The Belleville and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory community remains dedicated to preserving history and culture by having their voices heard in an effort to keep area schools open including one of the City’s oldest.
On Wednesday night about 150 concerned parents, educators and community members attended the final public Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board meeting in relation to a series of proposed recommendations that could see several elementary and secondary schools closed or consolidated with the potential for new ones on the way. In November 2016, the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board revealed a long-term capital and accommodation review of 19 of its schools in Belleville, Prince Edward County and Centre Hastings in order to address $250 million in capital renewal needs and declining enrolment.
Angela McPherson spoke out about keeping Queen Victoria elementary school open as it has been operating since 1912. She said she attended the school’s 100th anniversary celebration five years ago. She expressed how the school is rich in living history and to wipe that away would be ‘a shame.’ She pointed to the closure of BCI calling it ‘a raw nerve’ within the community.
Jason Bremner who is a parent of Queen Victoria students and an educator at Centennial Secondary School echoed McPherson’s sentiments stating the school needs to stay open or find an alternate viable option for the historic building.
Data shows elementary schools are on average 54 years of age and secondary schools around 60-years-old.
Centennial Secondary School is in need of $18 million over the next five years, Quinte Secondary School requires $13.3 million and Moira Secondary School $7.5 million.
The first and preferred option of two in Belleville includes: closing Quinte and modifying boundaries so that some students move to Centennial for September 2018; close Moira Secondary School and seek Ministry of Education funding/approval to build a new Grade 9-12 secondary school which consolidates Moira Secondary School and Quinte Secondary School in the east end of Belleville for September 2020. Changes to eight elementary schools are under review as well and remain the same under both options. In the plan: Hillcrest School would close and balance students between Park Dale and Prince of Wales schools in September 2017. Also pending Ministry funding and approval, both Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria would close with a new facility constructed on the site of the former Sir Winston Churchill School in 2020. Boundaries would be changed to adjust enrolment pressures at Harry J. Clarke Public School. Sir John A. Macdonald would be changed to a K-6 school for September 2017 with Grades 7 and 8 students moved to Susanna Moodie.
There was much opposition to an accommodation review committee counter proposal on Sir John A. that suggests changing the boundary alignment in the city’s west end in order to keep the school operating to Grade 8. The ARC (a group of invested parents, educators and community members) is suggesting the board re-align the boundaries so that Kindergarten to Grade 8 students living west of Avondale Road including the Potter’s Creek subdivision area, south to the Bay of Quinte and north to the Carriage Lea Estates area go to Susanna Moodie.
Tara Fernandaz said she bought her home in Potter’s Creek because it was so close to Sir John A. She was one of a dozen parents who spoke out against the ARC suggestion and/or the board recommendation affecting Sir John A.
Catherine Taylor, Artistic Director of the Quinte Ballet School of Canada also addressed the changes being proposed for Sir John A. She said the ballet school being so close to Sir John A and Centennial is a huge selling point. She said a bus ride or extra walking distance would have a huge effect on scheduling.
“This is a jewel in a crown and this (proposal) could kill the school,” she explained. “There are students who at Grade 6 know what they want to do with their lives. Some dance two to three hours a day on top of their school work. This could have huge implications. That could put us all out of work.”
A new voice at the public meetings on the issue was that of Josh Hill. The Moira graduate is the chair of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory Education Committee that acts as an advocate for students within the Tyendinaga learning community.
He said the bus ride to Moira is already long and with the uncertainty around school closures First Nations students are concerned about keeping indigenous programs that exist at the secondary school.
Trish FitzGibbon, Superintendent of Education said the board remains committed to maintaining strong relationships with all of the invested groups.
A final report with recommendations is being presented to the board of trustees on June 19.