Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
April 16, 2001
Parents out to save St. Andrew's
District officials say closure would give students more opportunities
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
EDMONTON — Faced with the possibility of their neighbourhood school closing, parents from St. Andrew School turned out en masse April 4 to convince the Catholic school board to consider other options.
"We have a chance to make a positive change in this community," parent Shannon Ross-Watson told the crowd of about 100 people at the public forum, including school trustees and administrators.
"The parents are committed to building St. Andrew's. Give us a couple of years. . . . We want a chance."
The board voted March 15 to consider closing St. Andrew School because of low enrollment and the poor physical condition of the building.
It's one of a number of recommendations being considered by the board to increase the division's overall utilization rate and enable it to receive funding from the provincial government for new schools in growing areas of the city.
Closing the school would also offer better opportunities for St. Andrew's students, who would have access to a greater variety of programs at St. Pius X School, said Joan Carr, director of educational planning and administrative services for the division.
But Kim Cordeiro, school council chair, proposed a number of options that would increase the school's enrollment and allow it to stay open, while meeting the needs of the community.
One possibility would be to develop a Filipino-language program, which Cordeiro said would be welcomed by the large number of Filipino families in the neighbourhood. Another would be a full-day early childhood education program to encourage young families to enroll their children at the school.
Education is not based solely on what students learn in the classroom, but on their connection with the community, Cordeiro pointed out.
By closing St. Andrew's, she told the board, "you will not only be affecting the children's education, you will be affecting their ties with the community," including a close relationship with St. Andrew's Parish, St. Andrew Seniors Centre, and other neighbourhood groups.
Representatives of those groups were at the meeting to lend their support.
Don Griffiths, a resident of St. Andrew's Centre, said he has heard "many pleasant and encouraging comments from the residents" about St. Andrew's students who visit the centre.
Ary DeMoor of the Inglewood Christian Reformed Church called St. Andrew's "a good witness to the Gospel of Christ in this community." Schools, churches and agencies have formed strong partnerships to tackle some of the problems in the area, such as prostitution.
City Councillor Allan Bolstad related his personal experiences with the closure of Sherbrooke School in his community.
"It is very difficult on a neighbourhood when a school closes. People move out . . . new people are reluctant to move in. It breaks down a neighbourhood."
Bolstad said he was sympathetic to the difficult position trustees are in, and blamed the provincial government for setting an unrealistic utilization rate which ends up pitting neighbourhoods against each other in a bid for new schools.
"If there is a villain in this piece, it is the provincial government, in my opinion."
Edmonton Catholic Schools superintendent Dale Ripley acknowledged the board is facing a serious dilemma, and indicated parents need to be part of developing solutions.
Part of the dilemma is deciding when a school is too small, Ripley said. "Where is the line? Do we keep a school open for 100 students, 50 students or 20 students?
"We have students in 84 schools, not one, and we need to take care of them all."
But Ross-Watson said the board must take at least some of the blame for low enrollment at St. Andrew's, which currently houses 75 students.
The threat of closure that has been hanging over the school for a number of years has driven parents away, she said. Changing the principal at the school every two years hasn't helped. Neither has the lack of regular maintenance and upgrades at the school.
"St. Andrew's has sacrificed for the common good for the past 10 years," she claimed.
Both Cordeiro and Ross-Watson pointed out that the school's small size is a drawing feature for parents, especially new immigrants who are not familiar with the country or the school system.
The board will make its final decision April 30. Until then, parents can continue to submit letters to the board by mail, fax or e-mail through the division's website (www.ecsd.net).
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