Pictou-Advocate-opinion

Entire community needs to speak out during school review process

Opinion

To the Editor:
Pictou Academy is historically significant to education in Nova Scotia so there is great historical argument for keeping the grand old high school with its history of academic excellence in town; but there are other arguments in favour as well which should not be ignored.

Nova Scotia’s biggest problem is its dying rural communities where inadequate municipal attention, planning and government have allowed their rural economies to wither by failing to properly support their economic growth and stability.  The result has been an aging population caused by a trickle-out migration of youth.  Pictou is likewise suffering from this trend.

In the 1980s, education and schools were considered essential to the province and to the well being of all its municipalities. As such, their governing school boards consisted of representatives of the province, of municipal councils and of each community’s voters. Mayor Ernest Jordan and I were the representatives on our local Pictou School Board to represent town council.  There were two appointed by the Province and two elected by Pictou voters.

Educating our community youth was also considered important but for the most part, we did not concern ourselves with nor try to interfere with the pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching). That was entrusted to our professional staff of teachers and principals who reported to the school board through our school superintendent.

So it’s against this backdrop that I view all major community decisions like that now facing Pictou in the present school review process.

Education Minister Karen Casey told MLA Karla MacFarlane that the Chignecto -Central Regional School Board (CCRSB) will be making the decision with regard to Pictou’s schools on the advice of a group of citizens appointed as a School Options Committee (SOC) to develop a recommendation on how schools should be retained in the Town of Pictou.

My questions are:
• Is the CCRSB the proper group to make the final decision?
• Are the right people appointed to the SOC and has this body been given the proper mandate?
• No matter which way the decision goes, will Pictou still face trickle-out migration of youth with our aging population and stagnating town economy?
• Should this be a stand-alone CCRSB or even a Department of Education study and decision or, should it be broadened to include community economic development?

Lorna MacIsaac’s letter in The Advocate (recently) listed five areas of proven impact that small schools have in their communities.  These got me wondering about what now motivates the members of our present Chignecto-Central Regional School Board (CCRSB) and of this new School Options Committee (SOC).  Will they be concerned now in the way Mayor Jordan, town voters and I would have been?

I’m sure they will be for the first three that Lorna listed but I worry about her numbers 4 and 5 which, as a town council appointee, would have been a particular concern for me and which I believe were ignored by the CCRSB when it made its decision on the school closing in River John.

4. Economic impact – Teachers, administration and operations staff purchase goods and services from local businesses.
5. Population impact – Communities without schools have more difficulty gaining young couples and families to live in the community.  Families want to live close to their schools, fewer houses sold, less young residents and families in our population.
Vivian Farrell is our Pictou West school board member but neither she nor any of the other members of CCRSB live in Pictou. Not living IN the town does not make them ineligible or ineffective representatives.  However, representing the voters in several Pictou West communities means she cannot focus as a community representative on the community needs of any one like Pictou or River John.

I think about that as well when considering the makeup of the SOC which, with facilitator Lawrence Currie and recording secretary Debbie MacDonald, has the following membership: It is chaired by David Porter who represents the community (although I don’t know if in any official capacity). Shawn Ryan represents the business community.  Four members – Jack Cox, Ralph Heighton, Lisa Smith and Kora Hanrahan – represent the parents and four members – Michelle Davey, Lesley Heighton, Gina Fagan and Natalie Jay – represent the Pictou SACs (School Advisory Councils).

So on both bodies involved in this important community decision I see only one person, David Porter, appointed to represent the community’s interests and concerns.  I’d be much happier to see better representation of Pictou’s business community and of town council on the SOC as well as the influence of a community economic development expertise.

Lorna’s letter urged, “If you are a resident of Pictou, a business owner, an employee of a business, a developer, a landlord, a real estate agent, a tourism operator, childcare provider, healthcare provider, or work in other sectors, you are needed at this meeting.”  And she is right. These all have good reason to be concerned.
I believe our new Pictou mayor, council and our business community should immediately assert their influence to properly represent our community and business economic interests and that they should also coax some community economic development expertise into this Pictou school options process.

Ralph Ferguson
Pictou

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