‘Ottawa’ Public School Trustees Recommend Closing Five west-side Schools
Public school trustees have recommended closing five schools in the west end of the city.
D. Aubrey Moodie and Greenbank middle schools, Century and Leslie Park English elementary schools and Grant Alternative were picked off one by one at the meeting of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.
Regina Street PS was spared, with trustees recommending it be turned into an alternative school with a focus on outdoor education.
The fate of the seventh school on the hit list, J. H. Putman middle school, will probably be decided when the meeting continues Tuesday night.
About 70 people attended Monday’s meeting to listen to parents make final plea to save their schools.
Parents have been lobbying for months, with particularly strong campaigns to save Regina Street, J.H. Putman, Leslie Park, Grant Alternative and Century public schools.
“I’m angry and utterly frustrated with everything,” said Desiree Imeish, who has two children at Century, after the vote. Earlier in the evening she made a presentation to trustees, apologizing for being emotional, but saying she was frustrated the school board did not seem receptive to the good arguments in favour of keeping the school open. “No one listens and no one cares.”
Century has a large number of immigrant and refugee children. Supporters argued those parents were less able to lobby the school board because they don’t speak English. The school is about half full.
School board staff said the board has to face “fiscal reality.”
The board has 11,500 empty pupil spaces spread across a district of 72,000 students. At the same time it needs to add 2,500 spaces in fast-growing areas where schools are crowded. The board is trying to balance where buildings are located and where they are needed.
Trustees make the final decision in early March, but it is unlikely there will be major changes from the recommendations made Monday by all trustees sitting as a committee of the whole. The recommendations:
Century students would be sent to Carleton Heights school.
D. Aubrey Moodie students would be transferred to Bell High School, which would expand to become a Grade 7 to 12 school. The board is trying to get rid of middle schools.
Merivale High School would add the international baccalaureate program, an academically rigorous program not now offered in the west end.
Greenbank Middle School students would be sent to Sir Robert Borden High School, which would also expand to include Grades 7 to 12.
Leslie Park students would be redirected to Briargreen PS.
The changes would take effect in September.
Trustees agreed with a proposal from parents at Regina Street PS to turn the school into a model for environmental education. The school borders on Mud Lake and teachers already incorporate lessons learned by students there into most subjects. The University of Ottawa education faculty is interested in a partnership with the school to train teachers in outdoor ed.
Trustee Theresa Kavanagh, who proposed the motion to save the school in her ward, said it could be a “showcase” and attract students from across the city.
Parents who have been fighting to keep Regina Street open say they are confident parents will keep their children enrolled once it adopts an “alternative” program. Alternative schools follow principles that include child-centred learning, cooperation rather than competition, innovative teaching methods and lots of parental involvement. If all the Regina students stay, and the students from Grant Alternative are transferred, the school would have 250 pupils in a building with the capacity for 300, said staff.
But several trustees were skeptical, saying Regina Street PS open doesn’t solve the larger problem of too many empty pupil spaces in the area.
Trustee Donna Blackburn said she doesn’t support the expansion of alternative schools because many regular schools already follow the same practices. “We spend a lot of money busing children around who could be in their home schools.”
At the continuation of the meeting Tuesday, trustees will tackle what do to about J.H. Putman middle school, which parents have launched a spirited campaign to save. Staff recommend closing the school but not until an addition an be built at Agincourt elementary to house intermediate students. Agincourt would then become a kindergarten to Grade 8 French immersion school. The English program students would be sent to Pinecrest PS.