Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 1, 1999
Parents fight for their schools
Board reluctant to implement call to close 4 schools
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
Parents concerned about school closures sent a clear message to Edmonton Catholic school trustees at a special meeting on Feb. 22.
"Our school is the spiritual centre of the community," said Judy Wollman, a parent from St. Michael's School.
"If you close St. Michael's, you take away the heart and soul of the community."
About 150 parents attended the meeting, held to discuss the Facilities Master Plan and Facilities Utilization Review, released by the board Feb. 16.
Most parents came out of a concern that the board would follow through on recommendations in the master plan to close St. Michael, St. James, St. Gerard, and St. Andrew schools.
But while closing schools is not out of the question, the board made it clear that much more study needs to be done before any decisions can be made.
"If we close any school, it will be because it is in the best interest of the students," board chair Ron Zapisocki said.
Meanwhile, trustee Ron Patsula questioned the wisdom of closing schools, particularly in the inner city.
"These students need the stability of a community school. . . . It is my belief that St. Michael's has served the community well for many years, and it is my belief that that school will be there to serve that community for a long, long time."
The Facilities Master Plan, compiled by an independent group of consultants, was commissioned by the board to look at the state of current school facilities and how education programs are being delivered. It also examined the utilization of each facility and made recommendations.
It's an important document for parents to see, says superintendent Terry Fortin.
"There is a lot of valuable information in here that every school council and every parent should know.
"We need informed dialogue, and the more transparent we can be in getting this information out to people, the more people will be informed and involved, and that's what we need."
But the master plan is just one planning document the board will use during deliberations, Fortin added. The board will also be focusing on the Facilities Utilization Review, compiled by school principal George Santarossa.
That report identifies key issues such as transportation, access to resources, school restructuring, and the needs of students at inner city schools. These issues, and others identified by parents, will be studied and discussed with school communities before the board makes a decision, Zapisocki said.
Parents at the meeting wanted to be sure of that.
"There has been a lot of emphasis placed on numbers . . . but there needs to be more emphasis on the human element and what this is going to do to the kids," said Ron Pearson, a parent from St. James School.
"St. James has a number of special needs kids. These are kids who do not adapt to change well. If you start closing schools and moving the kids around, all the work we have done as staff and parents is gone.
"Besides home, school is the most important place for these kids. If you don't have a set plan for them, especially the special needs kids, they are just going to flounder."
More than 60 parents from St. Michael School attended the meeting and provided emotional testimony to the need for the inner city school.
"Walking through the front door is like walking into heaven," said Wollman, whose son is in Grade 4.
"If I were a child, this is where I would want to be."
St. Michael School council chair Ben Kobbero said "the human factor" is what the school is all about.
"All the teachers go beyond the realm of education - they really care for the children. If a child can't go home, the teacher will stay with them as long as they have to."
Although Kobbero said after the meeting that the board's responses made him feel more positive about his school's future, other parents left with their questions unanswered.
K-T Jacula, whose son attends St. James School, is concerned that if the school closes, most of the students will end up in the public school system.
"This school serves a huge area, and I can't imagine taking these kids somewhere else. With so many public schools in the area, what are our parents going to do? A lot of them will go to public schools."
Closing the school would hit even harder, she said, because St. James Parish is also slated to close under the recently-released ToPs report.
Janice Bell says a great deal of responsibility rests on parents to lobby the provincial government for more education funding.
"If parents are involved in their local school community in setting priorities, there will be a greater realization of the reality of funding," says Bell, who is co-chair of the O'Brien family council, representing 14 school councils.
"The question is how to mobilize parents, who are already so busy."
Many of the issues raised by parents at the meeting will be examined in impact studies, Zapisocki says.
Input will be gathered from school principals and school councils until mid-May, and draft policies will be presented to the board by the end of June.