Uncertainty tops parent concerns at school closure meetings

Concerns over where their children would be sent, traffic issues, and the transition year during construction were discussed as parents at Sixth Street and Alexander MacKenzie schools met with the Rainy River District School Board last week.
Parents at Alberton Central will have their chance to discuss the fate of their school with the board this coming Tuesday (Feb. 26) at 7:30 p.m.
At both last Wednesday’s meeting at Sixth Street School and Thursday’s meeting at Alexander MacKenzie, parents wanted to know where their children would be sent if their schools were closed.
They were told that construction to expanded J.W. Walker would be completed by September, 2003. At that time, the students from the closed schools would be divided between the expanded Walker and Robert Moore.
Superintendent of Education Terry Ellwood said there was a possibility of changing the boundary line north of the railroad tracks so that, for instance, all the kids east of Central Avenue would go to Robert Moore and all those west of it would attend Walker.
Parents at both meetings asked if they could choose which school their child attends.
“There’s always some room for accommodation,” trustee Frank Sheppard said Wednesday. “Some kids live close to Walker but go to Moore because a babysitter or day care is closer.”
As for what would happen to children during the transition year, Ellwood said that decision hasn’t been made yet.
“We’re exploring lots of options right now,” he said Wednesday. “We’re looking at what would happen if we had to displace those kids.”
High traffic flow and a lack of sidewalks on Keating Avenue also topped the list of concerns parents at Alexander MacKenzie brought up Thursday night.
One person suggested the access road to Fort Frances High School be closed to cut down on the traffic while young children walked to school.
“It’s not quite that easy to close the road because it’s [needed for] fire access,” explained Murray Quinn, superintendent of plant and maintenance for the public school board.
Trustee Dan Belluz, who chaired the MacKenzie meeting, said safety was the concern of the entire board and these issues would be addressed, including speaking with the town about installing sidewalks.
Sheppard reiterated the school board did not wish to close schools, but that the funding formula provided by the provincial government didn’t give them enough money to keep them open.
“It’s basically been a process created by the government to ensure we manage pupil spaces frugally,” Sheppard said Thursday. “The school board is doing the dirty work they should have done themselves.”
Following the meetings, parents had mixed reactions to the prospect of closing the schools. Those at Sixth Street seemed to prefer their small school to a bigger one.
“It’s a small school and you know all the children around, and it gives the children, when they’re small, the chance to get use to school before being moved to a big school right away,” said Merial Stromberg, one of four parents who turned out for that meeting.
Colleen Barnard echoed that sentiment, saying she was concerned about her son being lost in larger classrooms, but added it appeared the decision already has been made.
“I think whatever happens is going to happen,” she said.
By contrast, parents at Alexander MacKenzie agreed their school should be closed.
“With the condition that they’re in, I think that they need a lot of renovating work and I think a new school is a positive thing,” said Paul Whatley, who has two children attending the school.
“I don’t think a lot of parents are opposed to closing this school,” said Susan Carmody, who has one child at Alexander MacKenzie and one at Walker.
“The positives outweigh the negatives dramatically. It’s going to be a good thing, not a bad thing.”
While she admitted she has concerns over the transition year, sidewalks, and transportation like other parents, she said she is confident after Thursday’s meeting that the school board will find solutions to these issues.
“I think the board did a fine job in presenting this tonight and I put full trust in them,” Carmody said.