Residents rally around school

Colin MacLean
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Proposal to close Catalina Elementary angers community, draws 200 people to meeting

Part of the reason Elaine Tilley moved her family home to Newfoundland and Labrador was to escape an education system where she felt her children were considered to be more statistics than students.

“My oldest one did the overpopulated schools — and it don’t work,” said Tilley. “It’s not going to work. I’ve been there. It’s chaotic for the kids and very overwhelming.”

Her husband took a job overseas, she said, so she could have stayed in Alberta. But she didn’t want to raise her children there, so they moved home.

“We weighed the pros and cons, and one of the main reasons we came back here was because the schooling was a small system and we knew the kids would get a great education here,” she said.

The Catalina resident was one of more than 200 parents, teachers and community residents who attended a town meeting Tuesday night.

The question on everyone’s mind was, “What’s going to happen to Catalina Elementary?”

The kindergarten to Grade 8 school has been recommended for closure by an Eastern School District review. Its fate, and the fate of four other schools which are also on the chopping block, is not set in stone, but school board officials have said its actions are intended to improve the education of children.

The district’s line of reasoning has been that bigger schools mean more programs and greater opportunities for students.

Tilley, and many other parents, don’t agree.

The Telegram received a flood of letters to the editor on this subject Wednesday, nearly all in relation to Catalina Elementary. The other schools recommended for closure are Swift Current Academy in Swift Current, Epiphany Elementary in Heart’s Delight, Whitbourne Elementary in Whitbourne and Immaculate Conception in Colliers.

There were several common themes throughout the letters, including concerns about class sizes and quality of education.

“We wanted our kids to attend a school where we felt like family, where not only their homeroom teacher knew their name, but every teacher could greet them with a smile and a friendly hello, and I can honestly say that here at Catalina Elementary we are family,” wrote Krista Hong.

“We don't understand as parents/community representatives why the board has chosen to close down our school. The only advantage/reason that could possibly explain this decision is to close down our school in order to fund one of the new ones that are being built in larger centres. Is the government trying to eliminate the rural communities?” asked Sherry Burry.

Tough times

Christine Lony from Port Union wrote, “Our town has had a couple of bad blows with the last year or two with (hurricane) Igor and the resulting closure of the fish plant. Our community has just formed an economic development committee to determine how to turn things around. Closing our school is basically saying that you believe our town is dead and you do not believe we can recover from this. That is wrong!”

The letters go on — at length.

The parents have every right to voice their concerns, and they will have input throughout the ongoing review process, said Milton Peach, chairman of the Eastern School District’s board of directors.

“It’s a proposal at this point in time,” said Peach.

“No decision has been made. But we want to look at it from the real factors of what’s involved.”

Its been proposed that all five schools close in June 2013, so there is still plenty of time for parents and communities to make their cases for keeping their schools open, he said.

A round of public consultations will take place in each community over the next few weeks, he said, and there will be at least one other round of consultations before a final vote is taken for each school.

But when it comes down to making the final decision, the school board must make it based on facts, said Peach.

“We as a board have to make decisions based on what is best for the students, what we can do to give them the best programming, and not make our decisions based on emotions,” he said.

cmaclean@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelegramMacLean

Organizations: Grade 8 school, Swift Current Academy, Port Union

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, Catalina Swift Current Whitbourne Colliers

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Recent comments

  • St. John's Resident
    October 15, 2012 - 14:36

    Per Wilma Norman's comments - “Rural nflders should not expect much in the way of anything?”. Seriously? Look at the amount of EI and social assistance that both the federal and provincial government spends to keep communities and families in rural Newfoundland alive. How can you say you don’t expect much of anything when a large proportion of rural residents already rely on government help as it is? The statistics speak for themselves. Please explain to me why the residents of Newfoundland who ARE paying into taxes (versus living off of EI and social assistance) should then have the “sub-standard” education so the school board can accommodate lower class sizes for your children, but yet not for the rest of urban Newfoundland’s children? It’s nice to dream and demand that we are all entitled to this type of 1-8 teacher/student ratio, but at the end of the day, it’s about money and being able to afford quality education for ALL of our children in this province. Equal access to education for all kids is what is fair if we're talking about managing a budget - which we are. And, as far as I am concerned, a longer bus ride after they combine schools doesn’t mean that these children won’t get a good education. It just means they’ll have less time to sit in front of the tv before supper-time.

