The distinctions and similarities of two school closure studies emerged once again from meetings last week.
Stakeholders at a meeting hosted by the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board on March 4 at East Pictou Middle School upheld their support for an option to move its Grade 7 and 8 students to F.H. MacDonald Elementary School next door. The meeting lasted barely 30 minutes and was marked by unanimity for what has been called a third option, as opposed to leaving the students at East Pictou or dispersing them to other schools.
The spirit of consensus was not lost on onboard superintendent Gary Clarke.
“You don’t get it very often these days,” he said.
The meeting stood in contrast to the strong opposition at the March 3 meeting in Westville, where most speakers kept up their quest to return students to Highland Consolidated Middle School. The students are attending Dr. W.A. MacLeod School in Riverton, which has been allocated $3.75 million in provincial funding to upgrade a portion of the school closer to middle school standings.
That is the option the school board supports. It would also mean closing the school in Westville.
What both groups have in common is a desire to keep the respective schools’ students in their communities.
“We are very supportive of Option 3,” Jaime Smith told the gathering of some 50 people at the East Pictou meeting. “We hope we can keep them together to support our community.”
Don Butler referred to the importance of rural communities contained in the report on Nova Scotia’s rural economy presented by Ray Ivany as he repeated his support for the third option.
“The report’s recommendations address the needs of rural Nova Scotia,” he said. “It makes it more difficult to send children further from home.”
The meetings were the latest to offer the public opportunities to respond to impact assessments developed for each school over the past two school years.
The school has until March 31 to decide each school’s fate, and will likely make that decision at its next regular meeting on March 19 in Truro.
What also came out of the meeting at East Pictou was concern over the time it would take to renovate F.H. MacDonald in a fashion that MacLeod school would be altered if the middle school students remain there.
If the option is approved and provincial funding forthcoming, it might be the fall of 2016 at the earliest before middle school students could move in and East Pictou Middle would need to remain open until then.