Joan Bradley is the vice-chair of the Hensall Public School parent council. All three of her daughters attend the school.
As told to Casey Lessard
With my children, part of the deal when we moved here was that they did not want somewhere they would have to ride the bus. They wanted to have a school close by and that was part of our decision to move to Hensall. The board proposal was to close Usborne and either Hensall or Zurich, and move the 7s and 8s into the high school from all feeder schools. I’m opposed to putting the 7s and 8s into the high school. I understand some of the philosophy behind it, but the places where it has been done (Goderich and Stratford) are urban schools. In Goderich, the students can go over to the public school to walk home younger siblings. Here, we’ll be losing before and after school child care, and it leaves a big hole for us. No community wants to lose their school. It’s so detrimental to the community. Part of the detriment is that Hensall has some great affordable housing. Young families won’t choose to move to Hensall if there isn’t a school. I don’t want to ship my children to Exeter. It’s an older facility, it has issues with bus loading and unloading, there’s no parking, there’s very little playground space, it’s not an accessible building, there are security issues because the office doesn’t face the front door. Why close a good facility with room for expansion to put children in a school that is 70-plus years old and has seven or eight additions to it? It’s still a lovely school and well-maintained, but it’s so close to the high school, why not make the high school into a K-12 school? It’s the right thing to do as far as taxpayer dollars go. If we’re having declining enrolment at the elementary schools, it’s going to hit the high school eventually. We’re not always going to be able to save these rural schools, but closing them and shoving the students in a facility that’s in worse shape than the one they’re coming from is not a good solution. A K-12 school at the high school is the standard practice that seems to be going on in Ontario right now. We just have to find a way to get the capital ($2 million). The board tells us we would have to close at least three schools to get any capital from the Ministry of Education. The projections for South Huron District High School are attendance of 455 by 2018, so eight years from now. My question is, what is the cutoff to make a viable high school? I think we need to figure out how to get some capital into this game. I haven’t crunched the numbers, but I think there’s a way we can get some funding. We need to build a good enough business case about making that a K-12 school to keep some long-term stability in the community. Closing one of these schools and pumping more into Exeter, only to have a school 20 years from now that is impossible to repair, how does that show foresight on our part?
We want to make sure we have a recommendation that accurately reflects what the community’s wills and wishes are and viable enough that the board will go ahead and accept it. If we’re not thorough enough, what we put forward may be revised slightly so they end up with an issue like they have in Blyth. They put forward a recommendation that all schools converge into one super school in Wingham, and they ended up splitting the town so that half of the students go to Hullett and half go to Wingham. Blyth ended up feeling ripped off because they lost their school and don’t get to take advantage of a new facility.
I don’t believe the decision has been made. The proposal in St. Marys is not what happened. The proposal in Wingham is not what happened. Our trustee Randy Wagler has been fairly responsive. I do think they’re trying to listen. It’s our job to make our wills and wishes heard.
It’s a lengthy, complicated process. There are a lot of things to take into consideration: how to best educate the children in the area, maintain things in the community, and make sure we’re spending our tax dollars wisely. It’s not an easy committee to be on. We’ve been inundated with copious amounts of material to try to get through and figure stuff out. It’s extremely challenging.