More consultations on school closings scheduled
The board also held firm on its commitment to close Catalina Elementary.
Notice of motions that call for the closing of all three schools at the end of this academic year were tabled at the meeting, and will be voted on next month.
The board did offer a reprieve to Immaculate Conception in Colliers, however. The K-6 school was initially recommended for closure, but the board is now serving notice that it will reconfigure the school into a K-4 facility, with Grades 5 and 6 students bused to Roncalli in Avondale.
Roncalli, which is now Grade 7-Level III, will likely welcome Grades 5 and 6 next year.
Holy Cross Elementary in Holyrood, which had also been marked for closure, will also remain open, while Swift Current Academy will be reconfigured from an all-grade to a K-9 school. Swift Current had also been recommended for permanent closure prior to a series of public consultations that resulted in an intense lobby by those opposed to the hour-long bus ride to Clarenville.
Closures make sense
Meanwhile, board chairman Milton Peach of Carbonear said the board feels very strongly that consolidation is required in the so-called Crescent system.
Peach said enrolment at Whitbourne Elementary and Epiphany Elementary is decreasing “rapidly,” the schools are operating at well below their intended capacity, it’s becoming more challenging to deploy teachers, and the busing will be consistent with practices throughout the district, province and Atlantic Canada.
“Putting them together at this time makes the most sense for efficiency,” said Peach.
If the board votes in favour of the motions, the roughly 80 students attending Whitbourne Elementary will be bused to Woodland Elementary in Dildo, while the less-than-50 students at Epiphany will travel to Acreman Elementary in Green’s Harbour.
This will result in three schools in the Lower Trinity South region — Crescent Collegiate in Blaketown (Grade 7 to Level III), and Woodland and Acreman.
Despite arguments that student enrolment would either stay consistent or increase, Peach said the facts tell a different story.
Those lobbying to save Whitbourne Elementary, for example, repeatedly emphasized the growth in housing in the town.
“But from all of the work and research we could do and consultation with various government departments, we could not find any great evidence that Whitbourne had a growth of children,” said Peach, “so we went forward with the notice of motion ( for closure).”
Many parents also raised concerns about busing, but Peach said even those students travelling the farthest distance will be “in line” with today’s standards.
He also reminded parents that during a threat of inclement weather, it’s likely that schools will be closed.
“The issue of bus safety is a priority,” Peach stated.
While the direction of the board now seems crystal clear, that doesn’t mean the time for dialogue is over.
The board will host another series of public consultation meetings in the coming weeks.
Here is a breakdown of those meetings:
• Nov. 26 — Discovery Collegiate, Bonavista; • Nov. 27 — Swift Current Academy; • Dec. 3 — Crescent Collegiate, Blaketown;
• Dec. 4 — Roncalli Central High School, Avondale.
All sessions begin at 6:30 p.m.