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I am a 30-year retired teacher with the Bluewater Board of Education and I wish to address what I call a crisis in the proposed move of Grade 7 and 8 students from Northport Elementary School and École Port Elgin Saugeen Central School (ÉPESCS) to Saugeen District Secondary School (SDSS).

Having worked in the secondary panel as a special education LRT, my students had a wide range of difficulties: behaviour, reading disabilities, social disabilities, anxiety, ADHD, to name a few. I liased with the Board of Education, the secondary management team, parents and students as well as the transition team of the elementary panel trying to ensure that elementary students had a smooth transition from Grade 8 to Grade 9.

It is a huge step from Grade 8 to 9, moving from a safe, nurturing environment to one that has expectations of more maturity; preparing them to exit to post-secondary education or world of work. That being said, I believe this move by the Board has crisis written all over it. These children are not ready to move into that environment and is the environment receptive to them.

Letʼs examine some data. The elementary schools are crowded; portables are needed. The secondary school is not crowded; their portables arenʼt being used anymore. Given time, the space will be used at the secondary level. Itʼs like investments, if thereʼs a disruption, a blip, you let it ride and it should resolve itself. Don't jump into a rash decision. What greater investment do we have than our young people and their welfare. Nada. What could be more rash than moving them?

In the past ÉPESCS has had 12 or more portables and they survived academically, musically, team sports, etcetera, so what is the issue? Put in a few more portables. What the Board's proposal will result in is to remove the students from their core schools, their scholastic community and family, take away their rite of passage to graduate from their school, remove the opportunity to become leaders within their core schools, work with the younger students in their core schools, and develop safely, emotionally and physically, before they move on to a less nurturing environment where they will have to hold their own.

This move would disrupt the secondary school as well. Itʼs not like a new Kindergarten to Grade 12 school where space has been carefully designed to incorporate these young students and great thought given to all the age groups. The younger kids are likely going to be challenged by the older kids. We are a very affluent town, our tax dollars are paying for this decision, and this is not, in my opinion, the correct decision.

What about the other viable option?

If the Board is telling parents that these students will be in a safe environment, define safe. Will the Board be accountable for the young students' emotional and
physical safety? Staff are the ones who make it work and these children are not ready for this environment.

It is also a disruption to the secondary staff, with the possibility of being moved out of music rooms, etc. and the young students will perhaps be caught up in a haze of resentment.

The main and personal interest on my part is that my grandson is one of the elementary school students and I am very afraid for him. I want the best for him, and
I know how important and fragile the education process can be. So many students can be turned off and become a retention statistic by a bad experience. He is not a statistic. People making these decisions need to humanize the statistics.

It was ironic that on the day this whole situation came to my attention I had just read that in the Toronto area, the schoolʼs administrators had been polled and
their major frustration was that they had to do things in their jobs that were not benefiting the students but they had to implement what they were directed to do.

A possible remedy? Leave the kids alone. Leave them where they are. If the system isn't broke, don't fix it. Bring in the unused portables from the high school and let the students fulfill their rite of passage.

It's time to admit this is not the right stream for these students to navigate. I was told once by a member of the Board, "Sue, you work over and above your day to day routine. If there is ever anything we can do for you..." Well, I am calling in my marker.

Susan McGrath

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