Mount Pearl-Paradise parents react to school system changes

Published on April 12, 2014
St. Peter's Elementary
Telegram file photo

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.

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.”