Looking to get a big crowd out for a public discussion? Just drop a few hints that a school or a hospital could close and the meeting space will be packed.
Case in point: The board of directors of the Island’s Public Schools Branch announced last month that it has approved an extensive study of six of its 10 families of schools. Then it sent Bob Andrews out on tour for a series of meetings explaining enrolment trends and projections.
The Andrews tour drew large crowds for presentations in Families of Schools where extensive reviews are to be carried out. But the final stop of the first round Thursday night in Summerside drew only about 15 listeners. The difference being the Three Oaks Family of Schools is not slated for further review.
It means the Three Oaks region will be spared school closures or zoning changes at the end of this current review process. That will not necessarily be the case in the six families of schools, particularly the under-utilized ones, which have been identified for further review.
Individual schools, as well as community groups, have already mobilized to prepare for the next stage of the process, when Andrews will re-visit the six families of schools to gather input on viable options.
Viable options: that’s important. School populations will need to demonstrate to Andrews why their school must continue to function in its current format or in some restructured format.
There is lots of suspicion that this process is merely a charade, smoke and mirrors; that decisions are already made. The easiest way to prove that to be true would be to do nothing. That would be easy, but unwise.
The public needs to be engaged. It needs to drive the next stages of this ‘Better Learning for All’ initiative so that it will be more than a catchphrase; it will be a way forward.
Can the Public Schools Branch get by with fewer schools? It can and it most likely will. It would be terrible if silence led to the wrong decisions being made.
The public needs to act on the belief that the final chapters on this review process have not yet been written, and it, more than Andrews, needs to be the architect for Better Learning for All.
The current education set up cannot be maintained with projected enrolment numbers for the years ahead. Islanders have two choices: Get involved and help shape the evolution of education in this province or do nothing and accept what is decided for them.