Mount Pearl-Paradise parents react to school system changes

Mackenzie Scrimshaw Special to The Telegram
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The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District has approved its proposed changes to schools in the Mount Pearl-Paradise and Goulds school systems, triggering an adverse reaction from some parents of elementary students in Mount Pearl and Paradise.

St. Peter's Elementary is shown in this Telegram file photo.

Don Spurrell, who has twins at Newtown Elementary, is one of these parents. Currently, his children’s school runs Kindergarten through Grade 6. But, as a result of the motion passed at the school district’s public meeting Saturday morning, Newton will no longer offer Kindergarten nor Grades 1 to 3.

Meanwhile, its sister school, the over-crowded St. Peter’s Elementary, will slash Grades 4, 5 and 6.

This means that as of September 2014 children in O’Donel High School System, one branch of the Mount Pearl-Paradise School System, will start school at St. Peter’s, where they will study to the end of Grade 3, before transferring to Newtown.

“This is not conducive to a great community school,” said Spurrell, who believes that following their respective restructurings, these schools will become “super schools” with between 150 and 200 students in each grade.

Similarly, he argues, the upcoming loss of upper year students at St. Peter’s will jeopardize mentorship programs between Kindergarten and Grade 6 students.

Spurrell’s chief concern, however, is that the redivision of elementary students in the O’Donel High School System adds another transition to their grade school careers. Students entering Kindergarten this fall will have to switch schools three times -- after Grades 3, 6, and 9 -- before their high school graduations.

Or four times for students, like Spurrell’s kindergarteners, who started school in the last three years and have to leave Newtown for St. Peter’s at the end of this year.

“We’ll never move,” he said. “We’ll stay in the city, and by the time (my children) get to Grade 4, they will have gone through three transitions.”

And to the father of two, that’s a problem. Frequent transitions, he says, can have negative social and academic consequences for students and their families.

Spurrell, who attended the school district’s public meeting Saturday, says he and other parents lobbied through the public consultations to maintain the two Kindergarten to Grade 6 schools and revise their catchment areas.

The school district cited their case, in a document compiling the online feedback it received regarding the proposed changes, recognizing that almost 10 per cent of the respondants who offered alternatives to slashing the elementary schools in opposite halves pushed for revised catchment areas.

“It would be a one-time disruption this fall,” said Spurrell.

Instead, the school district decided to do the opposite, merging the schools’ catchment areas.

“I’m strugglng to understand how the voices that the parents shared just weren’t heard,” he said.

Mark Fahey, another Newtown parent, expressed a frustration similar to Spurrell’s.

“They asked for feedback and they got the feedback and they went their own way, anyway,” said Fahey.

“It really boggles my mind how they did it.”

Two of Fahey’s three children are students at Newtown, and the third, a four-year-old, was supposed to start there in September. Now, only Fahey’s oldest son, who is finishing Grade 3, will stay at the school.

Alternatively, his six-year-old will, reluctantly, start Grade 2 in the fall at St. Peter’s.

“The middle child, understandably, idolizes his older brother,” said Fahey, of his son’s desire to stay at Newtown.

Like Spurrell, Fahey is concerned about the effects of frequent transitions and the potential class sizes at Newtown and St. Peter’s.

“They’re going to be lost in a sea and there’s not going to be any sense of community there.” On the other hand, he said, if the school had opted to revise catchment areas and the Faheys had fallen outside the new boundaries, at least his children would have been together.

“Now, what can I tell them?” he said. “If you don’t end up in the same class as the kids you’re with now, I might as well move them to Alberta and put them in a brand new school.”

The final change to the O’Donel High School System relates to its early French immersion students, who will now all go to St. Peter’s Junior High after Grade 6.

Meanwhile, the other arm of the Mount Pearl-Paradise School System, that which feeds into Mount Pearl Senior High School, will also change: Morris Academy, currently Kindergarten to Grade 4, will add Grade 5; Mount Pearl Senior High will expand to offer Grades 9 through 12; and, as a result, Mount Pearl Intermediate will shrink, running Grades 6 to 8. Also worthy of note, the latter will swap facilities to ease the overcrowding at the high school.

Milton Peach, chair of the school district’s Board of Trustees, recognizes that Saturday’s decisions will result in significant movement within the Mount Pearl-Paradise School System.

“Whenever you do some student changes... that kind of change, obviously, is challenging for some specific parents,” he said. “I guess we realize that all people won’t be happy.”

Plus, they “had more than ample opportunities to have their say.”

The outcome of Saturday’s public meeting has implications for the Goulds School System, as well, in an attempt to alleviate the overcrowding at Goulds Elementary. This school will lose its Grade 6 class to St. Kevin’s Junior High School, which will lose its Grade 9 class to St. Kevin’s High School.

The school district, said Peach, received little criticism from the Goulds, which, “totally, totally supported us where we (are) heading.”

Organizations: O’Donel High School System, Mount Pearl-Paradise School System, Mount Pearl Senior High School Morris Academy Goulds School System

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, Goulds, Faheys Alberta

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Recent comments

  • NC
    April 15, 2014 - 09:34

    I think that the argument about transitions being traumatic to students are probably not as big a deal as parents are making it out to be. All of these students are transitioning TOGETHER. There may not be a mentorship program for K's and 6's, but maybe this is an opportunity for the grade 3 students to be exposed to this type of thing. The schools were overcrowded. Bottom line. This is the most logical fix. Full day kindergarten was obviously taken into consideration when the decisions were made. That's why the schools were reorganized. You kids will do fine. The class sizes may increase, but that may prove to be a good thing - more resources pooled into specialized educational tools. All grade K-3 teachers together? Maybe an increased demand will show that more teachers and TAs should be hired. Perhaps more interns coming out of the Faculty of Education at MUN and other Universities can look forward to potential positions opening up. I think the parents are over reacting, and not taking into account the positives here. Perhaps the parents are feeling the inconvenience, not the students? RELAX.

  • sc
    April 13, 2014 - 12:16

    As a parent of a St. Peter's student I too have concerns regarding the approved changes to the Mount Pearl school system. To me there just doesn't seem to be enough positives to justify such drastic changes and movement. While a Kindergarten to Grade 3 school can have it's benefits there are disadvantages and in this case the grade level numbers will be high. In support of a comment made by a Newtown parent the lose of Grades 4 through 6 at St. Peter's will indeed affect the mentorship programs between Kindergarten and Grade 6 students. On top of this full day Kindergarten coming into effect Sept. 2016 will no doubt have some impact. There will need to be double the Kindergarten classrooms.....that is of course unless the board plans on increasing the Kindergarten class sizes. I wonder how much consideration has been given to this? What other changes/disruptions/movements will need to occur in 2016 to accommodate full day Kindergarten? Thinking of my current child attending St. Peter's and my youngest child which is scheduled to enter the school system in 2016 I feel that this decision is not in the best interest of the students. While something needs to be done with the Mount Pearl school system I feel that we need to consider and plan for the long term and not just a short term fix. I think maintaining both St. Peter's and Newtown as Kindergarten to Grade 6 schools and looking at revising the catchment areas would be the least disruptive and solve the overpopulation at St. Peter's Elementary.

  • Chris
    April 13, 2014 - 07:42

    What about Holy Family in west end Paradise? Left out in cold --800 kids in a school designed for 525. Kids eat in class because the cafe was turned into classrooms, two portables and total craziness each morning and afternoon with traffic and lack of space. Hear next year more portables coming and there will be over 900 kids! Conducive to learning?

  • Ed
    April 13, 2014 - 07:41

    The Gould's is in St. John's not Mount Pearl no connection whatever