Friday, March 12, 2010

Spruce Avenue- mtg re: closing elementary program

Third school closure meeting in four days. Last night, I felt like I was part of some strange endurance test and, at points, I was just trying to hold on. Exhaustion is setting in. It is affecting my ability to stay focused, to listen openly and to assimilate information. Last night, I found myself drifting away both mentally and emotionally. I had to fight to give the meeting and the two scheduled for next week (Capilano-Monday, Fulton-Wednesday) the same dedicated energy I had for the first meetings. Clearly, holding these meetings back-to-back is a great challenge.

The turn-out last night was noticeably smaller than the other public meetings and the tone in the room was much less animated. Perhaps this was due to the fact that this is not a proposed school closure, rather it is a proposed reconfiguration of the school. (The recommendation is for Spruce Avenue to be a junior high, the only one for the CCEP area.).

Here's what I heard:

- Concerns about being designated to Norwood. Many parents feel concerned about safety, etc. as Norwood is located on the intersection of two busy streets. Spruce Avenue feels more protected.
- Concerns about revitalization, childcare, transportation, the loss of sibling connections. (as expressed at other CCEP meetings)
- Concerns about congregating all the junior high students together in close proximity to Kingsway Mall, where poor influences may hang out.
- Concerns about the smartboard technology that the parents have raised money for-- will this follow the students to the new school, or will they need to fund-raise again?
- Concerns over the loss of the K-9 format, where teenagers serve as role models for younger children. (This is an interesting contrast to the concerns of some Fulton parents who do not want to move into a K-9 grouping because they fear the influence of teenagers on younger children) The opinion was the teenagers will behave worse in a junior high, grade 7-9 grouping, without the moderating influence of the younger children. As well, because the students will be bussed in from all over the inner city, will they respect the building as much, without having the immediate connection to the Spruce Avenue community?
- Suggestion that ETS (bussing) is more convenient and regular for Norwood than Spruce Avenue, so if junior high students are going to be taking ETS to one central junior high, wouldn't Norwood be a better choice? 95 Street and 111 Avenue have frequent buses. The bussing service to Spruce Avenue is not as good. (route 151)
- If Spruce Avenue has been chosen as the centralized junior high site due to the existence of CTS (shop/home economics) classes, is this really the most economical choice? Spruce Avenue needs upgrades ($8.9 million). By contrast, how much would it cost to build CTS spaces in the other K-9 schools?
- Concerns about Norwood amenities. They may have enough classroom space in the building for 400 students, but will their playground and gymnasium be able to accomodate that many kids? Spruce Avenue has better outdoor fields, etc. As well, Norwood does not provide after-school childcare.
- Spruce Avenue is a functioning, well-attended K-9 (303 students), why does it need to be broken up?

From the tables I sat with:
- One mother expressed a certain amount of fatalism and acceptance of the decision to close her child's elementary program. She indicated that she would be more upset if the Board decided to close McCauley. (I was surprised by this. Others at the table quickly agreed.)
- Frustration about some of the barriers to open dialogue between CCEP schools. They were not able to contact parents from other CCEP schools due to FOIPP (privacy legislation).  They felt frustrated by the high-level language on the documents and that many parents and community members were not able to participate due to these barriers. Their attempts to provide "coles notes" or summary statements to accompany the documents was not allowed, as the school had been directed that no additions or modifications were permitted.
- Quote: "The most viable cities in North America, have the highest density closest to the core." What are we doing to the long-term viability of Edmonton?
- Caring raises achievement of kids, programming comes second.

Have a good weekend. I hope to see some of you at the Sexual Exploitation Week of Awareness, next week. (March 15-19). I am the MC for the Proclamation Event at the Stanley Milner Library on Monday at 1:30 PM. The event is open to all. The City of Edmonton website has information on the events for the entire week. 

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