BERWICK — A year earlier than expected, North Stormont Public School (NSPS) will close this September, the council at the Berwick-based school was informed in a Zoom call with the involved principals last night.
The closure fulfills a consolidation plan brewing at the Upper Canada District School Board since 2016 (but officially confirmed in March 2017). Students at NSPS will shift to Avonmore’s Roxmore Public School — currently undergoing a six-classroom expansion — at the start of the 2021/2022 school year.
Confirmation that NSPS is now in its final school year came in a follow-up letter to parents today — news that has “completely blindsided” the community, says Amy Michaud, treasurer with the school council.
She says the council had received assurances from the Board last January that NSPS wasn’t slated to close until September 2022. They can’t understand why the Board has opted to accelerate the shutdown under the circumstances of the pandemic.
“There are so many issues that have not been addressed,” she says. “Primarily the fact that our children are already suffering greatly from the mental health effects of a worldwide pandemic and the trials of remote learning — to add the stress of closing their school is an unreasonable and tone deaf move by the school board. Any transitioning tools that would have been used in a regular year are not available due to the health restrictions.”
The Board received $2.6-million from the Kathleen Wynne government to expand Roxmore Public School (RPS) to accommodate the incoming NSPS cohort back in 2017. Despite a promised moratorium on school closures, the Doug Ford government did not intervene to stop the project after winning the 2018 provincial election. Groundbreaking at the RPS site went ahead in early 2020 to add 114 student spaces, bringing total capacity at RPS to 350.
But Michaud points out that both schools have a combined population that’s already higher than that — at 362 — and the Board’s NSPS closure plan is based on outdated 2016 projections predicting a student population of only 61 students at NSPS by 2020. In fact, NSPS today has 102 students in a school built for 187, while 260 RPS students occupy a building currently built for 236. Michaud suggests the expansion in Avonmore is justified to accommodate growth at RPS alone, while NSPS continues to draw numbers of new students from the burgeoning subdivisions around Crysler, which is much closer to Berwick. Should the two schools be brought together at the RPS campus, she predicts Berwick-area students will quickly find themselves in portables, especially as the Board transitions the place into a dual-track school (teaching core French and French-Immersion). Better that both schools become dual-track and be left open, given the current growth trends, she adds.
Michaud says she intends to raise these points with the Board and trustees directly.