Up­set at pro­posed school clos­ings in area

Par­ents pack meeting on fu­ture of Queen’s Rangers, Strath­cona

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - NATALIE PADDON npad­don@thes­pec.com 905-526-2420 | @NatatTheSpec

A school isn’t just about the build­ing it’s housed in — it’s about the teach­ers, par­ents and chil­dren who make up its com­mu­nity.

That was the mes­sage par­ent Amy Szoke de­liv­ered to a crowded room of more than 100 par­ents, Hamil­ton-Went­worth Dis­trict School Board staff and trustees about the pro­posed clo­sure of Queen’s Rangers Ele­men­tary School in Copetown Mon­day night.

Szoke — one of al­most 40 peo­ple who sounded off at the packed board meeting — spoke about show­ing up at the ru­ral Gov­er­nors Road fa­cil­ity with her son, who is now five, while scout­ing out where he could at­tend kinder­garten. They were in­vited in, shown around the class­room and made to feel at ease be­cause of the school’s wel­com­ing na­ture, she said.

“You should be so proud this school is part of your com­mu­nity,” Szoke said through tears, fol­lowed by a round of ap­plause. “In­stead of try­ing to take kids out of it, you should be try­ing to put kids in it.”

Queen’s Rangers is one of the schools rec­om­mended for clo­sure as part of the An­caster and west Hamil­ton pupil ac­com­mo­da­tion re­view pro­cesses cur­rently be­ing un­der­taken by the board.

Mon­day’s meeting was the next step in the re­view process, which will come to a head on June 5, the date by when trustees have to de­cide on a fi­nal pro­posal to present to the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion. As part of these re­views, Fessenden Ele­men­tary School in An­caster is sug­gested for shut­ter­ing, and it’s rec­om­mended that Hess Street School — one of the city’s most di­verse ele­men­tary schools — merge with an­other lower-city school, Strath­cona Ele­men­tary School.

If the cur­rent plans go ahead, a new kinder­garten-to-Grade 8 school would be built at the Hess site, lo­cated at Hess Street North and Can­non Street West, the in­terim re­port says.

If this idea doesn’t re­ceive pro­vin­cial fund­ing by spring 2019, the backup rec­om­men­da­tion in­cludes clos­ing Hess in June 2019, and send­ing 95 per cent of the school’s stu­dents to Dr. Edgar Davey Ele­men­tary School and five per cent to Strath­cona.

Par­ent Kerri Wilkin­son, who has two chil­dren at Strath­cona, said she was “gob­s­macked” to learn her kids’ school is now “un­der fire.” “It seems like it’s an af­ter­thought,” she told the meeting.

Wilkin­son said she wor­ries this move could pit the schools’ “two cul­tur­ally di­verse com­mu­ni­ties” against each other.

Since the ini­tial op­tions were put for­ward, staff has changed their stance on Hess, which was ini­tially rec­om­mended for clo­sure, but main­tained their po­si­tion on shut­ter­ing Queen’s Rangers and Fessenden in An­caster, de­spite pub­lic out­cry. In An­caster, staff also rec­om­mends C.H. Bray Ele­men­tary School be re­built on its cur­rent site, a plan par­ents said needs to be sped up be­cause of the con­di­tion of the build­ing.

“There are no de­ci­sions that have been made,” board chair Todd White stressed to par­ents.

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