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EMSB consultations on school closings
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 15 décembre 2011

Passions flared once again as parents and commissioners of the English Montreal School Board faced off at a series of public hearings Dec. 5-8 at the board’s headquarters at 6000 Fielding Ave.

Amid growing concerns that the board may close no fewer than seven schools on its territory, parents have been on high alert and have been coming out in droves to make the case for their respective schools remaining open.

The board is in the process of looking at the rationalization of its network of schools and centres. “This periodic review is necessary to ensure that we are delivering the best possible educational services to our students in a pedagogically and financially sound manner,” said Angela Mancini, chairman of the board, in the fall 2011 edition of the EMSB Express newsletter.

The fate of Royal Vale High School has been a particularly hotly contested issue. The EMSB is proposing moving the NDG high school to the City of Côte Saint-Luc, into the Giovanni Palatucci Facility, formerly known as Wagar High School.

Royal Vale is a K-11 school with a focus on enriched learning in math and sciences in a French immersion environment. The proposed change would break up the elementary and secondary sectors of the school.

This has left parents like Joanne Adler wondering if the elementary school won’t soon be on the move to another location. “I am 100% opposed to the move,” she said.

So far, the two have functioned as an integrated whole. The Royal Vale School Governing Board’s brief to the EMSB says that Royal Vale is “building on the ‘whole school’ reality with cross-sector learning and activities, allowing secondary students to feel the pride of being role models.”

Jim Pfaus, chairman of the governing board and a professor of neuroscience at Concordia University said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Pfaus, whose son attends Royal Vale, said that the incidence of bullying is lower at Royal Vale, compared to other schools, because older students mentor and look out for younger kids. “There is a real school spirit,” he said.

He described Royal Vale’s academic markers as “way better,” pointing out that among recent graduates, the majority ended up in science programs – traditionally fields of study more difficult to enter – at Vanier and Dawson College.

Anthony Housefather, the mayor of Côte Saint-Luc, had a very different take on things when he presented his city’s brief to the EMSB on Dec. 6 to a chorus of boos from parents in the audience.

He said that Côte Saint-Luc needs a high school, highlighting the fact that 79% of residents speak English and are looking for a quality public school to send their children to, but have no other alternative than to enrol them in Jewish (religious) or secular private schools. “They pay taxes. They want a high school,” he said.

He hastened to add that NDG already has another public high school (Marymount) and stressed that Royal Vale’s “240” status as a special school wouldn’t be compromised by relocating it.

He reminded commissioners that he had been the former president of the English rights organization Alliance Quebec, and said that he would never support moving the school if he didn’t think that it could work.

He also pitched the relocation on the grounds that Côte Saint-Luc has superior athletic and cultural facilities, emphasizing that it is fertile ground for a transplanted school geared to academic excellence because there is already a ready-made youth population of high achievers in the area.

Pfaus didn’t mince words as to what he thought about the motives of backers of the proposed move, saying that they were too “lazy” to take the appropriate steps to build the necessary support for their own high school, and accusing them of “stealing bodies” to fill it.

The bold plan to relocate the high school has raised more than a few eyebrows in the wider community. In a letter to The Gazette on Dec. 7, Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies drew attention to the fact that some of the very same people in Côte Saint-Luc who had opposed forced municipal mergers as undemocratic were now forcing NDG parents and students to be part of something against their will.

[ Deborah Rankin ]

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