RIVER JOHN – Abby Taylor moved to River John so her daughter would go to a school with small classroom sizes and plenty of extra-curricular activities to choose from. Now, River John Consolidated is one of five schools in a review process that could potentially end with its doors closed for good, which has many in the community concerned.
“My daughter is seven in Grade 2 and I don’t think she could possibly get an education anywhere else that would match what she gets here,” Taylor said.
The Chignecto-Central Regional School Board voted to keep River John Consolidated along with the four other schools in the review process at a meeting Tuesday evening in Truro.
Taylor attended the meeting as both a parent and member of the school study committee, which was formed as part of the review process to gather information from the community and present it to the board in a report so it can make an informed decision on whether to close the school.
River John’s report stated that the only viable option would be for the school to remain open.
Taylor said while she would have been happy to see the school removed from the process at the meeting Tuesday, she didn’t feel board members were given enough time to fully review the reports.
“I’d be happy if they took us off the list last night, but realistically, there are a lot of things to consider,” she said.
Some parents and community members are concerned that losing the school will have a negative impact on the small, rural village.
Daniel Ferguson, manager at Simpson’s Appliances and Repair said the school is “the heart and soul of the community.”
He said several groups use the school as a meeting location, such as 4-H club and the town’s action committee, and it’s also used for community events such as biggest loser competitions and the pancake breakfast that will be held there this weekend.
“It’s really the only recreational place we have here in the winter,” he said.
He also said if the school closes, it would affect local businesses.
“The businesses are definitely going to feel an impact if younger families move away because the school’s closed,” he said. “Usually, you’ll find people will start moving to centres where they’re at least close to school. So there will definitely be an impact on businesses here.”
Margaret MacLean, a resident of River John, said she doesn’t know anyone in the village who wants to see the school close.
“If you lose the school you’ll lose so much in the community,” she said. “I don’t think you’ll find anyone in River John who wants to see the school close.”
Taylor said, as a parent, she doesn’t want to see her daughter travel for more than an hour a day on a bus to go to school as it makes it difficult for her to be involved in after-school activities.
“We have beyond 60 different extracurricular activities (at River John Consolidated) that we do throughout the year. If when she’s older she decides she wants to play volleyball, she can do that here,” she said. “At another school, that’s an issue because we’re looking at an hour and a half of busing for these kids and if she has practise three days a week I’m not sure if I want to be driving back and forth.”
She said parents are also concerned about students in River John being split up between several different schools if River John Consolidated is closed.
In the school board’s impact assessment report, it says if the board chooses to close the school, students would be relocated to Scotsburn Elementary, West Pictou Consolidated, Tatamagouche Elementary, North Colchester High School and Northumberland Regional High School. Where the student lives and their grade level would determine which school they would attend.
The next step in the review process will be a public hearing with school board members at the school. The hearing is an opportunity for the board to hear comments directly from individuals in the community about why the school should or should not be closed.
The date and time of the public hearing will be announced by the board on its website and in local papers. The hearing must be held by March 24 and the board must make a decision on whether or not the school will close by March 31. Once the decision is made, the board has a maximum of five years to shut the school down.
Superintendent Gary Clarke noted at the board meeting Tuesday that drastic reductions to the board’s budget over the past two years is the reason behind this school review process.
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