Friday, March 5, 2010

Eastwood Public Meeting to consider closure

Last night, a meeting was held at Eastwood School from 7-9 PM to discuss the potential closure of the school. The turn-out was quite good, I thought. Eastwood parents, community members and Eastwood staff attended, as well as 8 of the 9 EPSB trustees, City Councillor Tony Caterina, MLA & Leader of the New Democrat Party Brian Mason, the media and many observers from our District.  The gymnasium was set up with tables to allow for small group discussion. A facilitator was seated at each table to record comments. After 45 minutes of conversation, the facilitator from each table reported back to the larger group, highlighting the chief concerns or issues of their table. Most summaries drew applause from the room. All of the comments/ideas/concerns/questions will be gathered and presented to the trustees for consideration. I sat at one table for the entire discussion. Other trustees chose to circulate throughout the room and listen to the conversations at various tables.

At my table, I heard concerns about safety and transportation: parents who do not drive or have limited financial resources wondered how they would get their children to a new school that is not within safe walking distance. I heard how valued the school was and the critical role it played in supporting single-parent or low income parents in particular. These supports include on-site daycare, before and after school care, the hot lunch program, the modified calendar which creates shorter summer breaks and the Monday morning coffee group that welcomes parents.  I heard fears about the impact on the wider community should the school close and what type of activity a vacant school might attract. I heard a lot of concern for and from people who are struggling to make a better life for their children and who are facing significant challenges at this point. The people at my table suggested that the school has created a strong sense of belonging for people who have previously felt disenfranchised or marginalized.

Following the small group discussions, there was a presentation from our Planning Department outlining some key information about demographics, Eastwood's current enrolment (106), past enrolment trends and possible outcomes and impacts should Eastwood remain open or should it close.  As well, our Planning Department answered questions from the public that had been submitted ahead of time (via School.Closures@epsb.ca) and questions that came from the floor.

As you might expect, there was emotion in the room and some people expressed their frustration. School closure is a difficult issue to discuss, but I thought everyone worked hard to maintain a respectful atmosphere. I stayed around for an extra 30 minutes to talk with people after the meeting was adjourned. 

People who have comments to make about Eastwood or any of the recommended closures, can email their comments to School.Closures@epsb.ca

You may also want to check out this website for additional information about the process, times, dates, etc:  http://planning.epsb.ca/current-plans/school-closures

As always, I am open to your input as we wrestle with this complicated issue.

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