Catalina Elementary parents speak out at public hearing

Andrew Robinson
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Eastern School District board’s multi-year plan suggests closing school

Eastern School District chairman Milton Peach motions to the crowd of nearly 200 supporters of Catalina Elementary on Monday night at Discovery Collegiate in Bonavista. The crowd was there to denounce the district’s recommendation that Catalina Elementary close in June, 2013. — Photo by Ross Mair/The Packet

Opponents of a recommendation made by Eastern School District’s Board of Trustees to close Catalina Elementary got the chance to voice their displeasure directly to the board at a public hearing held Monday evening in Bonavista.

“I’m sure it can be reversed, I think, as long as we keep fighting and we keep getting the facts out there about how good our school is,” said Roger Cullimore, one of the parents who attended Monday’s meeting. “We were told (Monday) that nothing has been decided, and we’re going to take them for their word on that.”

The three-hour meeting was held at Discovery Collegiate, the school that would accept students from grades 7-8 if the K-8 school in Catalina were to close after the current school year. Students in grades K-6 would attend Matthew Elementary in Bonavista.

Approximately 200 people attended the meeting, with 17 individuals making presentations. Along with Eastern School District board members, acting district CEO and director of education Bruce Vey and Bonavista South MHA Glenn Little also attended.

“I guess people were firm in what they were saying,” said Cullimore, who spoke with The Telegram the day after the meeting. “We want our school kept open, and that was the tone for the night. We have facts that state unequivocally that our school should stay open.”

Parents from the school have been hoping to learn more about the specific reasons why the board has recommended closing the school, but Monday’s hearing shed no light on the matter.

“That was brought forward to them,” said Cullimore with regards to the board’s reasons for the recommendation. “We don’t know why, and no one answered. We have a representative from this area, Anne Marie Furlong, and there’s been e-mail upon e-mail and phone calls upon phone call. She will not respond to our questions.”

As has been said by others, Cullimore said not knowing the reasons behind the recommendation makes it harder for parents to fight back.

While he said it is widely known enrollment is declining at rural schools in the province, Cullimore said there are schools with fewer students than Catalina Elementary in the area that are slated to remain open.

He added Eastern School District projections for enrollment at the school do not fall in line with figures that parents have been able to come up with.

“Our numbers are higher than what they’re saying,” he said.

More public hearings are scheduled through the remainder of this month. Notices of motion for any potential school closures in the zones that include Catalina Elementary are set to be tabled at a public board meeting scheduled for Nov. 7 at Riverside Elementary School in Shoal Harbour.

Cullimore said the Eastern School District can expect to hear from Catalina Elementary parents at that meeting.

A vote that will decide the ultimate fate of the five schools recommended for closure in the district will be held Dec. 13 at the Avalon West School Board office in Spaniard’s Bay.

Twitter: TeleAndrew

Organizations: Riverside Elementary School, Avalon West School Board

Geographic location: Bonavista, Shoal Harbour

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Recent comments

  • Dwain Abbott
    October 24, 2012 - 09:21

    What kid needs to travel 25 kms to get an education when there is a good school there now it is great to have a school in the community i know i loved going to school in catalina when i was a child i bet i am not the only one with this complaint.

