Dear parents and citizens of Saugeen Shores,

I am a Saugeen Shores resident and a retired elementary educator. Before retirement, I taught at both of the public elementary schools in Port Elgin; 32 years at École Port Elgin- Saugeen Central School (ÉPESCS) and four years at Northport Elementary School. I also taught one year in a part time capacity at Saugeen District Secondary School (SDSS).

I am writing to you today to express my grave concern about the Bluewater District School Board’s (BWDSB) proposal (drafted without public consultation or debate) to transfer all Grade 7 and 8 students from the aforementioned elementary schools to SDSS as of September 2019.

There is no specific end date for this transfer. Grade 7 and 8 students would continue to attend SDSS into the foreseeable future.

The school board has indicated that this decision is being considered to relieve the pressure of greatly increased enrolment at both of the elementary schools. Meanwhile, there are currently unused classrooms at SDSS. The board may argue that there are other schools in the district, such as in Hanover, that have Grade 7 and 8 students in the same building as secondary students.

While there certainly is merit to these points, I am urging all concerned to review closely the following three important considerations:

1) Education Space

While it is true that SDSS currently has classrooms not in use, these empty rooms are interspersed throughout the school. In order to have the Grade 7s and 8s housed together in the same wing at SDSS (the desired intent of the board) certain secondary classes will have to move. This transfer could adversely affect, the art room, the drama room, a science room and the Comm Tech room. Secondary students could be moved from these specialized spaces and placed in other, regular classrooms.

Further, the double gym at SDSS is currently in constant use, both during scheduled class time and in extra curricular time. There is a genuine question as to when the elementary students will be able to fully receive their mandated gym time.

This school year, the excellent music room at SDSS is in constant use by dedicated secondary music students. As of next year, where will the elementary students have their music program delivered?

Where will the elementary students have their outdoor recess area? How will this area be effectively monitored?

In the proposed 10 room wing, will there be room for a library, a computer lab, a resource room for special needs and/or an assembly place for the students?

2) Quality of Programs

The Instrumental Band programs in Port Elgin, both secondary and elementary, are among the finest in the entire province of Ontario. These programs have taken many years to build and develop. The elementary programs will be severely splintered by the board’s proposal. Specifically, will the Grade 5 and 6 students who remain at the elementary schools still have instrumental music? What will happen with the actual instruments at each school? Will they be divided up among the buildings or will new ones be purchased? If purchased, by whom? Assuming the school board intends for there to be instrumental music for the Grade 7s and 8s at SDSS, where and when will they practice and rehearse? As mentioned, the only music room at SDSS is constantly being utilized under the current conditions. Will the excellent secondary music program at SDSS suffer from scheduling conflicts and overcrowding in the music room? Will the excellent elementary music programs suffer the same fate?

The Art and Drama programs at SDSS are both excellent, long standing, and vibrant programs. What if the programs had to vacate their current rooms and working spaces and move to a different area of the school to accommodate the elementary students under the board’s proposal. Both of the current rooms have been extensively set up over many years for success in their respective programs. When these rooms were constructed, input from the art and drama teachers was given as to how best the space could be designed and utilized for these specific subject areas. For example, the drama room has considerable storage space built in to house the hundreds of costumes and props necessary to its successful program. There is an extensive, and expensive, lighting system in place. Public performances occur in this space. Strong, thriving programs such as SDSS’s Art and Drama programs should not be disrupted.

What about the school sports teams and activities that are an integral and important aspect of school life? At present, the two gymnasiums at SDSS are always in use by the secondary students, both during school and after hours. When and where are the elementary students going to practice and participate in intramural activities and school teams?

There are many other programs currently offered at the elementary schools that could be adversely affected. An example would be the Heritage Fair that has been in place at ÉPESCS the last two years. Will it be able to continue? There are many traditions at both schools that could be lost to the students. The Hot Lunch Program at Northport is an example.

All school programming is dependent on supplies; the administrating and, in this situation, transferring of teaching resources for subjects such as art, history, math, language, physical education and science will be very complex.

What about staffing for the Grade 7s and 8s; how will this be done? Both of the elementary schools currently have wonderful staffs already in place. Can this quality be duplicated under the board’s proposal?

What about the losses to the elementary schools with the transfer of their senior students? How will this affect programs such as bus monitoring and peer tutoring? How will this change school culture?

3) School Identity

There is a strong possibility that the students transferred to SDSS will have no concrete school identity. What will team and band programs be named? For which school will students be participating?

Will a lack of identity hinder the development of students socially and academically? Will students collectively and individually participate with dedication and vibrancy in extra curricular activities, or even curricular activities? Furthermore, when one considers extra curricular teams and groups, who will actually get the opportunity to participate? Teams, for example, are made up of a certain number of students. It is likely that not all students currently playing for their school team will be able to play the following year as there may simply be too many students trying out for a limited number of spots.

I have merely outlined a few concerns that should be considered before any change to the current situation is made. It seems the Bluewater Board has rushed to this decision without any discussion with those most affected, without any input as to whether this is the only solution to the situation or as to how a change might best be implemented.

I am strongly stating, therefore, that the status quo should be upheld at the Port Elgin schools. Yes, both elementary schools will be temporarily crowded. It is worth noting that historically this is not a unique development and over-crowding can be managed successfully in the short term. Yes, some of SDSS will remain unused but this also is for the short term with our community’s increasing school population.

In the long term, the Bluewater Board of Education needs to be creative and find the path towards a new elementary school in the Saugeen Shores area or consider additions to the current schools that allow for the appropriate space and facilities so as to accommodate the many excellent programs that all the Port Elgin schools currently have. Any future changes need to be accomplished with minimum disruption to student education.

I urge all concerned to contact your local school board trustee to let it be known that you wish to be heard on this subject. Furthermore, our Member of Provincial Parliament Lisa Thompson also happens to be Minister of Education. I believe that she needs to be contacted about this issue.

Yours with concern,
Cam Porter

Editor's Note: A BWDSB information meeting has been scheduled for Monday, November 5 at 6:30 p.m. at SDSS.

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