The director of P.E.I.'s Public Schools Branch says its mandate is to "create a better learning opportunity for all of our students."
And that, Parker Grimmer says, is ultimately the rationale for recommending the closure of five Island schools: Georgetown Elementary, Belfast Consolidated, St. Jean Elementary in Charlottetown, St. Louis Elementary and Bloomfield Elementary.
- 5 school closures recommended in P.E.I. report on public schools
- Urban-rural divide highlighted over school closure proposals
Grimmer spoke with Island Morning host Matt Rainnie on Wednesday about what happens next.
The following is an abridged version of that conversation. Listen to the audio to hear the full interview.
How do you respond to parents who don't want schools in their communities closed?
The school change report involved getting a lot of feedback from people in those communities. We heard … about wanting access to programs like French immersion and other programs on a more regular basis and so that is tied into these recommendations. Those schools may have better student-teacher ratios but they're not able to access some of the quality programming that other schools have available.
What would happen to students at Belfast and Georgetown?
Georgetown students would join with the Cardigan students. In Belfast, there was a feeling that some of those students could go to Southern Kings and some students could go Vernon River.
What would happen to students at St. Louis and Bloomfield?
There was an opportunity to have St. Louis and Tignish schools join together and it seemed to make sense. And likewise for Bloomfield [where students would go to either Alberton or O'Leary].
Why recommend closing St. Jean's in Charlottetown?
We're looking at capacity issues and it could be seen that those students were in a geographic location close to West Kent. They could attend that school. [Also] to move forward with that school long-term there were investments that needed to be made in the roof and in some of the other areas.
How much of it has to do with money and how much of it has to do with education?
I think the recommendations speak to the big picture about students. We have a responsibility to create and help nurture the best possible learning opportunities for all of our students. The objective of the review was to address overcrowding … to address underutilization, to make better use of our existing resources and to address the geographical concerns of our existing zones.
Will there be staffing losses associated with the closing of schools?
There won't be staffing losses. In fact, we have a commitment from government that we will be able to plan for the future with the same staff that we have now. These recommendations, if implemented would redistribute 57 of our teachers and staff into opportunities where they could serve all of our Island students differently.
What is recommended to address overcrowding at Stonepark Intermediate School in Charlottetown?
There were comments from our Stratford contingent [attending Stonepark] that they wanted their students, if possible, to remain together so we're offering as a recommendation that those students would go to Birchwood. So those students would not be in Stonepark, they'd be in Birchwood.
What is the next step?
There will be a public meeting in each of the families of schools that the school change report has tabled recommendations for. It will look similar to other meetings in which you book an opportunity to have a conversation. You'll be speaking to the public and also to the board of directors. And then there's the online component. We expect that we'll continue to see that.
- See the list of public meetings
What factor will these public meeting have on the recommendations?
We have something concrete to address and discuss as we move forward and those considerations will be directed to the [Public Schools Branch] board of directors [comprised of Susan Willis, Harvey MacEwen and Pat Mella].
Who ultimately makes the decision? Is it the board of directors?
What are the board's options?
We're in a 60-day consultation period. At some point in time after that in a public meeting those board of directors can decide to accept these recommendations as they are, to accept the recommendations with changes, to not accept the recommendations, or in fact to come up with alternatives.
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