St. Bernard's council opts to make the best of it

By Chris Lewis | Vol. 12 No. 8 (April 18 2019)

Although it isn’t the outcome they hoped for, members of St. Bernard’s school council are preparing for some big changes, this time affecting Grade 5 students.

For a number of years, parents in the Bay Bulls to Bauline region have been advocating for a new middle school, due to the growing student population. In their final year of governance, the PC Party promised such a facility, but when the new Liberal government took office in late 2015 and found the financial cupboard not only bare, but some $2 billion in the red, plans for the school were scaled back to an extension on Mobile Central High instead. The idea was for Grade 6 students at St. Bernard’s to transfer to Mobile, freeing up some space at the elementary school in Witless Bay.

It was seen as a short-term solution to the capacity problems, according to Leslie-Anne Corrigan - chairperson of the school council at St. Bernard’s.

“That kind of put a wrinkle in our plans,” Corrigan said. “That left us with just one grade planned to leave St. Bernard’s and go to Mobile, which would not alleviate much of the enrollment pressure, and the space pressure, at St. Bernard’s.”

Corrigan explained it was then suggested that they look at moving not just the sixth-grade students, but also the fifth grade students from St. Bernard’s to Mobile, ultimately making St. Bernard’s a school for students from K-4, and Mobile Grades 5-12.

This left some parents with an uneasy feeling, Corrigan admitted, with some not keen to send their fifth and sixth-grade aged children to a high school setting.

The topic was a hot-button issue among parents for quite some time. A Facebook group dedicated to spreading information on the subject was created where parents could express concerns. It was in this group that a poll was taken to gauge opinion on the new solution. Some 65 parents voted against the idea, while just over 20 parents voted for it.

At a public meeting held on Saturday, April 13, a final decision was made by the school board, where a unanimous vote decided that in the coming school year, grades five and six students will get their schooling in Mobile in the fall.

“The problem with our system is that we have inadequate space,” Corrigan said. “Some of the pressures that we have at St. Bernard’s is a gross lack of storage. If you were to walk into the school, you’d see temporary closet space in cabinets, you’d see gym equipment stored on the stage and in the bathrooms. You would see instructional resource teachers teaching out of closets, and teachers using closets as offices, so then things that are being stored in closets are being stored in classrooms.”

Teachers have to schedule multiple Christmas and spring concerts because the whole student body and their families can’t be accommodated at one show. There isn’t even enough room for all students to properly eat in the cafeteria. Hence the demand for a new middle school.

Although they did not get the outcome they were hoping for, Corrigan said this result is not all bad, and does come with some benefits.

“It’s been years and years of the St. Bernard’s community making the best of a bad situation, and as enrollment increases and increases, of course, the situation just gets exacerbated,” she said. “By moving two grades, rather than one, you’re taking the pressure off of St. Bernard’s. Thankfully, at this point, the pressure is not going to then be put onto Mobile because they can accommodate the two grades, thanks to this extension.”

Still, Corrigan said the issue will likely rear its head again.

“The extension is a short-term solution, whereas the new middle school would have solved everything,” Corrigan said. “I think, if you were to ask anyone no matter what side of this issue they fall on, the consensus is that the new middle school was and is the best option for this region… This area is sort of a shining star in the province for growth and expansion and that sort of thing, and I feel that by canceling the new middle school and forcing us to make these accommodations, the government has really pushed us into a corner. Instead of fostering the growth that we’ve been enjoying, they’ve cut our legs out from underneath us and we’re dealt with this hand, that we now have to play as best we can.”

Posted on April 17, 2019 .