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SUTHERLANDS RIVER – Those who addressed the school board at a public hearing about the potential closure of East Pictou Middle School sent a clear message: they want to see the students stay in the community and stay together.
Members of the community and concerned parents gathered at East Pictou Middle School to voice their opinions to board members about the potential closure of the school Tuesday evening.
East Pictou Middle School is one of five schools the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board is considering closing. The public hearing is a step in the review process. It’s a chance for the board to hear directly from the community what their opinions are on the potential closure of the school and the options the school board has to choose from.
The board released a report to School Advisory Committees of each school on the chopping block. It was suggested in East Pictou’s report that if the board votes to close the school, then East Pictou Middle School’s grade 7 and 8 students would be split up between Highland Consolidated Middle School, New Glasgow Junior High School, Thorburn Consolidated, Trenton Middle School and the Grade 9 students would go to North Nova Education Centre.
The schools then formed study committees, which gathered input from the community and submitted a report with information to help the board make an informed decision on Jan. 31.
The East Pictou Middle School Study Committee's report recommended that the school remain open. It also recommended that if East Pictou were to continue in the School Review Process, that strong consideration be given to involving Frank H. MacDonald Elementary School in the process or in a new review where they would be the receiving school of grades 7 and 8 students and that this facility become a P-8 school in the Pictou East community.
Support for the option of turning Frank H. MacDonald Elementary School into a P to 8 school rather than dispersing the students to five different schools was evident at the meeting.
Lisa Hartlen-Moir of the Frank H. MacDonald Elementary Parent and Community Association said that organization supports East Pictou staying open, but if it must be closed, the association would like to see the board consider changing Frank H. into a P to 8 school.
“These children need to be kept together as a community and to separate them for grade 7 and 8 at a crucial time in their social and emotional development for many would be a devastating blow to leave their friends while trying to fit into a new school only to be moved again in Grade 9,” she said. “Many of our children are currently on a bus for an hour a day both to and from school and the challenges of childcare in rural areas means that our children in grade 7 and 8 are helping their families by being on the bus and helping after school with younger brothers and sisters.”
Shalyn Murphy, a member of the Frank H. MacDonald School Advisory Council and a mother, said keeping the children together in the community from grade primary to grade 8 is important.
“We would like to say we are in support of option 3, we are more than happy to welcome grade 7 and 8 to Frank H. MacDonald School,” she said on behalf of the advisory council. “Also, as a parent of two young children in Frank H… my belief is keeping our children together at such crucial time of development is essential.”
Don Butler of the East Pictou Education Foundation said the foundation is also supporting the idea of option 3.
“We certainly are strong supporters of this facility we can appreciate there comes a time when a school has to be closed,” he said. “The second option, the option of dispersing our children is totally unacceptable to us and we cannot go along with that option at all… we think that option 3 of keeping our students as close to home as possible, keeping them in this community and continuing their education at the school next door is a tremendous option and an option we support.”
Pictou East MLA Clarrie MacKinnon also voiced his support for transitioning Frank H. MacDonald into a P to 8 school to accommodate the East Pictou Middle School students should the board vote to close that school. He said as a politician, it’s an option he would put his political weight behind.
“I will be a strong and consistent voice for the funding for the necessary changes that will be needed to transform Frank H. MacDonald into a P to 8 school,” he assured the audience.
The board must make a decision by March 31 on whether the school will be closed. If the board votes to close a school, it has a maximum of five years to shut the school down.