Parents, teachers, students and concerned community members filled the gym at Penetanguishene Secondary School (PSS) on March 11 to discuss the future of the school.
The Simcoe County District School Board hosted the public meeting to offer an update on the activities of the accommodation review committee (ARC), struck by the board to review area high schools.
High schools in Midland, Penetanguishene, Elmvale, Stayner, and Collingwood are part of an area review that also includes Wasaga Beach as a possible school site.
School superintendent Janice Medysky told The Mirror the ARC’s purpose is to come up with a recommendation to present to trustees about secondary school capacity issues in this area.
The recommendation could follow one of three different scenarios, she noted.
“At this time, the ARC is considering three different scenarios: a four-school scenario, a five-school and a six-school, but we haven’t named any of the schools yet or located them,” she said.
The public was given the opportunity last week to make delegations to the committee, as well as make comments and ask questions of board members.
PSS teacher Janice Evans verbalized what many in attendance may have been thinking.
“Small schools work,” she proclaimed to cheers and applause. “It’s a community school, and to lose it would be unimaginable to me. It’s a great place to live, work and educate our kids.”
Laurie Buttineau lives in Penetanguishene and has two children – one graduating from PSS this year, and another who will start at the school in two years.
She said she attended the meeting to hear reasons for closing PSS and for keeping it open, but said she left believing the school should stay open.
“We’re a small town and we have lots to offer the direct community of Penetanguishene, as well as surrounding areas,” she said. “We have students who’ve graduated and who have returned to live and work in this area. It’s proven to be a great school.”
The Town of Penetanguishene, represented by Mayor Anita Dubeau and CAO Eleanor Rath, also spoke at the meeting, as did PSS student Jade Huguenin and Norman Mason, supervisory officer for the Protestant Separate School Board of Penetanguishene – which is responsible for Burkevale school.
They outlined many reasons for keeping the school open, including it’s tri-cultural heritage, bilingual character, unique curriculum, the town’s projected population growth and its proximity to many area feeder schools.
The March 11 meeting was the fifth public meeting the ARC has held to date, said Medysky, who noted they have had very similar reactions at all the schools they’ve attended.
“The communities are very supportive of their schools, which is really heartwarming,” she said.
Another meeting, a working session, took place in Elmvale on March 12. The ARC is expected to make a recommendation to the facility standing committee on April 14.
Protestant board pitches alternative
The Protestant Separate School Board of Penetanguishene says it will do everything it can to preserve the town’s sole English-language secondary school.
Supervisory officer Norman Mason told The Mirror the board has a mandate to educate and, although it has only provided elementary education, that could change.
He said the board would be open to a partnership if that becomes the only way to keep PSS open. This could mean closing Burkevale’s current school and sharing the high school facility.
If the public board decided to put PSS up for sale, Mason said, the Protestant board could buy the facility and run secondary and elementary schools out of it.
“Keeping (PSS) open is important to the board because of the fact they feel that their graduates from Burkevale come to this school and it has been an excellent facility,” he said.
“(The board) feels it should be contributing in the positive in helping to keep the school open for a better education system and a better community.”