Advocate urges P.E.I. schools be developed, not closed


Published on February 16, 2017

Paul Bennett, left, founder and director of the Schoolhouse Institute, speaks with P.E.I. MLA Jordan Brown at a provincial Standing Committee Meeting on Education and Economic Development on Wednesday in Charlottetown.

©Jim Day/TC Media

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Island schools facing closure have a well-known advocate picking up their cause.

Paul Bennett, founder and director of the Schoolhouse Institute, is calling for a moratorium on all school review processes affecting all schools recommended for closure in the current provincial cycle of school reviews.

“The first step would be to stop the current process to give time to look at what we call school-centered community development plans,’’ he says.

“And community development takes time. It involves consulting people and it involves public engagement.’’

The schools recommended for closure are Georgetown Elementary, Belfast Consolidated, St. Louis Elementary, Bloomfield and St. Jean Elementary.

The report also recommends a major rezoning to ease overcrowding in some schools and to increase access to French and specialized curriculum.

Bennett calls the review process destructive.

“It is going to close schools,’’ he says.

“It is dividing communities. And it leaves a residue of distrust and it actually weakens support for public education over the longer term.’’

... Our view is Georgetown is perfect for a community hub because there is space that can be repurposed and it can become a genuine community school with early childhood education, with seniors’ programs, and with business hub possibilities. Paul Bennett

Bennett made a presentation Wednesday to the provincial Standing Committee on Education and Economic Development promoting community hub schools as a viable and preferable option to closure.

He says the government needs to view the schools facing closure as assets rather than as liabilities.

“The hub model is very, very appropriate for four of the five schools because they tend to be rural communities where they’re the social anchor and the loss of the school could have devastating consequences for that community,’’ he says.

“And the irony is the government’s view through the (Public) Schools Branch is say a school like Georgetown is too small because of the footprint occupied by the students in the school. Well our view is Georgetown is perfect for a community hub because there is space that can be repurposed and it can become a genuine community school with early childhood education, with seniors’ programs, and with business hub possibilities.’’

Liberal MLA Jordan Brown, a member of the Standing Committee on Education and Economic Development, appeared to take offence with Bennett sticking his nose in the province’s business, grilling him about the timing of his visit to P.E.I.

Bennett told The Guardian that he was invited by the Town of Georgetown to come to the province to rally for their cause.

“So we know that there are five schools that have actually been threatened with closure,’’ he adds.

“Some of them have reached out to us because we are well known as advocates for small schools.’’

Bennett was joined by Leif Helmer of Nova Scotia Small Schools Initiative to present to the standing committee.

David Upton and Lauren Sears of Common Good Solutions also briefed the committee on “supporting school-centred community enterprise’’.

During his stop on P.E.I., Bennett planned to speak in Belfast and Georgetown as well as visiting some Island schools to talk about the advantages of hub schools.

 

Paul Bennett
Jim Day/TC Media

Taking action

Paul Bennett, director of the Schoolhouse Institute, is calling for the following immediate action to address the proposed closure of five P.E.I. schools:

-- Minister of Education announce moratorium on all school review processes effective March 1.

-- P.E.I. government reforms the School Change Act to restore democratic legitimacy.

-- Minister of Education announce the department’s intention to take the lead in developing a rural revitalization strategy.