News

Accommodation Review progressing forward

By Carolyn Goard, Niagara News - Thorold

An Accommodation Review Committee responsible for developing some recommendations for five schools currently under the microscope-Thorold Secondary, Kernahan Park, West Park, Sir Winston Churchill and St. Catharines Collegiate-is narrowing down solutions to help with the issue of declining school enrollments and aging school facilities.

The Accommodation Review commenced with the start of the school year, but as the process has progressed, it appears one or two schools are likely to close.

However, no options have been set in stone DSBN superintendent of planning and transportation Marilyn Hyatt said. Currently, they are all just scenarios to be looked into.

Senior DSBN staff and the ARC will submit final recommendations to trustees sometime this spring.

So far, the ARC has stated that in the process of generating and finalizing recommendations, the best interest of all students affected are to be considered. Some guiding principles also include enhanced programming, consideration of specialty programs like the French immersion program, and community needs-all to be achieved with as little disruption to families and students as possible.

Currently, St. Catharines Collegiate and Sir Winston Churchill look to be in the safe zone.

Last month senior DSBN staff presented four unofficial options to ARC members, each of which included two or more schools closing, with Kernahan Park slated to close in each scenario. Two of those options included Thorold Secondary School closing.

But ARC members have been developing some options of its own, which were presented during a public meeting at Kernahan Park Secondary School on Thursday, Dec. 8. Of the ten options brainstormed by the committee comprised of students, staff and community members for each of the five schools under review, only two had Thorold Secondary closing.

Each of the committee's ten options included closing Kernahan Park as well.

In addition to consolidating schools, some of the ten options also included dividing school zones and making some boundary changes, relocating or splitting the French immersion program and adding new programming. One scenario even suggested relocating one or more elementary schools to Thorold Secondary in the future.

At this point however, they are all only brainstorms of the committee.

After a brief presentation outlining both the four options from staff and the ten options from the ARC at the public meeting recently, community members had the opportunity to voice their opinions, suggestions and concerns.

According to Eric Nixon, ARC parent representative of Thorold Secondary School, many people were present to speak on behalf of Kernahan Park, including several students.

"The majority of the presentations were from people who had a connection to Kernahan Park," Nixon said, several of which advocated the school's special needs program.

But a major theme expressed was Thorold residents fearing they'd lose their only high school.

"It's tough. Over and over again people make it clear that they do not want to lose their neighbourhood school," Nixon said.

"Unfortunately this is not an issue that these processes are really set up to deal with. They are made to ensure the board can live within its budget," he added.

"The reality is that the status quo is not an option; the board will not go forward with that. And ultimately if we don't recommend closing certain schools the board will decide on its own."

Nixon said currently, the ARC is trying to make the best possible case it can. "Part of our argument is that commercial and residential development is moving south. That's the message we are trying to bring."

He said the fact that Thorold Secondary is in good condition and is the city's only high school also stands in its favour.

"All we can do is submit recommendations. The board doesn't have to adopt them."

Ultimately, DSBN trustees are looking for proposals that will guarantee the enrollments of some schools will improve and that the issue of surplus spaces will be addressed.

Over the coming weeks the ARC is responsible for narrowing down its options to as few as possible to be submitted to the board in the spring.

The next regular Accommodation Review meeting will be held on Thursday, Jan. 19. The community is encouraged to attend the committee's next public meeting on Thursday, Feb. 2.

All meetings will be held at Kernahan Park Secondary School at 6 p.m. For more information on the process, visit http://www.dsbn.org/arc/.