Board backs rec­om­men­da­tion to close two el­e­men­tary schools

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - NATALIE PAD­DON

Pub­lic school board trustees backed a staff rec­om­men­da­tion to close two el­e­men­tary schools de­spite a months-long out­cry from the com­mu­nity against the move.

Fessenden and Queen’s Rangers el­e­men­tary schools are sug­gested for shut­ter­ing, and it’s rec­om­mended that C.H. Bray and Rousseau el­e­men­tary schools be re­built on their cur­rent sites.

The de­ci­sion, which will now be put for­ward to the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, came Mon­day night af­ter a six-month ac­com­mo­da­tion re­view process that in­cluded five schools.

“Tonight’s de­ci­sions are ex­tremely dif­fi­cult,” said trustee Alex John­stone, who rep­re­sents the af­fected area.

Par­ents from Queen’s Rangers in Copetown, who at­tended Mon­day’s meet­ing wear­ing red shirts and hold­ing signs, have ar­gued that main­tain­ing the school’s ru­ral iden­tity is key for the com­mu­nity.

But John­stone ar­gued trustees had to look at the big­ger pic­ture.

“If we re­tain Queen’s Rangers, it will have an im­pact on the rest of the com­mu­nity,” she said.

Most no­tably, it af­fects the busi­ness case to the min­istry for two new schools, she added.

John­stone said she was not con­vinced keep­ing the school open was “the best model for stu­dent learn­ing and achieve­ment.”

Cur­rently the school’s pop­u­la­tion is less than 130 stu­dents. The board’s ideal pop­u­la­tion tar­get for a JK to Grade 8 school is 500, said di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion Manny Figueiredo.

The board be­lieves a greater num­ber of stu­dents al­lows for more di­verse pro­gram­ming — both in­class and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties — and makes staffing op­tions eas­ier, he said.

Par­ents ap­proached af­ter the meet­ing de­clined to com­ment.

Not all trustees sup­ported the de­ci­sion, in­clud­ing Larry Pat­ti­son, who rep­re­sents Ward 3. He said he wanted to see Queen’s Rangers re­main open be­cause of his per­sonal be­lief in “com­mu­nity schools.”

“I would like to see us find a so­lu­tion to keep this school as it is,” while back­ing the rest of the rec­om­men­da­tions made, he said.

The rec­om­men­da­tions also in­clude an ad­di­tion be­ing put on An­caster Se­nior El­e­men­tary School to make it a JK to Grade 8 school.

A new French Im­mer­sion pro­gram will be im­ple­mented at Rousseau once the re­build is done. It’s rec­om­mended a bound­ary re­view for this be con­ducted.

Staff also rec­om­mends a bound­ary re­view be com­pleted in June be­tween Queen’s Rangers and the new school to be built on the Bev­erly Com­mu­nity Cen­tre.

The rec­om­men­da­tion also sug­gested the Hamil­ton-Went­worth District School Board com­mu­ni­cate with the City of Hamil­ton and other part­ners about how to re­use com­mu­nity prop­erty to ben­e­fit the lo­cal ar­eas.

The An­caster re­view is among sev­eral clus­ter re­views be­ing con­ducted to at­tract more pro­vin­cial fund­ing for new schools by re­duc­ing the num­ber of empty seats in ex­ist­ing schools.

Next steps in­clude staff com­ing up with busi­ness cases to put be­fore the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion for fund­ing.

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