About 200 people of all ages took part in a public meeting Tuesday that focused on the school review process for three Pictou schools and ways to keep most of them open.
The meeting was hosted by Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane, who described the two-hour meeting in the auditorium of Pictou Academy as an informal way for people to get information on the school review process.
“I am here for you and will back you in whatever direction you decide to take,” she said.
The Chignecto-Central Regional School Board announced a few weeks ago that Pictou Elementary, Dr. Thomas McCulloch Junior High School and Pictou Academy are being reviewed. Northumberland Regional High School is also under review because it could accept students from PA if the school is reconfigured or closed and students need to be transferred elsewhere.
A school options committee is being formed by the province and will gather information from public meetings and school board reports among other sources to come up with an option that best suits the educational needs of the students. School board staff has already listed its options and none of them include having a primary to Grade 12 in the town, which was the preferred choice for the crowd Tuesday night.
“I want a community that supports primary to Grade 12 education in this town,” said Luke Young, who is a member of the Pictou Academy Educational Foundation, business owner and parent of students at the school.
Young said he believes the school review process is flawed because it doesn’t allow people on the SOC who have a vested interest in the future of the school, such as parents, and the fact it only gave three options, none of which include P-12.
Sheree Fitch, who was an advocate for the Save Our Schools group in River John, was the first to take the open microphone on the floor to let the crowd know they should get their message out loud and clear as soon as possible.
She said this is a new school review process and a new CCRSB superintendent is in place, but their voices must be heard sooner than later.
“Don’t waste time. Let the premier and Karen Casey (education minister) know you are here. Be strong in numbers and let them know you are not going down.”
Others at the microphone expressed concern over the process and the need to keep the schools in the town for the sake of community and business prosperity.
Jim MacDonald, a former principal of the Academy, read an email from a PA student that described an environment where students learn in small classroom settings and where there isn’t a need for extra security because of trouble in or out of the school.
Another former PA principal, Jim Ryan, echoed MacDonald’s comments, adding that because Pictou Academy is small in size, students have the option of participating in athletics, performing arts and the community more than at other schools.
“It is important that everyone do the best they can to make sure Pictou Academy stays open and it continues to serve the people of Pictou and others,” he said.
School board representative Vivian Farrell told the crowd that CCRSB found out in December 2015 that the school review would take place and the Department of Education set the times that it is mandated to follow.
According to current numbers in the CCRSB’s long-term outlook, Pictou Elementary is at 54 per cent capacity, McCulloch at 29 per cent and PA at 34 per cent.
“The only way to determine if these numbers are true is to do a school review process,” she said. “A school is not reviewed in isolation, but in relation to the schools around it.”
Someone pointed out that if McCulloch and Pictou Academy became a P-12 school then it would have a 117 per cent capacity, which is more than most schools in the county.
Farrell joined in on the applause following the comment, and she will attend all the public meetings to hear what people have to say during the review process.
“We have good things here, we are so proud of it, and we want to keep the best of what we have,” she said. “Things have to change but let’s control as best as we can what has to change.”
The first meeting of the school options committee is expected to be held in mid-September, followed by two others in the fall and early winter. The SOC will have its report and recommendations to the CCRSB by March 22, 2017 and the board will make its decision on April 19, 2017.
“If you want the school board to consider your evidence, it has come early in the process,” said Noella Martin, chair of the Pictou Academy Educational Foundation. “We heard nothing but good in here this evening. Get out, participate and have your input and make these very valid points made here this evening.”