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School closure process chosen as The Guardian’s 2017 News Story of the Year

Members from Georgetown Elementary School’s home and school association attended an Island-wide rally at Kinkora Regional High School earlier this year to protest school closures.
Members from Georgetown Elementary School’s home and school association attended an Island-wide rally at Kinkora Regional High School earlier this year to protest school closures. - The Journal Pioneer

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - The sound of music now fills a school in eastern P.E.I. that was almost silenced earlier this year.

Georgetown Elementary School, one of five schools earmarked for closure in January, has started a guitar club, raising enough money to purchase 10 new guitars. The school principal even stays late on Wednesdays to play guitar with the students.

When the Public Schools Branch released its category II report on Jan. 10, Bloomfield elementary, Belfast consolidated, St. Jean elementary in Charlottetown and St. Louis elementary were also recommended for closure.

On April 4, a Public Schools Branch three-member board – consisting of chairwoman Susan Willis, Harvey MacEwen and Pat Mella – issued its recommendations following a 60-day public consultation period, voting to close St. Jean and Georgetown.

The news was met with a range of emotions during that April 4 public meeting.

RELATED: Former Public Schools Branch trustee says school closure recommendation was fair

RELATED: P.E.I. school review recommends closure of five schools

Faced with a tremendous backlash from the public, Premier Wade MacLauchlan announced the following day that no schools would be closed.

The Guardian editorial board has selected the school closure process as its 2017 News Story of the Year.

Granted a second life, the news that Georgetown Elementary would be staying open has reinvigorated the school.

“It was such a stressful and flawed process,’’ Stacy Toms, a parent and vice-president of the Georgetown Elementary Home and School Association recalls.

“I think we are a stronger and more engaged school community now. We have all new staff at the school. They’re all young and enthusiastic, and I think they are striving to make it the best little school.’’

RELATED: Public Schools Branch decisions met with mixed emotions

Toms said none of it would have been possible had government not had a change of heart.

“Absolutely not. We’re (now) working on a small school symposium that we’re going to have in the spring, hopefully, so we can really look at making it a model small school and exploring the finished model of a hub school and what other best practices work. No one is sitting back on their laurels, that’s for sure.’’

['Kevin Ryan comforts his wife, Marcella Ryan, president of Belfast Home and School Association, as she becomes overcome with emotion after learning her school will remain open during last night’s Public Schools Branch meeting at Bluefield High School.']
['Kevin Ryan comforts his wife, Marcella Ryan, president of Belfast Home and School Association, as she becomes overcome with emotion after learning her school will remain open during last night’s Public Schools Branch meeting at Bluefield High School.']

Wayne Thibodeau, regional managing editor for The Guardian, said when flipping through the pages of The Guardian it became obvious very quickly what the big story of 2017 was going to be.

Front page after front page was dominated by the issue of school closures after the province announced that five Island schools may be on the chopping block Jan. 10, he said.

That’s why The Guardian’s editorial board chose the closure of Island schools as Prince Edward Island’s 2017 News Story of the Year.

“No other story united Prince Edward Island residents like school closure,’’ said Thibodeau.

“From the ‘Rural Strong’ rally on Islander Day to the ‘We the West’ meeting at Westisle to the fight to save St. Jean in downtown Charlottetown, Islanders fought – and won – to not only save their schools but save their communities.’’

Janna-Lynne Durant, president of the St. Jean Home and School Association, said they’re still worried about the future.

Built in 1962, the school currently has an enrolment of 117 students, according to the government’s website. That means it’s being used to 25 per cent of its capacity.

“We feel as parents . . .that we will end up in the same position again, whether it be next year or the year after or a couple of years from now,’’ Durant said. “Right now, we’re just kind of sitting back and enjoying the fact that we’re open . . . making the best out of the situation. When the next time comes (to fight), we’ll be ready to fight again.’’

Due to rezoning, Janna-Lynne Durant’s son, Dodge Mitchell, is going to have to leave St. Jean Elementary School in Charlottetown and head to Spring Park Elementary School. But, not for long. Durant is leaving the home they currently live in to one located in the St. Jean zone.
Due to rezoning, Janna-Lynne Durant’s son, Dodge Mitchell, is going to have to leave St. Jean Elementary School in Charlottetown and head to Spring Park Elementary School. But, not for long. Durant is leaving the home they currently live in to one located in the St. Jean zone.

Durant personally believes closing schools was just a smokescreen to take some of the attention away from rezoning.

“We believe, at least some of us, that they intended to keep us open the whole time and . . . (it was) more of a smokescreen than anything.’’

Thibodeau said 2017 was a busy news year, and there were many other stories considered.

They included, but were not limited to, the fight to keep Hells Angels out of P.E.I., an introduction of abortion services on the Island, the struggle for improvement in mental health services on the Island and O’Leary’s big Hockeyville win.

“Politics also played a big part of 2017 with a historic win for the Green party, the election of a new leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and the resignation of the NDP leader,’’ Thibodeau said.

dave.stewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart

 

Past Guardian News Stories of the Year:

1993: Catherine Callbeck

1994: 7 1/2 per cent public sector wage rollback

1995: Bombing of P.E.I. legislature

1996: Raising of Irving Whale oil barge

 1997: Opening of Confederation Bridge

1998: David (Eli) MacEachern winning Olympic gold medal

1999: Tracadie Cross hearse accident

2000: Prime Minister gets pie in face

2001: Sept. 11 and its impact on Prince Edward Island

2002: Lawrence MacAulay resignation from federal cabinet

2003: Hurricane Juan

2004: Collapse of fishery processor Polar Foods

2005: Gas price shocker

2006: Islanders head West

2007: Crisis in agriculture

2008: Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) controversy

2009: Upheaval in education

2010: Visit to P.E.I. by Live! With Regis and Kelly

2011: Shooting deaths in Alberta

2012: Tory turmoil (a year of controversy for Olive Crane and P.E.I. PC Party)

2013: Murder/suicide of mother and child

2014: Robert Ghiz surprise resignation

2015: Record-breaking winter

2016: P.E.I.’s historic decision to extend abortion services in the province

2017: P.E.I. school closures.

 

Editor's note: For the years 1993, 1994 and 1995, The Guardian only selected a Newsmaker of the Year. In 1996, to comply with The Canadian Press selection method, The Guardian began selecting both a Newsmaker of the Year (usually a person) and a News Story of the Year (usually an event or series of events).

 

 

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