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Feb 23,2007 - Now News

By Simone Blais - Staff Reporter

A quiet hush settled over the audience of parents, students and staff sitting in the gymnasium at Winslow Centre when Judy Jackson, the secretary at Mountain View Elementary, choked up while explaining how she habitually asks certain children at the school whether they have eaten that day - because most days, they haven't.

"I worry what will happen to these children if they become part of a bigger student body," Jackson said, adding that the school also collects boots and shoes for children new to Canada who don't understand how severe winter can be.

The small community of Mountain View, she concluded with tears in her eyes, is "the only school where we felt we truly made a difference."

The gymnasium in Coquitlam's Winslow Centre was full to the brim with parents, students and staff Tuesday and Wednesday, all present at the last-chance opportunity to plead their case with trustees to keep eight schools from closing.

The Tri-Cities school closure meetings were the first to be held in the province, as school districts across B.C. begin the process of closing schools as a way of addressing declining student enrolment. Media interest in the possible closures locally was high, with camera and radio crews from all major outlets attending both meetings.

The presentations started with speeches from parent advisory council (PAC) representatives, followed by more than 70 speakers who signed up by Feb. 14.

Carol Grice, a parent at Moody Elementary, picked apart School District 43's policy that outlines the criteria a school must meet in order for it to close.

"If the school board is committed to this set of criteria, then Moody Elementary should not be closed," Grice said, adding that children's safety would be compromised while walking up Gatensbury Street to schools like Harbour View.

"Because of our geography, there is no safe access to another school," she said.

Greg Moore, a Port Coquitlam city councillor and Lincoln Elementary PAC representative, said the school is perplexed as to why it's on the list as Matrix Planning Associate's updated report on enrolment figures and growth doesn't match city projections.

"How Matrix knows what's going to be built there and not the municipality is beyond my comprehension," he said, adding that multi-year projections by the city indicate a demographics turnover in the school's neighbourhood. "There's a number of people who are ready to move out and downsize. Matrix didn't include that in its report."

Christ St. Germaine, the PAC chair of Meadowbrook Elementary, said safety of children continues to be parents' primary concern.

"We ask you to look beyond the numbers, beyond the dollars, and look at my children, her children and his children," she said. "The Coquitlam School District bussed our children across the Lougheed Highway because it felt it was unsafe to cross after the pedestrian overpass came down. I asked school district staff, if they closed the school, would our kids get bussed again and they said No. What's changed?"

While the pedestrian overpass has been rebuilt, St. Germaine argued kids won't use it as it's out of the way to other schools.

"Would you add another 20 minutes to a 30-minute walk to get to school? Children wouldn't and will cross the highway. If you choose to close Meadowbrook, you must provide buses for families on the east side of the catchment."

Tina Feaver, representing Millside Elementary PAC, said that the small school environment works best for kids.

"Millside isn't just a school on a corner, it means a lot more to us than just that," she said, adding the Maillardville school is celebrating it's centenary this year. "We know our enrolment is low, but we love our small school. You say we may have more opportunities in a bigger school, but at our school our principal knows all the kids' names."

Vanier Elementary PAC spokesperson Tangyu Wang also took issue with the criteria to close schools, noting the parent community supports the school, classes are near capacity and the building doesn't require significant renovations to become seismically sound.

"For Vanier, this is an acid test. Our community has spoken, and facts, fairness and common sense show that Vanier has passed the test," Tangyu Wang said.

Kathy Burton, the College Park Elementary PAC spokesperson, said School District 43 should reconsider alternative options to closing schools.

"This school closure process has been such a disheartening process that we may not feel up to putting the same heart into our new school," she said. "College Park is a wonderful, nurturing learning environment for children, and our community would be divided and fractured if it were to close. It will be a huge loss.

"Options will take effort on the part of the school district. But it will be worth the effort. I hope you try."

Shannon Breckenridge, the PAC chair of Coronation Park Elementary, said her school that serves Port Moody shouldn't close because it's about to face a huge increase in enrolment.

That surge in students, she said, has been undetected by school district officials as live birth rates have been calculated and applied across the Tri-Cities - but Port Moody is posting high numbers of live births.

"Inlet Centre is in a period of growth for a number of coming years," she said, which will leave area schools overcrowded at 95 per cent capacity. "How will that impact our children's education?"

Gord Wickerson, a Coquitlam Teachers' Association first vice-president, said the "communities of School District 43 have spoken and they have overwhelmingly said 'Keep our schools open.' We agree.

"Enrolment numbers alone do not measure what's happening in your schools. We will assist you, be there for you to _ keep these schools open."

CUPE Local 561 president Dave Ginter, in introducing himself, said he represented a "special interest group of 65 employees," and while "to you people they're dollars and cents, but for me they're people who have served 30 years in our schools."

Ginter pulled no punches during his presentation, saying he "was embarrassed in you as trustees, when you, the people I elected, didn't show up (to consultation meetings)."

He also said there was "bias between the lines" of the staff recommendation to consider closing eight elementary schools.

"There's not a secretary-treasurer in the province who would stand in front of his board of trustees, who would recommend to close eight schools without knowing he had the support of the board," Ginter said.

Scott Robinson, president of the Coquitlam Principals and Vice-Principals' Association, said trustees "have a tough decision ahead.

"If you decide to close schools, immediate attention must immediately be focused on the students whose lives will be disrupted should be required to change schools," he said.

While his presentation was cut off at the five-minute mark, Robinson's speaking notes concluded with a recommendation to close the schools.

"Our children will look to us for guidance, and we will not have the luxury of focusing on blaming or pointing fingers. Rather, we will need to make a commitment to our children's success," his notes read.

"This commitment, as adults, to do everything we should, can only lead to the success of our children if the decision is made to close schools."

The staff recommendation and trustees' subsequent decision on whether or not to close schools is anticipated for Tuesday, Feb. 27. The meeting is scheduled for 7:30Ep.m. at Dr. Charles Best Secondary, 2525 Como Lake Ave. in Coquitlam.

published on 02/23/2007

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