The Strait regional school board (SRSB) was able to deliver some good news for a change when it voted to keep schools open in Inverness and Antigonish counties.
During a special board meeting on April 26, an eruption of cheers and applause filled the SAERC auditorium as the board voted to continue operating all five schools in the Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School feeder system. The SRSB also voted unanimously to have the provincial government purchase Antigonish Education Centre (AEC).
This motion was contrary to the recommendation of the School Options Committee (SOC) which called for the closure of AEC and the reconfiguration of St. Andrew Junior School, St. Andrew Consolidated School, H.M. MacDonald School, as well as the Antigonish-based high school.
Some board members told the meeting they did not wish to close schools and instead want to lobby the provincial government to change the funding formula for school boards.
Then, during a special board meeting on May 17 at Port Hood’s Bayview Education Centre (BEC), cheers also greeted the board’s unanimous vote to continue operating Dalbrae Academy and BEC beyond the expiry of their P3 leases. The board will also not make any changes to the feeder system during this current round of school reviews, which also means keeping Whycocomagh Education Centre running.
The SOC chair said their recommendation to retain the status-quo had “unanimous support from the community” and closure options would require the addition of space to Dalbrae Academy and pack students into the Mabou high school. The SOC argued convincingly that the current configuration is working well for all stakeholders.
It appears that after decades of school closures, construction and amalgamation, the Strait regional school board has decided there are limits.
As it stands, the current number of schools is sufficient, education is being delivered adequately, schools are not crammed, access is reasonable, and in general, the current model is working and does not require changes.
This was not sufficient to save Mulgrave Memorial Education Centre from closure, but the rate of declining enrolment was simply too drastic to ignore in that case. There will be other tough choices on the horizon, especially as it pertains to schools like Felix Marchand Education Centre in Louisdale, which has a small enrolment and infrastructure issues.
School closures will continue, but at a much lower rate, in less drastic a fashion, and in a way, that makes sense for students, parents and staff.
No longer is it a hard and fast rule that schools must close; now there must be many good reasons for this to occur, and where there are not good reasons for closure, schools can remain open.
That is a positive development for a region that has seen its share of casualties on the road to stability.