Richard Stewart can sympathize with parents whose children’s schools could be closed in June.
The Coquitlam city councillor and president of the District Parent Advisory Council went through school closure himself three years ago when Montgomery elementary, where his kids went to school, was shut down because of declining enrolment.
But he also says students may benefit from moving to larger schools, where there are more children of their own age, more resources and better education opportunities.
“I think that at the outset, there’s a lot of angst and anxious parents who recognize the significance of a proposed closure,” he said. “You can’t discount that.”
But he said his kids ended up at Mundy elementary, which had the “right number of students” and the family was relieved because the issue of closure was no longer hanging over their heads.
“In the end, I really think that my kids got a better educational experience,” he said.
But he said there will be a great deal of work to do before administrators and trustees can make a decision, and they must be prepared to listen to parents with compassion and do their homework, including hearing some creative ideas, before opting for closures.
Meetings should be structured so parents of one school aren’t pitted against another and, if closure is inevitable, siblings should be kept together.
At a meeting of the District Parent Advisory Council Wednesday night, several parents from affected schools showed up to express their concerns, although some felt the decision was inevitable, Stewart said.
“DPAC will do all it can to support parents,” Stewart said, including providing help with things such as what to do with fundraising money, if a school is closed.
He acknowledged that some schools may be too old to be worth spending a lot of money on renovations, including seismic repairs. And keeping under-utilized schools open costs the district $250,000 a year in operational costs, money that should be spent on students, he said.
Still, some schools could be saved with the right mix of community use and programming. Millside elementary, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year, could accommodate a museum, a French-language cultural centre or a community centre and still have room for classes, he suggested.
And Vanier elementary could be an annex for over-crowded Centennial or even the school board office.
“But there is still going to be a lot of disappointed parents,” he said, “there’s no getting around that.”