SACKVILLE, N.B. - Marshview Middle School will likely close over the next couple of years.
Members of the District Education Council (DEC) voted 9-1 in favour of a recommendation to close Marshview during a meeting Dec. 4 at Lou MacNarin School in Dieppe. The motion also called for a building assessment at Salem Elementary School to consider the feasibility of a midlife upgrade and expansion to convert it to a K-8 school. If that option isn't viable and the 270-plus extra students from Marshview aren't able to fit into an upgraded Salem, the DEC has recommended building a new K-8 school.
Tantramar Regional High School will remain as is.
The decision wasn't easy for the DEC members, who said they had plenty of debate and discussion before bringing forward a recommendation.
“With three schools, there was a lot to consider,” said DEC member Michelle Folkins, who represents the Tantramar area schools. She said she was pleased to see so much community support for education during this sustainability study process.
“This was a really, really tough decision for us,” said DEC member Angela Lawson.
With so much feedback from the community to deliberate on, “we basically had to chop this up into different pieces,” she added.
Live from the District Education Council meeting, where the members are discussing the sustainability study on Marshview Middle and will vote on its closure and what will happen next.Posted by Sackville Tribune-Post on Tuesday, December 4, 2018
Marshview closure easy choice
While the closure of the 70-year-old Marshview school was not a tough call - because “we know that school’s in rough shape and the best thing for those students is to find another place for them,” - Lawson said there were a number of factors the DEC had to consider when deciding where those middle school students would go.
Although there was some talk of sending the Grade 5 students to Salem Elementary and the Grades 6-8 students to Tantramar Regional High, there were a number of reasons why the DEC opted to set that option aside.
Lawson said one thing made clear during the sustainability study was that students and staff at Tantramar Regional High were not interested in changes to their school, either by retrofitting it to include the extra students or to relocating elsewhere for a new build.
“They value the unique features their school has and they feel it’s really positively contributing to the education those students are getting.”
So, she said, the discussion then began centering around Salem Elementary and whether that school might be able to accommodate those students.
“The elementary school isn’t very old in comparison to other schools across the province,” said Lawson. “We really have to be fiscally responsible; this is the money of all New Brunswickers. And when we have some very, very old schools in the province, it’s very difficult for us to ask the province to consider closing a school that’s only 30 to 40 years old.”
DEC member Ian Hebblethwaite said he was also influenced in his decision by Salem School’s age, as well as the moving presentations by the high school students and staff last week. While he suspects the option of retrofitting Salem isn’t likely to be approved by the province, he is pleased the recommendation would then be to build a brand new K-8 school.
'Dynamic learning community'
Fellow DEC member Norval McConnell said this decision was certainly a challenging task but one thing that was highlighted during this study was “what a dynamic learning community Sackville is, even as it is.”
McConnell said exciting programs and partnerships are happening at all three of Sackville’s schools and he knows that will continue.
“I look at this decision, this recommendation today, regardless of whether it’s upgrade to a school or a new K-8, as just another exciting addition for opportunities for those very same things to continue,” he said.
Sarah Short agreed with her colleague.
“It is my sincere hope that what this decision provides to the community is a way for the community to continue to be collaborative and to push innovative learning.”
Principals pleased with decision
“This is good news,” said Salem principal Ada Phinney following the DEC meeting. “I’m excited, I’d love to have a K-8 in Sackville.”
Phinney said she knows this was a tough decision for the DEC and values the input and time it put into the recommendation. She understands the budget restraints faced by the school district and feels it makes sense to consider the possibility of upgrading Salem.
While Phinney is unsure whether the extra grades can be incorporated into the school, as the department of education specs calls for a much larger property than Salem’s location, she said it will now be a waiting game to see how the recommendation goes forward from here.
Many of Sackville’s educators have worked in K-8 schools around the province so it isn’t a new concept, she added. She also pointed to the great work teachers are doing inside the school and said that will continue, no matter what decision is made.
“The reality is, whether we have a brand new building, whether we retrofit our old buildings, whether we stay status quo - what really matters is the teaching pedagogies of our schools . . . as well as reaching out to community members to work with us and really creating that atmosphere and that quality of education for our students that includes those things.”
Phinney is also pleased the DEC recognized the value and the culture that Tantramar High School wants to maintain.
TRHS principal Susan Lafford was also grateful for the acknowledgment from the DEC about the importance of some of the programs and amenities that have been created at Tantramar that “can’t potentially be replicated anywhere else.”
While there are a number of maintenance and upgrade issues required at the 47-year-old school, none of the items are “emergency situations” and she is pleased Tantramar will remain as a Grade 9 to 12 high school.
Sackville Schools 2020 vision ignored
The DEC’s decision essentially ignored the Sackville Schools 2020’s proposal to create a ‘community learning campus’ to replace the three local schools.
The campus model the committee envisioned would have seen students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 sharing facilities and resources with one another as well as the wider community. The facilities could incorporate features such as community kitchens, health services, a community library, performance space, and shared athletic space. It would also bring in partners such as Mount Allison University, the Town of Sackville, the Tantramar Seniors’ College, Tantramar Family Resource Centre and local businesses.
Roy MacMullin, the lone DEC member to vote against the motion, said he would have liked to see Sackville Schools 2020’s concept incorporated somehow.
"I feel that there was a compelling vision put forth by Sackville 2020 and others in the community that, if followed, would provide us with something unique in this province and maybe elsewhere as well," said MacMullin.
He would have a hard time justifying the closure of Salem School, which was built in 1980, but he believes a new school could be built on a new site to accommodate the middle school students. If the property is big enough, MacMullin imagines a time when the other schools, once they have aged beyond repair, could be added.
Michael Fox, one of the members of the Sackville Schools 2020 committee, hopes for a similar opportunity.
“I think if they do look at a midlife upgrade (on Salem), and find that they can’t fit four more grades into the school, they will perhaps find a location that would fit with the vision we’ve been talking about. Maybe that will work as well.”
Fox said Sackville Schools 2020 is pleased the council moved to close Marshview. He is concerned, however, over the decision to leave the high school alone “because we know Tantramar needs millions and millions of dollars now.”
He said the committee recently met with Dominic Cardy, the province's education minister, to discuss its concept and said he was very open to community-supported education. The group hopes to continue working with him on implementing the idea.
The DEC will notify the education minister of its recommendation by Jan. 31, 2019. The minister has up to two months to either approve or reject it.
Fox said no matter what decision the minister makes, Sackville Schools 2020 will still continue to be involved in community-driven education initiatives, as it has for the past three-and-a-half years.
“I think what we’ve really recognized is that it’s not just about buildings. It’s about the community, making sure the children are getting all the support they can from the community, and we’ll certainly continue to do that.”