School clo­sure study sets key ‘as­pi­ra­tional’ goals

Prin­ci­ples to guide vol­un­teers’ search for school op­tions

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - RICHARD LEITNER

An­caster wants mod­ern­ized, com­mu­nity-based schools that are close to home, value green space and pro­vide the best learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren.

Those are among the “as­pi­ra­tions” vol­un­teers rep­re­sent­ing five public el­e­men­tary schools agree should steer de­lib­er­a­tions as they ad­vise trustees on po­ten­tial clo­sure op­tions, in­clud­ing an ini­tial one rec­om­mended by staff.

Dis­tilled from feed­back from a Jan. 12 public meet­ing, oth­ers favoured main­tain­ing a “smallschool com­mu­nity feel,” of­fer­ing dual-track French im­mer­sion at two schools, and tak­ing ad­van­tage of pro­vin­cial fund­ing for school re­newal.

“This is a start for our guid­ing prin­ci­ples and as we get cre­ative at our next meet­ing when we think of new op­tions,” su­per­in­ten­dent Bill Torrens told vol­un­teers at their third work­ing-group meet­ing on Feb. 2, held at Queen’s Rangers.

“As we are cre­ative, we bring our own lenses, but this helps us bring that wider com­mu­nity lens.”

Not all mem­bers of the ac­com­mo­da­tion re­view com­mit­tee were sat­is­fied with the pri­or­i­ties, the re­sult of an ex­er­cise that had them break into small groups to reach con­sen­sus on key themes from the public meet­ing.

Elizabeth Craw­ford, par­ent rep for Queen’s Rangers, said the pri­or­i­ties over­looked her com­mu­nity’s de­sire for “ru­ral iden­tity,” but Torrens de­clined to add it to the list, call­ing the con­cern “re­ally school-spe­cific.”

“Trustees are go­ing to be very aware of that feeling,” Torrens said.

“There’s no deny­ing that was a strong mes­sage at the public meet­ing. It’s just what I want to start us at is the global. We’ll even­tu­ally get back to the specifics.”

The com­mit­tee will brain­storm on po­ten­tial op­tions be­yond those of­fered by school board staff at its next meet­ing at C.H. Bray on Feb. 15 at 6 p.m.

An ini­tial staff rec­om­men­da­tion pro­poses clos­ing Queen’s Rangers and Fessenden as part of a $25-mil­lion plan that in­cludes re­build­ing C.H. Bray and putting ad­di­tions on An­caster Se­nior and Rousseau.

The lat­ter three would all be­come JK-to-Grade 8 schools, with Rousseau join­ing An­caster Se­nior in of­fer­ing both English and French im­mer­sion pro­grams.

Five of six al­ter­na­tive op­tions sug­gested — but not favoured by staff — also close Fessenden and Queen’s Rangers, with the only one not to do so main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo but bet­ter bal­anc­ing en­rol­ments.

Alex John­stone, the area’s trustee, sug­gested the com­mit­tee con­sider any part­ner­ships they’d like to see at schools, like a city recre­ation cen­tre or li­brary. She also asked staff to pro­vide a list of avail­able non-board prop­er­ties that may be suit­able for a new school.

“Just in or­der to think out­side the box, what are all the op­tions?” John­stone said.

Craw­ford asked if staff can in­ves­ti­gate whether An­caster High has enough prop­erty for an el­e­men­tary school — rather than a 12-class­room ad­di­tion as con­tem­plated in one staff al­ter­na­tive op­tion — on its 17.4-hectare prop­erty.

Torrens en­cour­aged her and oth­ers to not get hung up on such de­tails when of­fer­ing ad­di­tional op­tions for con­sid­er­a­tion.

“I wouldn’t hes­i­tate to sug­gest some­thing, be­cause it’s just a sug­ges­tion that can be re­searched,” he said. “We can work through the im­pli­ca­tions later.”

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