Public meetings slated on school closures

The Rainy River District School Board unanimously approved “Intent to Close” motions for Alexander MacKenzie, Sixth Street, and Alberton Central schools on Tuesday night, and set dates for public meetings as the next step in the school closure process.
Sixth Street parents will get the chance to voice their concerns to the board on the closure of their school Feb. 13, with a similar meeting slated Feb. 14 for Alexander MacKenzie parents.
Alberton Central parents will get their say Feb. 26 (all three meetings start at 7:30 p.m.)
“I voted in favour of the intent to close and I support the process that’s been put in place,” trustee Frank Sheppard said after last night’s regular school board meeting here.
“Really now, the key for any parents from Alberton would be to [come out and] voice concerns,” he added.
Sheppard stressed the board hasn’t made any final decisions on closing these three schools.
“There certainly isn’t an absolute that those schools, that any one of them, will close,” he remarked. “The involvement and input from the community is going to be important.”
Sheppard added the board didn’t like the idea of closing schools any more than parents and staff.
“This is a process that wasn’t established, isn’t even necessarily desirable, by most of the members of the board,” he said. “But given the funding formula that’s in place across the province, we’re almost obligated to follow this route.”
“It’s probably the least desirable option but it’s an option that if we don’t exercise, then we’re going to run into a monetary problem in the future that’s going to be more detrimental than this one.”
“We’re facing a funding issue right now and we’re trying to keep our schools in half-decent repair along with everything else,” echoed board vice-chair Dan Belluz.
“There just isn’t enough capital around to maintain all the schools as they should be,” he noted.
Belluz added the board wants to get public input on this decision. And if any questions raised at these upcoming meetings go unanswered, then the board is prepared to hold further public meetings to address them.
Also last night, the school board discussed a meeting of the First Nations Advisory Committee which highlighted a high drop-out rate for First Nations students.
In the minutes from the meeting, it noted 20 percent of students at Fort Frances High School in Grade 9 are First Nations, but that number drops to only five-six percent by graduation day.
“I guess it’s true that native students aren’t doing very well. There is quite a few dropping out before they graduate,” said trustee Jim Leonard.
“What we’re trying to look at is why the kids are dropping out early . . . what can we do to make their stay more enjoyable.”
The committee is working towards creating a five-year plan filled with strategies to keep students in school. They are sending out surveys to First Nations students to ask them what changes can be made.
Suggestions, such as hiring more qualified native teachers or incorporating more local history into the curriculum, also were presented.
Leonard said teaching all children more about the entire history of their community is a good way to keep them in school.
“I think we have to. We, as parents, have to teach [all] our kids where they came from,” he said. “I think it’s one way of putting pride into those kids.”