P-12 option looms over school debate

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PICTOU — More than 200 people heard an impassioned plea from Pictou’s mayor for a P-12 school last night.

They also heard an option from the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board’s staff that would keep the town’s students in Pictou.

Jim Ryan, who became Pictou’s mayor last fall after 34 years as an educator and the last 13 as principal at Pictou Academy, may have been the last speaker at a special board meeting to hear final presentations by the school options committee (SOC), as well as the board staff’s technical report. But he was firing on all cylinders as he excoriated the staff for what he called misleading information and called building a new P-12 facility “the best option” for the board, town, province and country “and most importantly, the students.”

Ryan said he was “disappointed, but not surprised, by the dismissive approach” he said the staff took in composing the technical report. He criticized the report for indicating the SOC’s preferred option of a P-12 school would not be considered, nor would capital improvements for the town’s schools.

Ryan scolded the board staff for implying that Pictou high school students would have far more course options if they are bussed to Northumberland Regional High School and the Academy closed.

He said the NRHS total is 128 courses, not the 234 submitted by staff, a figure that he said included 41 that are International Baccalaureate options. French Immersion classes were also factored in, he said.

SOC chairman David Porter led the committee’s presentations to the board, but he was amply assisted by other members.

Michelle Davey cited provincial legislation under which the Academy was founded in 1816 and its role perpetuated in 1969.

Shawn Ryan noted the high percentage of teachers in the Pictou school system who instruct in areas of either their major or minor graduation subjects and their capacity for collaboration.

NRHS representative Jack Cox noted the high participation in sports among Pictou students and their close proximity to part-time jobs.

“This process has changed my perspective of Pictou schools,” he said. “(Pictou) schools are probably giving students an above-average education.”

Committee member Natalie Jay presented the group’s preferred option of a P-12 school and the alternate one that would make Pictou Elementary a P-8 school, while grades 9 to 12 would attend Dr. Thomas McCulloch.

Porter drew on the difficult decisions the board must make on the issue but also asked for compassion.

“We do not want to make this a tough job for you, but we want you to come to a fair decision,” he said.

The technical report presented by operations director Herb Steeves and Chris Boulter included figures pointing to maximum operating and capital savings by moving Pictou’s grades 9 to 12 students to Northumberland. However, they presented the view that sending those students to McCulloch would save some money and avoid contesting the Academy legislation in the short term.

The report posed the scenario of making Pictou Elementary a P-8 school and McCulloch a grades 9 to 12 next September and closing the Academy building at the end of June and declaring it surplus to the board’s needs. It would consider in the future ways to repeal the Academy legislation.

The board members will further examine the staff and SOC reports on April 5 and make a final decision on the Pictou schools on April 11.

SOC chairman David Porter prepared to address the school with fellow committee members Shawn Ryan, left, and Michelle Davey beside him. (Goodwin photo)

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