Temperatures rise over school closure issue

By Carolyn Goard, Niagara News - Thorold

There's been a dramatic swing as to what high school could face a potential closure after a DSBN accommodation review process comes to a complete later this year.

After a five-hour marathon meeting at Kernahan Park Secondary School Thursday night, a committee tasked with developing recommendations for five schools currently under the microscope narrowed down 14 options to four.

While earlier in the process many of the options seemed to favour keeping Thorold Secondary open, Eric Nixon, accommodation review committee parent representative on behalf of Thorold, said fewer options now stand in favour of Thorold's only high school.

Currently, Thorold Secondary stands a one-in-four chance of staying open-but the options developed by the committee however, are not final.

Once the options are further narrowed, the recommendations will be presented to DSBN trustees solely for consideration.

The review, which is currently looking at St. Catharines Collegiate, Sir Winston Churchill, West Park, Kernahan Park and Thorold Secondary Schools, is meant to develop solutions for declining school enrollments with aging school facilities another concern.

By process of elimination, Thursday night's meeting had committee members narrow down the options-ten of which were developed by ARC members and four of which were developed by a team of DSBN senior staff.

The first option would see Kernahan Park, Thorold Secondary and West Park close, with Kernahan and West Park students consolidated to Collegiate and Thorold students shifted to Sir Winston Churchill.

The second option would see Kernahan Park and Thorold Secondary close. Kernahan students would be shifted to Collegiate while Thorold students would be consolidated to Sir Winston Churchill.

In the third option Kernahan Park and West Park are slated to close. Kernahan students would be shifted to Collegiate with West Park students shifted to Sir Winston. The French immersion program would be shifted to Thorold Secondary.

The last option would see Thorold and Kernahan Park close. Kernahan students would be shifted to Collegiate with Thorold students consolidated to a variety of schools south of the city.

Marilyn Hyatt, DSBN superintendent of planning and transportation and accommodation review meeting facilitator said Thursday night's meeting was successful in narrowing down the options, although it was expected that a final option would be chosen.

"It's difficult to keep emotions out," Hyatt said. "But we need to keep the guiding principles that the committee developed and also the policy of the board in mind, which puts the students first."

But some ARC members argued Thursday they weren't happy with some of the outcomes, with some options making no sense at all-specifically the closure of Thorold Secondary.

According to Nixon, the major focus seems to be put on programming. He said many parents feel that their voices and the best interest of their children aren't being considered in the decision making process.

"I would say from those of us representing Thorold, it was a stunned silence because going into last night we had 14 options on the table." Of the 14 options, ten favoured keeping Thorold open, with only four recommending it close.

"It was a difficult and emotional moment for us," he said. "We hadn't foreseen this. We went in with a lot of optimism and really came out with the momentum shifting against us."

Nixon said that as a representative on the ARC on behalf of other parents with kids attending Thorold Secondary, he feels that the views of Thorold parents aren't being heard fully.

"We're believers in Thorold Secondary. If we believe Thorold is threatened, we're going to speak up."

He said he's taken what the parents in the Thorold community want seriously, but he's not satisfied the views of parents will have a major influence on the final decision, which is also a concern shared by some other members on the committee, namely city council representative Sergio Paone.

"The focus has been largely on programming and I have tried to shift that focus to recognizing there are other priorities that need to be addressed."

One major concern shared by parents, according to Nixon, is that bussing the kids out of Thorold won't be a wise decision. "Bussing these kids won't be in their best interest," he said.

"You hear the phrase repeatedly that the options are to be focused on what's best for the kids," he said. "I will say that moms and dads are the ones who know what's best for the kids-everyone else guesses."

Hyatt said the final option submitted by the ARC will not determine the fate of the review, but rather will function as a recommendation that trustees will decide whether or not they wish to further consider.

The next public meeting will be held on Thursday, Feb. 2 at 6 p.m. at Kernahan Park Secondary School, where the public will have the opportunity to comment and provide feedback on the four options currently being considered.

Hyatt said the plan is to have the four options further narrowed down to as few as possible by the Thursday. Feb. 16 committee meeting, at which time they will be submitted to DSBN trustees for consideration.