.
She said the better option would have been to build a new K-5 school in Carbonear and allow St. Francis to remain a 6-9 school for both towns.
“ Is this our future? Will all our children one day be going to school in Carbonear?,” she asked.
Short believes all the students at St. Francis are content to be where they are, including those from Carbonear. And if asked for their opinion, she is confident, “ they would say they want to stay there.”
Same quality education
For Rice, chief executive officer/director of education with the Eastern School District, told The Compass the programming to be offered at the newly restructured St. Francis will be the same as the other K-8 schools in the area and throughout the province.
Referring to the K-8 schools in Harbour Grace, Carbonear and Victoria, Rice explained, “ from our perspective, when the three schools are opened, there may be a difference in their populations, but in programming it wi l l be the same.”
According to the district’s “ strategic plan,” the director explained, “our No. 1 priority is student achievement.”
Pointing out they have a fair number of small schools, he said they “ provide the provincial curriculum by qualified teachers with subject expertise,” in all of them.
As for the French Immersion program, Rice admitted, “over the past number of years our numbers at St. Francis have been relatively low.” But in spite of that, he quickly added, “ we haven’t cut the program.”
According to the director, the number of French Immersion students at St. Francis is currently down to 13. However, he couldn’t say how many of those students are from Carbonear.
He suggested strong numbers are needed in French Immersion to sustain the program into high school.
From speaking with the administration at St. Francis, Rice noted “ there was a lot of parent interest expressed in the ( French Immersion) program ( just) last week.”
Encouraged by that interest, Rice suggested if it continues he sees no reason the program couldn’t be continued at St. Francis as well as the new elementary school in Carbonear.
Asked how many of the 351 attending St. Francis are from Carbonear, Rice said he didn’t have that figure. The Compass attempted to get that number last week, but none of the people we spoke with could provide it. But it ’ s bel ieved well over 200 of the school’s population are from Carbonear.
If it were to reopen for the 201314 school year as a reconfigured K8 school, Ford Rice says it is projected to have approximately 320 students.
When they l ooked at both school buildings in Harbour Grace, he said it was found the primary school building would be too small to accommodate the numbers the larger St. Francis building can hold.
Approximately $ 4 million was spent on St. Francis in 2009, after rot and mold were found in the walls. But that work was not the “necessary renovations” referred to in the board’s 2006 motion.
Rice explained some work still needs to be done with the washrooms at St. Francis to accommodate the younger primary students.
Rice said Eastern School District’s motto is: to provide the best quality of education in the best learning environment to all of our students.”
And that is what will be offered to their students in Harbour Grace, Carbonear and throughout the district.