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Closure of Pennfield Elementary never considered - Mar. 05, 2014

Barb Rayner
Blacks Harbour
Members of the Blacks Harbour Parent School Support Committee (PSSC) were told the closure of Pennfield Elementary School was never on the table.
Blacks Harbour Elementary School principal Joanne Schwarze addressed the issue Thursday night because of the amount of misinformation which has been circulating about the Pennfield School closing and students moving to Blacks Harbour Elementary.
“It was reported that parents were promised Pennfield was going to close. That was never on the table. As far as I understand it, the only thing that is on the table is a k to 5 reconfiguration (in Pennfield) and really we don’t have any say in that.”
She then outlined how, in December, the PSSC from Pennfield sent a letter to the superintendent of the Anglophone South School District, Zoë Watson, asking if she would consider the reconfiguration of the school from k to 4 to k to 5 because of declining numbers.
A public meeting was held before Christmas, said Schwarze, which was attended by both Watson and senior education officer Jenny MacDougall. The request from the Pennfield PSSC was to reconfigure the school to kindergarten to Grade 5 rather than sending the students on to Blacks Harbour for Grade 5.
“There seemed to be some good support for that and the superintendent agreed to take it back to the DEC (District Education Council).”
During that meeting, said Schwarze, there was also a question from the audience asking why send students to Blacks Harbour for Grade 6 and not straight to Fundy High School since most elementary schools are considered kindergarten to Grade 5 schools.
“Moving Grade 6 to Fundy High School was not really on the table. If Pennfield becomes a K to 5 school, that would give them another year to work that out.
“If that was something people were in favour of, there would have to be a formal request to reconfigure Fundy High from (grades) 6 to 12 instead of 7 to 12 and there would have to be consultations with St. George Elementary and Blacks Harbour School before they would move forward with that.”
Schwarze reiterated the only thing currently being considered for the fall is the reconfiguration of Pennfield School.
PSSC chair Laura Tucker asked what impact there would be on Blacks Harbour School enrollment and staffing if Pennfield is reconfigured.
Schwarze said Blacks Harbour School’s enrolment changes every year depending on how many are coming in and how many Grade 6 students are leaving.
At this point, she said, a large Grade 6 group is about to leave the school, and numbers moving from Pennfield vary each year. This year it would have been 16 coming in Grade 5 but other years it has been as low as four.
“If we lose students we probably lose staff. If we gain students, we probably gain staff. I think next year it is probably not going to have a really big effect but we can’t predict because we don’t know what is coming in down the road. It could have an impact.”
Staffing allotments are made in the spring, said Schwarze, based on the number of students. The number of educational assistants (EAs) is not based on student population, she said, but on need so this would not have an impact on them.
DEC member Larry Boudreau said if consideration is being given to moving Grade 6 students to Fundy High School, there will be public consultation.
Tucker asked what the next step be should if there is concern about the enrollment at Blacks Harbour and Boudreau said there is nothing the DEC can do as staffing is based on student numbers. For instance, he said, if 10 students opted to go into French immersion, those numbers would also be lost from Blacks Harbour School.
Schwarze said the school lost a lot of students last spring because of families moving out west and would probably have lost one teacher but, in one day, they gained 14 new students.
“You never really know. We lost a ton of people to other provinces because of jobs. I think that is a reality in all the schools. People are having less children and a lot of people are leaving, unfortunately.”

barb@stcroixcourier.ca