  • Fred Russell - Port Union
    October 24, 2012 - 08:18

    My letter to Premier Dunderdale, Minister Clyde Jackman, Chairperson Milton Peach & ESDNL Trustees: I am a resident of Port Union in the Municipality of Trinity Bay North. I am very concerned about the school boards recommendation to consider closing Catalina Elementary in June of 2013. According to the Eastern Districts School Boards website and I quote “.... The Board recognized the following planning considerations as factors contributing to its ability to offer quality student programming: • Student Enrolment: Student enrolment trends have a significant impact on a school’s ability to offer quality programs due to a corresponding relationship to course offerings, teacher allocations and support staff assistance. • Grade Level Configurations: Various grade level configurations can optimize program offering and availability of resources for students. • Facilities: The age and condition of buildings, the potential for expansion, enrolment capacity, availability of regular and specialty instructional spaces and accessibility are critical issues to educational delivery. • Transportation: Many transportation factors must be considered including the distance and travel time, road conditions and Government regulations on student bussing. Each of these factors was considered within the context of the Board’s primary focus - student program availability - as part of the Board’s Multi-Year Plan for school reorganization and alignment. The Board recognizes that many of the recommendations in this plan will require the Government’s support for financing school construction, extensions and renovations............” Let us have a look at this criteria as it relates to Catalina Elementary : Student Enrollment : Catalina Elementary has held its own over the past few years hovering around 150 students. Far more than most schools not chosen for reorganization and alignment in Eastern Newfoundland. In fact, the enrollment #’s are even much higher than School Board predictions of a few years ago and all indications are enrollment will increase over the next few years with additional children reaching school age. Grade Level Configurations : The board says this is meant to optimize program offering and the availability of resources for students ?...Catalina Elementary students have already reached this pinnacle of academic success as evident in the Provincial CRT results. In most categories surpassing the provincial average by 15 to 20 percent ! Very impressive. In my opinion, its difficult to improve on these academic successes. Facilities : This is a no brainer. Catalina Elementary is a relatively new school in terms of usage, only 23 years old I have been told. Catalina Elementary is considered a crown jewel as far as schools are concerned. They have first class instruction, the envy of most schools its size, envied student teacher ratio and unmatched community involvement/support. A modern building with the latest technology, smart boards in every classroom, a music room, multi-purpose room, science lab, a state of the art air vac system ( no mold issues to be concerned about ) ensuring the best possible air quality for students & staff. Just 2 years ago a brand new roof installed and 3 years ago a brand new gym floor. Board officials must have been confident then the future viability of Catalina Elementary before those financial commitments were passed at the board level. Students have access to microwaves in every classroom plus extra ones in the hallways and upstairs. Warm and nutritious lunches provided by dedicated community volunteers every day of the week. A fenced playground, soccer pitch and a basketball/hockey court all meant to ensure the students receive a well rounded education academically, mentally and socially....a priority of the Department of Education, the local board, parents and teachers. Transportation : Not sure how the School Board can even logically see this as an incentive to relocate students 25 kms away in Bonavista. Gasoline prices are high and never expected to revert to the prices of years gone by. Distance and Travel time currently all fall within 20 minutes to ½ hour from pick up to drop off for students at Catalina Elementary. Busses travel on municipal roads where posted limits are from 30 to 50 kms per hour. No travel is currently required over Route 230 where posted speed limits are 80 km’s per hour. Sections of Route 230, however, between Trinity Bay North and Bonavista ,should relocation occur, are treacherous and dangerous to the safety of students during the winter months, in particular 4 and 5 year olds with no seat belts available on these busses. Everyday I drive by Catalina Elementary I see students walking to school, travelling to the school on bikes, skateboards, scooters etc.....this is so refreshing mentally for them to have this option. If they were to travel to Bonavista they would have to get up at least an ½ hour to 45 minutes more than they do currently.....leave their homes in the dark and travel back home in the dark for 7 of the 10 months they would be in class. I don’t see how this would be a ‘transportation positive’ for students. And of course not being able to partake in any after school activities since the busses will be waiting right after classes to take them home. And what about our challenging needs students. The true heart and soul of our community schools. Students and their teachers who need to know that parents, grandparents and car givers are just a few moments away if needed, which can be quite often. It’s not easy for some parents to just jump aboard a car, if they have one that is, and drive 25 kms to be with their child. Or hire a taxi ? Will this be a legitimate expense for families depending on income support ? Will this force some of our challenging needs students to simply stay home ? Ms. Dunderdale I implore you to personally get involved in this process at this time, just like former Premier Danny Williams did in June of 2005 when the Nova Central School Districts Board proposed the closure of Leo Burke Academy in Bishop’s Falls in favour of bussing students to Grand Falls Windsor. The boards decision was eventually reversed with Premier Williams saying, “ This school is viable and it should stay here.......based on the numbers that are there - that school stays, and that school is viable”..... The Education Minister at that time Tom Hedderson said “ We respect the rights of the boards to make decisions, this must be balanced with the fact that, at the end of the day, this government was elected to be accountable to the people of the province and to represent their best interest”.....Our town, Trinity Bay North, contributed so much to the economy of the region and province for so many years through the FPI/OCI plant in Port Union employing 12 - 1500 persons, and asked for nothing in return. We have been hit so hard over the past few years. We lost our bank, 30 + small businesses, our fish plant and our seal plant most recently. We may now lose our school, the centerpiece of our community. If we are ever to turn it around here economically we need Catalina Elementary to stay to offer new families thinking of coming to Trinity Bay North a reason to settle here. And perhaps someday soon we will get back to the days we long for again. We are trying ! The children of Trinity Bay North need you in their corner to look after their educational needs and they need you to show the compassion your government has shown in the past for our youth and our rural communities. Please Premier Dunderdale understand our plight and help us ! Thank You, Fred Russell Trinity Bay North 709.469.2505

    • Concerned Parent
      October 25, 2012 - 00:17

      Very well written, Fred. Keeping on track with what you are requesting from DOE, unlike some other posts I've read. Good luck to the parents of Catalina Elementary, and may I add should the decision be made to close your school, Matthew Elementary has just as much to offer your children as the one they are currently attending. Best of luck!