  • Eli
    October 11, 2012 - 15:02

    I agree with Elaine, the Catalins school should remain open and judging by Elaine's grammar she should enroll herself. It don't work? Grow up.

    • vince dwyer
      October 11, 2012 - 23:47

      I have been fighting to save schools here in Ontario for quite some time .Do not think the size of the school matters in these decisions the only number the boards have been mandated to followed is usage. If you`re school is 81 percent full or less you`re school will be slated to close regardless of how good it is how great the education received is .some very large and very new schools have closed in recent years .plus the government is not looking at fluctuations from year to year either the federal government is try to save face cause of overspending else where .Small schools smaller class size`s does equal better education don't want to take my word search for the study s done at Harvard on this subject when the states went through this same problem. OUR CHILDREN'S education is the future of our country .Our Country`s populations is growing over 2 percent per year with a expected increase in births due to the up turn in the market place and less unemployment .Closing schools is not the answer finding ways to keep them open is easier and cheaper in the long run when you take into account transportation cost to bus student to a new city , business and manufacturing entity's unwillingness to open in areas without a educated workforce the unwillingness of young adults to live in community's without schools close by this alone has caused more headaches and trouble for young Canadians .

  • St. John's Resident
    October 11, 2012 - 12:45

    Okay, time for a basic lesson on how the education system is funded. Tax dollars pay for education. Then, money is distributed based on population. When there is a disproportionate amount of money being spent to run schools in under-populated areas, it means that tax-payers in urban centers are not getting the same quality of education for their kids because there is less money to hire more teachers and to open new schools. So, essentially, the areas of the province (ie: rural areas) who are contributing less tax-dollars to fund education are then getting smaller class sizes which can potentially lead to a higher quality education. How can you justify this? The school board is not trying to ruin your town – they are just trying to better allocate spending. At the end of the day, we all choose where we live, and unfortunately, that means that there will be a longer bus ride for some kids, and a longer trip to get to a grocery store. However, in my opinion, it doesn’t justify forcing schools in the city to be over-populated and under-staffed so that the school board can fund your school that only has around 150 kids.

    • wilma norman
      October 13, 2012 - 08:32

      It would probably be a good idea for the govt. to distribute oil money more equitably across the province so that we can all reap the most important benefit of a non renewable resource---QUALITY EDUCATION FOR ALL NFLDERS---- rather than suggesting that rural nflders should not expect much in the way of anything. Or it might be a good idea for you to "choose" to live in rural Nl. After all you "chose" to live in an urban area drunk on development, spending money like crazy and we are all supposed to suffer because of the overcrowding in urban schools? Your comments are shortsighted and miss the point entirely. Imagine having to apologize for a sensible manageable pupil/teacher ratio!!!! Shame on us indeed. We all should be striving for smaller schools and stop treating rural nflders as second class citizens.Where do we get the idea that small schools are not quality schools? It is just the opposite and the research confirms it. Start lobbying for small schools in St. John's if you care about your child's education.Why do you think people are so upset about their school closing???? A new model for distribution of school funding must be applied if we are going to provide quality education for everyone which is a goal of highest priority.

  • irene
    October 11, 2012 - 11:58

    here we go again. Every time a school closure is announced you can be prepared for the whining.many more schools that are in close proximity should be closed. It's just that nobody has the political will to so so, here in Souithern Alberta children travel to schoolng distances from rural communities. Think about the long term realities and close out many of the smaller schools and give children a quality education. If parents don't like that , there is always the option of home schooling.

  • mary
    October 11, 2012 - 11:51

    Every time a school closure is announced in Nl ,one can expect to hear the whining. I live in Alberta where children travel on buses for long periods every day. There are dozens of schools in Nl that should be closed but because of politics remain open. I can think of Lawn and St.lawrence .. Englee and Roddickton and many more that are only a few kilometers apart. Get behind the school trustees and do what will be in the best interest of everyone in the long run. It seems that every decision made regarding change is met with ranting instead of calm rationalization.

