School closure study sets key ‘aspirational’ goals
Principles to guide volunteers’ search for school options
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.”