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Approximately 200 were in attendance at a public information meeting November 5 at Saugeen District Secondary School (SDSS) concerning the relocation of Grade 7 and 8 students from Port Elgin's Northport Elementary School and École Port Elgin Saugeen Central School for the 2019-20 school year.

Hub Staff

A mix of parents and caregivers, students and educators voiced their opinions, concerns and questions during an information meeting regarding the relocation of Grade 7 and 8 students from École Port Elgin Saugeen Central School (ÉPESCS) and Northport Elementary School to Saugeen District Secondary School (SDSS) for the 2019-20 school year.

The event, hosted by the Bluewater District School Board (BWDSB), was held November 5 at SDSS and drew approximately 200 people who listened to presentations by senior administrators with the Board including Director of Education Alana Murray, Superintendent of Education Lori Wilder, and Superintendent of Business Services Rob Cummings.

The evening began with statistics explaining the need for the move as the two elementary schools are currently operating at 107 percent capacity while the high school faces 63 percent capacity and 10 unused classrooms. Administrators advised attendees that they are working on a capital plan to solve the capacity issues long term, but said that process could take five to six years.

Cummings said that questions and ideas already presented to the Board from parents and educators had allowed them to come up with two options for how the current high school could divide its space and accommodate the new students while keeping them separate from the high schoolers. The first option would see the younger students take up a block of classrooms on the west side of the school, which would include the drama room and art room; while the second option would see the younger students attend classrooms on the second floor with special needs classes being utilized on the first.

The Board then read aloud questions and answers which had been made available on their website at www.bwdsb.on.ca/business/GradesRelocation_PortElgin.

When it came time for the in-house question period, many hands were raised with queries varying from concerns to criticisms while some expressed support and an understanding of the need for change.

One parent was concerned that Southampton's GC Huston Public School did not have representation present and a query was made as to how the Board hadn't foreseen the rapid growth indicated in a Watson and Associates report.

One parent suggested the Board's answers “sounded scripted” while others worried what curriculum requirements could mean for the elementary music programs and what could be lost.

One mother drew applause as she expressed concern about her 11 year old son attending SDSS next year and admitted that she had considered moving so as to avoid "the negativity and all the peer pressure of drugs and alcohol" that the administrators had failed to mention during the meeting. She added that she grew up in Saugeen Shores and knows what goes on.

One mother said she had attended a Grade 7-12 school and that it had been a positive experience for her. She recalled leadership opportunities, said she was not bullied by older students and had even attended a Grade 8 graduation ceremony.

During a lengthy discussion concerning drugs and alcohol, SDSS Grade 12 student and BWDSB Student Trustee Emma Schuster told the room, "we're not that bad," and said that SDSS is not as dangerous as they think.

SDSS Principal Melissa McEwen addressed some concerns regarding timetables and changes to the school and said that no matter their childrens' time there the administration would make it an inclusive environment that values everybody's options and ideas.

When answering a question from a current SDSS student regarding sexual harassment of younger students Director of Education Alana Murray said that administrators work every day to keep schools safe. "That is their job and they will continue to do that," she said.

"Can I guarantee that that interaction will never happen, I can’t guarantee that now,” she said truthfully but added that teachers are on the lookout for that.

Concerns over construction timelines was also brought to the floor with one parent wanting a guarantee from the Board that her child won't fall through the cracks. “Nothing's ever done properly the first year, it always takes time to work out the kinks," she said.

To which Murray replied, “You have our commitment that your kids won't fall through the cracks.”

Father Colin Rideout told the Bluewater representatives that he had a petition against the move with over 200 signatures and again queried how the Board had missed the mark anticipating the rise in student numbers with the Watson and Associates report, crediting the baby boom and employment opportunities at Bruce Power.

“The Municipality may appear to be growing before we’re able to be in a position where we are able to predict what will happen for students,” said Murray. We’re trying to move forward in getting more accurate information,” she said and added that in the past the report based the numbers on contract work and that it was time to look at the number of Bruce Power workers coming to the area differently.

Father of two students who will be attending SDSS next year in Grades 7 and 9, Todd Warnell, knows there isn't a lot of choice when it comes to the handling of rising student numbers and told the room not to “vilify” the administrators as they’ve dedicated their lives to children and suggested that instead folks could invest their energy in making the change be as successful as it could be.

Following the meeting Warnell said, “In any situation, in any change, the natural reaction is just say, 'No, keep everything the same,' I think the reality is no, we don't have that choice now, we have a path that is only to go forward," he said, adding that the best way forward is to be positive and be part of the change rather than resisting it.

With a student perspective BWDSB Student Trustee and SDSS student Emma Schuster told Saugeen Shores Hub that initially the SDSS student body was against the idea of Grade 7 and 8 students attending their school. “But it slowly progressed into less of ‘I don’t want these students at my school' to 'what's going to happen when they're here,'" she said.

"The students have accepted that it’s going to happen whether they like it or not, and they're just more concerned about losing what makes their school their school, as opposed to having younger children at their school,” Schuster said.

Responding to the “bad rap” that some parents had given the SDSS students during the meeting Schuster recalled her first year at SDSS. “A lot of Grade 9 students coming in, they're always anxious, always nervous and personally I was very nervous," she said. "I was thinking of these 18 year old students, like what are they gonna do," Schuster recalled, but added that none of them talked to her.

"It was not as bad as I thought it would be. I can guarantee for these Grade 7 and 8 students it will be a similar experience," she said.

Schuster then addressed a primary concern she's heard vocalized by SDSS students of losing shared spaces. “Without adding on another gym or having gym spaces used in other classrooms we may not have enough time for gym and whether or not this will become a problem, it’s an issue that are on people's minds," she said.

Schuster said there is strong opposition to the loss of the current art and drama rooms as was stated in one of the Board's options for dividing the space at SDSS.

“It’s important that we maintain our drama and arts rooms," she said. "Our drama room was built very beautifully and specifically by someone in the drama industry to make it work as perfectly as possible," she added.

An email account has been created for parents, caregivers and community members to ask questions and seek clarification. Submissions are being accepted at peprogramreview@bwdsb.on.ca until Tuesday, November 13.

Below, at a public information meeting held at Saugeen District Secondary School (SDSS) November 5, SDSS Principal Melissa McEwen, Bluewater District School Board (BWDSB) Director of Education Alana Murray, and École Port Elgin Saugeen Central School (ÉPESCS) Principal Karen Spragg explain options and answer questions for the plans to move Grade 7 and 8 students from ÉPESCS and Northport Elementary to SDSS for the 2019-2020 school year.

 

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