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Friday, 02 December 2016 08:00

New Brigden parents want to keep their rural school

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Kal Koch, PRSD deputy superintendent, explains enrolment projections for New Brigden School to parents at the special invitation-only meeting held in the community Nov. 28. Kal Koch, PRSD deputy superintendent, explains enrolment projections for New Brigden School to parents at the special invitation-only meeting held in the community Nov. 28. Photo by Rose Sanchez

Parents with children either in the private Kindergarten or younger had the chance to tell Prairie Rose School Division (PRSD) administration and three board trustees just how important their school is to them. To those 20-some New Brigden individuals the answer was clear — their small school is the heart of their community.

With only two students enrolled in classes at the school this year, PRSD officials decided to stray from normal process and hold a special meeting with parents of very young children in the community. PRSD administration had previously met with parents of school-aged students earlier this year, when they were attempting to gain a better understanding of fall enrolment.
A number of transportation requests came forward at the June board meeting, with parents seeking transportation for their children from New Brigden to Oyen schools. Those requests were approved, which many felt at the meeting, was the death knell for the school.
“This is not a school closure meeting,” stressed Superintendent Brian Andjelic, at the New Brigden  meeting which was held Nov. 28. “This is a meeting about the future of New Brigden School.”
Invitation-only, facilitators Robert and Laurie Benn with Positive Culture, were brought in to lead the discussion. It included table conversations as well as a chance for PRSD administration to explain the cost projections for operating the school, projected enrolment, and transportation.
Then parents had the opportunity to brainstorm their own ideas about what they would like to see happen at the school moving forward and make recommendations to the board.
When asked by facilitators what is important to those who were in attendance, words like safe, caring, and community were used. Parents with children just entering or about to enter the education system see the small student-teacher ratio at the school as an asset along with the small class sizes. They don’t want to see their children riding a school bus for more than 40 minutes, especially if those children are of a certain age group.
They lauded the education that has been provided in New Brigden in the past with one parent stating, “New Brigden kids, in Oyen, are known as the nicest kids and the smartest kids. They are hard-working and independent. They know each other and they motivate each other. Look around here, you have a few graduates (of the school).”
Their recommendations after the discussion filled multiple large sheets of paper, with the facilitators helping weave a visual picture for the board.
The main themes that emerged in those recommendations included the board and administration continue to work with the community, keeping the lines of communication open; the school’s reputation be rebuilt; the board be made aware of the benefits of keeping the small school open; transportation be reviewed, including the attendance area boundaries and transportation requests; and suggestions for areas the budget could be trimmed by delaying maintenance or making use of parent volunteers as well as fundraising ideas and changing the start or end time of classes at New Brigden to streamline busing and lower costs.
Some discussion was held when the facilitator asked if changing the designation of the school from a grades 1-9 facility to a grades 1-6 facility was on the table and could be placed on the recommendations picture.
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“I don’t want to offer that up on a platter, but I guess if it means my small school stays open ...” said parent Nichole Foot.
Andjelic told the parents it is easier to offer a program than it is to close a program and said knowing what a program looks like offers certainty to the board moving forward.
One parent said if all of the busing requests that were approved were rescinded, then there would be enough students this year to offer a junior-high program. The current students are in elementary school.
After some hesitation on their part, parents in the room agreed the facilitators could add “explore” New Brigden as a grades 1-6 program to the recommendations.
At the end of the evening, Andjelic shared next steps with the group.
He explained the board is held by policy and it states that to even explore the closure of a program or school, a notice of motion around closure needs to be made and voted on at a public board meeting. He stressed that does not mean the school or program would close, just that the board is exploring options and holds trustees to a certain deadline to make a decision.
The board could decide to close the program or school, or leave everything as status quo. If a notice of motion is made, then current parents of the school are informed in writing, and another community meeting is held that is open to anyone to attend. A decision by the board must be made in the same school year the motion is made.
“I would expect if the board is interested in a notice of motion, so the intent is to bring forward a motion and have that conversation, they would want to get to that pretty soon in the new year, maybe even in January,” added Andjelic.
At this point of the meeting, parents began to express some frustration with the process and decisions that may be made by the board.
“We’re grateful to have this opportunity,” said Foot, about the meeting that was held. “We hope the board understands why we want to fight for our school and how devastating the granting of the busing was.”
She said there is hurt and disappointment in the community because it feels as though some children now have to sacrifice because other children wanted to attend school in another community.
Andjelic said this special meeting was held because officials felt it was the right thing to do. He said no matter what future decisions are made by the board, someone is going to hear the word ‘no’ and going to be unhappy with the end results.
“Please don’t make the assumption that you haven’t been heard,” he added. “Other people have had their chance to speak with us and now you have had that chance ...”
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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor