Some parents want Huffman to stay open

FORT FRANCES—A few parents spoke out Tuesday night at the second public consultation meeting regarding the possible closure of F.H. Huffman, stating several benefits to students being in a smaller school rather than a larger one—indicating they’d prefer Huffman to remain open.
“For students who may need extra attention, isn’t it better to keep them at Huffman, where they have been known to give them the attention they need?” one woman commented.
“A big school might be intimidating, but something they can handle once they get to Grade 4,” she added.
Another mother said she’d like her children to go to a smaller school, like Huffman, because of possible problems with older children at larger schools.
“Huffman School seems safer. Everybody knows everyone,” she stressed.
The Pupil Accommodation Review public consultations are being held to garner feedback in order to provide direction to the Rainy River District School Board regarding the future pupil accommodation for Huffman School—a JK to Grade 3 school in the east end of town.
The board is looking at the possibility of consolidating Huffman with Robert Moore School—and then building a new school at the Robert Moore site.
Although both schools have been declared prohibitive to repair (meaning the cost of repair exceeds the cost of building new), the board does not have to go through an accommodation review for Robert Moore because it is looking at a rebuild, as opposed to a closure.
And with the provincial government recently offering to provide planning approval for a total capitalized value of $9.8 million to address facility conditions at the schools, the board is hoping to move ahead with the next steps of a rebuild.
However, this does not affect the Pupil Accommodation Review at Huffman School. The next public meetings will be held as planned (two more are scheduled for Feb. 12 and April 8) to assist in determining the future of the school.
At the end of the series of public consultations, a recommendation will be made to the board whether it should close, consolidate, or continue to keep Huffman open.
While there wasn’t much feedback at the first consultation meeting held last month, the Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) seemed pleased to hear comments from parents Tuesday night.
One mother, who clearly would like to see Huffman remain open, suggested fixing Huffman and bringing younger students from other schools there.
Huffman has the capacity for 132 students, but currently only 88 are enrolled there. And with a declining enrolment, the committee expects there to be just 54 students at Huffman by 2011-12.
Robert Moore School principal Penny Newman explained to those in attendance that some students prefer to have all their children in one building, like at Robert Moore, which is a JK-Grade 8 school.
Dianne Faragher, a member of the ARC, noted she had a child enrolled in SK at Huffman, but when they moved, the child had to go the Robert Moore.
She indicated, at the time, she would have rather her child attend Huffman because she had the same concerns about the older students.
“But they keep the children segregated on the playground and it’s been quite wonderful,” she said. “And I like that my child is at the same school from the beginning to Grade 8.”
Meanwhile, Terry Higgins, another member of the ARC, said he sees both pros and cons to a student being at a larger school.
“Part of me wants to see [my child] at a small school. But I’d also like to see them in a more modern setting—with a full 3,000 sq. ft. gym to use, for example,” he remarked.
Heather Campbell, the board’s superintendent of education, said keeping younger children safe at a larger school has to do with design. For instance, at J.W. Walker School, the JK/SK students have a separate entrance and playground, she noted.
And she added, with a rebuild at Robert Moore, a design similar to that is something they could look at.
Campbell went through the School Valuation Framework, which was customized by the ARC to provide data and information in four main areas: value to the student, value to the school system, value to the community, and value to the local economy.
“But the value to the student is our number-one priority,” board chairman Dan Belluz stressed.
The ARC hopes parents and members of the community will participate in the meetings to offer input, or ask questions, in order to help the committee make a solid recommendation to the board.
Agendas, minutes, the framework, feedback forms, and other documents are available at www.rrdsb.com (answers to questions also will be posted on the site).
The meetings scheduled for Feb. 12 and April 8 will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the gymnasium at Huffman School.
In related news, a public information session will be held Wednesday night (Jan. 16) at 6:30 p.m. at the Robert Moore gym to provide information regarding the construction of a new school there.
(Fort Frances Times)