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Wednesday, 12 April 2017 08:00

New Brigden School to remain open with grades 1-4

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A small group of parents attended the April 11 Prairie Rose School Division board meeting to hear discussion around the motion to consider the closure of New Brigden School. A small group of parents attended the April 11 Prairie Rose School Division board meeting to hear discussion around the motion to consider the closure of New Brigden School. Photo by Rose Sanchez

New Brigden School will remain open for the foreseeable future, but as a grades 1-4 facility. That was the final decision made by Prairie Rose School Division (PRSD) trustees at the regular April 11 board meeting.

“This is really positive, because it was unanimous support for some kind of open school in New Brigden,” said parent Simone Hagens, after the vote.
She has worked tirelessly with a group of other parents the past six months through the Friends of New Brigden School to see the school stay open in some form.
The group created an action plan that was shared with the board. It included recruiting new families with children to the area, seeing revitalization of the school and community as well as seeking out funding commitments for the next two years to carry the school through the time of lower enrolment numbers.
“We are in uncharted territory so we have wondered if we’ve done the right things,” she added. “Now we have time to work with trying some new things. (This board is) supportive of thinking outside the box and that’s what we were asking for. A lot can happen in two years.”
As part of a notice of closure of New Brigden School motion that was made by PRSD trustees in January, a public meeting was held in the community, a half hour north of Oyen, March 20. Then community members had the opportunity to continue to provide their input as well as make presentations privately to the board at the end of March.
All of the information gathered through public meetings and research by administration has been presented to the board as it has been received, to help trustees in their decision making around the future of New Brigden School.
Arriving at the decision to close the junior high and grades 4-6 programming at the school for the coming year was a long one, with only Trustee Arnold Frank voting against the motion. After that motion was passed, trustees agreed to write a letter to the Minister of Education proposing a continuance of the Grade 4 program at the school beginning in the 2017/18 school year.
To arrive at the final decision the board, in a 6-2 vote, rejected the first motion by Trustee Lucille Hertz, who represents the New Brigden/Oyen areas, to keep the school open as a grades 1-6 facility.
She made the motion and implored for other trustees to decide to make a difference in the lives of New Brigden students by agreeing to it.
“This motion is right for these students,” she said. “These students are fifth-generation families ... Our business is to provide our students with a good quality education ... I know there are some issues coming forward financially, but I’m not sure we as trustees should put a price tag on a child’s head ... We need to look at this as an investment for Prairie Rose.”
The only other trustee to speak in favour of Hertz’s motion was Kathy Cooper. She suggested the board could be brave in making a decision to keep a small, rural school open and be less concerned about the costs of doing so, in the face of school closures in rural areas throughout the province.
“I think perhaps we should be a strong leader in the province in supporting rural education,” she added. “We need to keep our rural schools open.”
Many of the other trustees spoke against supporting the motion to keep the school a grades 1-6 facility.
Trustee Cathy Hogg said she found some of the comments coming from New Brigden community members to be disrespectful to the board when they said trustees don’t care about students or community if they were to make the decision to close the school.
“I know I have lost sleep over this decision and it has been far from easy,” she added.
Hogg did say members of the community who have sought solutions and come forward with plans to keep the school open, including funding, are to be commended for their efforts.
Frank said whether they like it or not, finances are an integral consideration for trustees around the board table, but, “To imply, we put a number on each child’s head is inappropriate,” he added.
Trustees asked administration some questions of clarification around the funding and enrolment at the school for the coming years. With donations and funding assistance from the community, New Brigden could remain open for the next two school years and operate without being in a deficit position. Then starting in the 2019/20 school year, there would be a deficit of about $64,000, then $58,000 and then $54,000. That’s because as projected enrolment climbs to numbers closer to the high teens and in the twenties, more teaching staff would be required increasing operating costs. Fundraised dollars can’t be put toward staffing.
Trustee Lois Bedwell, who also represents the New Brigden/Oyen area, said she supports the New Brigden School staying open in some form just not up to Grade 6 and beyond. Bedwell said she was “blown away” by the work of New Brigden parents who want the school to stay open.
Chair Stuart Angle was in agreement.
“It only takes a board motion to add three grade levels,” he added. “I would have to vote against a one to six option, because I don’t have the crystal ball for the future.”
Angle said he would support a scenario that saw the school become a grades 1-3 facility.
“Should circumstances change and the situation is monitored, it would buy the two years to let the school council plan come through,” he added. “Financials can change. They have a plan to (attract more) families. I would like to give them some time to see if it comes to fruition.”
Once the motion to keep the school open as a grades 1-6 facility was defeated, a new motion was made to close the junior high and grades 4-6 portions of the school, creating a grades 1-3 facility. That passed 7-1. Then trustees agreed unanimously to write a letter to the Education minister requesting just Grade 4 be added starting in the upcoming school year.
In discussion around the second motion, trustees again commended the half dozen parents in the room who have worked hard to find creative ways to keep the school viable. They agreed keeping a portion of the school open shows a commitment to rural education.
“This keeps the younger kids off of a 45-minute bus ride, buys the school council some time, provides a window for opportunity and it does support rural education,” added Angle.
After the decision and a short break was called, some of the parents broke into tears of relief that the school would remain open.
Savanna Tye said while Grades 1-6 was more ideal for those wanting the school open, she was pleased the board listened to their concerns and considered what she feels is best for local children.
“They showed they work with communities,” she added.
She also praised the work done by those in New Brigden who are in favour of the school staying open as did fellow parent Nicole Blair.
“It’s an amazing community,” added Blair. “We’re a tight-knit close community.”

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor