PICTOU – Emotions remained calm as residents of Pictou expressed their desire to have grades Primary to 12 remain in the town at the most recent School Options Committee public meeting last week.
The general consensus was that the history of Pictou Academy wasn’t as important as having the students remain here.
“I want to keep my children in school here. I don’t care if that means selling this school (the elementary) or any of the other schools,” said a woman in the crowd.
The more than 100 people who attended the meeting had a chance to sit down in small working groups with one of the SOC members to discuss the question, ‘What configuration of P-12 are you comfortable with?’
While in the smaller groups, the SOC members explained that their job is not to focus on the financial part of the equation, but the best possible option considering optimization of both space and staff.
“PA does meet optimization,” noted Shawn Ryan, one of the SOC members, who went on to say their job is to now prove that.
“We were given three options by the (Chignecto-Central Regional School Board), none of which include grades 9-12 in Pictou and the status quo can’t continue.”
The hope was for the SOC to learn what the community would like to see happen.
One option brought up by an attendee was purchasing the elementary school and keeping Pictou Academy and returning Dr. Thomas McCulloch School to the town, having the elementary school be Primary to grades 6 or 7 and grades 8 through 12 housed at Pictou Academy.
This brought about the question of renovations required.
Neither school is equipped for Home Economics or Industrial Arts rooms.
“Those subjects are now considered electives, so we can move the students here without making any changes, but depending on what people want, we would make that recommendation to have the renovations made,” explains Ryan.
One woman brought up the fact that without Industrial Arts or Home Economics, the area may lose more students to other schools.
Another option discussed was offering more curriculum, like specialized applied sciences labs, French immersion, enhanced Options and Opportunities courses and distance learning that could draw more students to Pictou.
Michelle Davey of the SOC committee told her working group that the SOC has discussed a number of options including but not limited to, purchasing the elementary school and renovating it to a P-8 school and building an annex for the grade 9-12 students; purchasing the elementary school and renovating the McCulloch to house all of the students; building a new P-12 school in town; or renovating Pictou Academy as a P-5 school, demolishing the old section and sending the grades 6-12 to a renovated McCulloch school.
The majority of people were finding it difficult to discuss options without considering the financial side of things, because as Kent Corbett noted, when it comes down to it, the financial aspect is going to play a huge role.
“We just learned about optimization in math. You know what’s not a math equation? My education. Dr. Thomas McCulloch felt there needed to be a school in Pictou; what changed?” asked PA student Leigha MacDonald.
The SOC was pleased with the public participation and are hoping to see as many or more faces at the December 1 meeting at the Pictou Academy gymnasium.
“In the end, everyone agreed that keeping the P-12 students in town was the main goal no matter what that looks like,” said SOC member Lisa Smith.
“I grew up in River John and went to a small school there, small schools are all I have ever known,” said Olivia Pretty, a current PA student. “I came to PA in Grade 10 and being on the bus an hour and a half each way was a lot so I transferred to North Colchester. That was a huge mistake. The education did not compare, I didn’t feel challenged like I did at PA. So I came back to PA and it was the best decision I ever made.”
Another woman in the crowd stepped forward and credited Pictou Academy and it’s teachers for her graduating.
“I moved out at 16 … If it weren’t for Mr. Ryan (former principal) and Ms. MacPherson (current teacher at PA) I wouldn’t have graduated. They came to my home every day until I came back to school and gave me tests after class. That only happens in a small school. I want that for my kids.”
By the end of January, the SOC must present their best possible option in a written report to the CCRSB. That will begin a 60-day review process which includes a public meeting where the option is presented. Following that, a decision will be made at a public meeting within 30 days.
The SOC is hoping for more feedback from the community. Anyone with ideas or comments can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ideas generated from the public on the configuration of P-12 students in Pictou were posted on the walls of the Pictou Elementary School gymnasium for all to see during the most recent School Options Committee public meeting. (Harvie photo)