Parents, trustees prepare for school closure vote

Parents are at a loss as to how they can keep Alberton Central School open.
Next Wednesday at a meeting of the Rainy River District School Board at Donald Young School in Emo, trustees will vote on whether to close Alberton Central, Alexander MacKenzie, and Sixth Street in favour of an expanded J.W. Walker.
“We will be attending the meeting and will probably go from there,” said Danielle Robinson, chair of the Alberton school council which is fighting to keep it open.
“Donations are still coming in from businesses and monetary pledges from local citizens,” she added. “I’m very surprised. I’m happy and surprised by all the support from the community.”
At the board’s regular meeting earlier this month, Robinson presented trustees with more than $10,000 in pledges from the Township of Alberton and private citizens, as well as donations of time and supplies from local contractors to repair the school.
At the time, the board said it couldn’t accept the labour donations as that would violate union agreements with current maintenance staff.
Robinson said all the school council can do is wait until next Wednesday’s final vote.
“I hate to speculate. I can tell you how I hope it goes, but at this point it’s pretty much in the air,” she remarked. “I just hope the trustees make the right decision and what’s in the best interests of the children.”
“I’m not sure what more we have to offer and what their decision is going to be, but I’m still hoping,” said Lori Durbin, who has three children attending Alberton Central.
Martin Darrah, the trustee who represents Alberton, said he understands why parents want to keep the school open and that he, himself, is in favour of smaller schools.
“We don’t want to close any schools,” he said. “But with the [provincial] funding formula the way it is, we don’t have a lot of options.”
In addition to lack of funding for maintenance of the school, keeping students at Alberton could require one teacher to instruct up to three grades at once.
With the new curriculum, such split grades actually could hinder learning.
“The demands on a teacher are so much more . . . I’m afraid it would be a detriment to their education in the long run,” Darrah said.
But Darrah did say he was proud to see the support from parents and community members in defending Alberton Central.
“These parents supporting the school are definitely to be commended. This kind of dedication to schools should be supported,” he remarked.
Darrah also said the vote is still up in the air, and that there was no way for sure to know if the board would go ahead with its closure plan.
“I don’t know how the voting is going to go. I’ve pretty much made my decision but everyone else is up to them,” he said.
Meanwhile, the whole school closure process has taken its toll on some of the students at Alberton Central. Durbin said her children were taking the possibility of moving to a new school very seriously.
“They’re sad,” she said. “They don’t want to leave. They really like the school.”
On Monday, Durbin said her son was out playing baseball in the field after school until 8 p.m. with 15 local kids. It’s experiences like that she feels he would miss at the expanded J.W. Walker in Fort Frances.
Robinson said her eldest son also has been thinking about the fate of his school.
“He’s very concerned about it all and always asks what he can do. It’s sad, this shouldn’t be the concern of a child his age,” she lamented.
While parents are at a loss as to how to convince the school board to keep Alberton Central open, some say that doesn’t mean they’re out of options about where their kids will go.
Both Robinson and Durbin have said they won’t be sending their kids to J.W. Walker.
“We have considered other alternatives and that wasn’t one of the options for us,” Robinson said. “I don’t think they realize people are serious that they probably wouldn’t be sending their students to the newly-expanded J.W. Walker.”
“We definitely wouldn’t want to see that, but that’s their option,” replied Darrah. “It’s student-focused funding so the less numbers we have, the less we’re going to get.”