  • Fred Russell Port Union
    October 11, 2012 - 11:40

    Mr. Peach if you and your board members are true to your words and are making these decisions based on facts and not emotions, to give our students the best programming possible, then your decision in relation to Catalina Elementary will not take any more than a few minutes of your usual 1 to 1 1/2 hour board meetings. Its that simple ! Catalina Elementary stays open.....and these are the facts as spoken by Mr. Cullimore and others.

  • harry
    October 11, 2012 - 11:13

    send your kids to school anyway and if its not open then send them home again that way they can say the went to school but it wasnt open so they had to go home keep doing it until they give bin ... it will work dont let them go to othere schools .even if you hv to home schoool them good luck

  • SB
    October 11, 2012 - 11:10

    The CRT scores, extra-curricular opportunities, community support - including fundraising for technology and equipment is second to none. Catalina Elementary is an excemplary model of a successful rural community school. I suggest Catalina Elementary continue as it has been, Matthew Elementary receive the upgrades that is required to bring it to at least an equal opportunity for their children. Leave the Grade 7s and 8s where they are. If Discovery Collegiate has available space, perhaps some of the programs and services being offered in the adjoining College of the North Atlantic Campus take in some of this available space. Rumour is they are interested in some expansion. Is this the case of one government department not communicating with another department?

  • Roger Cullimore
    October 11, 2012 - 08:30

    Mr Peach is saying these decisions are based on facts and what is best for the students. Well the facts are that Catalina Elementary surpasses all the regulations and policies. They only had to look at the CRT's, structure, after school programs and the higher than predicted enrolments, than this recommendation would never have been made. Catalina Elementary is offering the best possible education to it students. In fact they are getting a better education than they could possible get at any other school. So what is the real reason. We keep asking for the board members to explain but there is no response. Is it money like many are suggesting? Where in the Eastern School District policies does it state that they have the authority to close a school based on $$$. This is simply wrong to announce this recommendation with nothing to back it up. The Board say they are so concerned about students but what about all the stress they have added to their lives with the knowledge that someone wants to close their school. And what is so sad is they have no real reason to so.

    • vince dwyer
      October 11, 2012 - 12:15

      This government since taking office has been silently mandating closing of schools all across the country and as for them listing to you`re concerns don't hold you`re breath. Here in Ontario we have what they call the arc committee " Accommodation Review Committee" where they bring in parents that volunteer and sit on the board to help choose what school stay open and what school closes .they say they will listen and that's right they will listen ,but they wont act on anything you say. here in Cambridge Ontario myself and hundreds of other very concerned parents have been fighting to save one of the best school in this city and it has been lies and half truths from the board and Government .you need to get the press involved email you local politicians get local government involved .if you stand a chance at all to save you`re schools .there have been over 800 community's some with only one school in the community lose there school and bus the children to other city's to go to school .the government want to build massive schools 1500 children and up and have school go from jk to high school all under one roof

  • Peggy White
    October 11, 2012 - 08:06

    If you think our students aren't getting quality education at Catalina Elementary, look at the latest CRT results. Our marks are 10-15% above the district and province!

  • Ed Samson
    October 11, 2012 - 07:19

    Ms Elaine Tilley better get used to the fact that she didn't move her family back to 1960's -70's NL. For better of for worst, I'm not sure, but things have changed drastically in NL.I have lived in numerous places across Canada, Medicine Hat, AB most recently, not much differant living in AB than NL, oh the traffic was a little more dense on the highways in AB, that's about it. Actually, I felt much safer in Medicine Hat than I do in NL. But that was probably an illusion on my part. But wait now? Didn't a recent national survey indicate that the crime rate was actually higher in NL than AB.

  • Starr
    October 11, 2012 - 06:45

    Dear Elaine If your husband has a job overseas and if it is a place you can go as well, my advice would for you to all go. As one who is currently living the expat life I can tell you it is very rewarding experience for the whole family. Children make good friends and learn to adapt. The educational system is usually really good for Canadians; if not, the Canadian curriculum is available on the internet and they can be home schooled. Expat kids are educated in more ways than in the classroom as this life provides real life experiences, not just from books. Its a rich life for them. Its nice to see and experience life outside North America.