Things are going well in terms of transitioning students to their new schools once Discovery Passage and Oyster River Elementary schools close after this school year, Assistant Superintendent Nevenka Fair told the School District 72 (SD72) Board of Education at their last public meeting.
Transition Committee meetings have been happening for both the Discovery Passage/Ripple Rock and Oyster River/Ocean Grove transitions, involving administrators, staff and Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) members, and Fair says the discussions have been very productive.
“When the kids leave on the last day, we don’t want them to leave sad. We want them to leave hopeful,” Fair told the board, and while certain closure activities need to happen, the committees are finding ways of making them happen in an order and with a tone that makes them celebratory, rather than mournful.
Like the pair of parents – one from Discovery Passage and one from Ripple Rock – who came up with an idea to lower the flag at Discovery Passage on the Thursday before the end of the last school week, Fair told the board, and bus the students over to Ripple Rock on the Friday to raise it at their new school as a celebration of what’s to come.
“I think everyone is feeling like we’re listening, and everyone is listening to each other,” Fair said. “The feedback from all the groups has felt hopeful.”
Superintendent Tom Longridge, who is heading up the Oyster River/Ocean Grove committee, agrees, adding he has been particularly impressed with how welcoming the parents of the receiving schools were and how open everyone seems to be with ideas being generated by all sides.
One of Longridge’s favourite ideas generated by the Oyster River/Ocean Grove Transition Committee so far, he told the board, involves the students themselves physically helping in the move.
“The idea is that some of the students actually physically bring things that matter to them from Oyster River to Ocean Grove so that they are a physical part of the transition,” Longridge said.
Trustee John Kerr responded to Fair and Longridge’s report on the activities of the Transition Committees by saying that when he voted to close the schools, “it was a pretty heart-wrenching decision to have to make, but in hearing what you’ve been saying in the last two meetings about the transition stuff, well, it’s kind of alleviating a lot of the concerns that I had about amalgamating the schools.”
Both he and Trustee Richard Franklin also gave kudos to senior administration for their “hands-on” approach.
“When I was school principal and was involved in two school closures,” Franklin said, “the superintendent and assistant superintendent were nowhere to be seen, so one of the things I appreciate in [Longridge and Fair] is their hands-on approach. They are out there in the schools, meeting with the parents and the teachers and that is such a refreshing change from why I’m used to.”
Heidi Cuff, who sits on the Discovery Passage/Ripple Rock committee as a member of Discovery Passage PAC, agrees with Longridge and Fair about the welcoming nature of the receiving school, but she still has concerns about some aspects of the move.
“The Staff and PAC from Ripple Rock have been immensely supportive and encouraging,” Cuff says. “We are all united in making this transition as smooth and positive an experience as possible for all of the students involved.
“The dominant issue now, however, is lack of emergency preparedness,” Cuff continues. “With Discovery Passage – the current emergency muster station for the neighbourhood – closing its doors in 60 days, this leaves our entire neighbourhood at risk. In the event that the bridge washes out, most Discovery Passage students could be stranded at Ripple Rock for days. At the moment, we are all unprepared for this scenario and it is one that needs to be addressed quickly to put everyone’s mind at ease.”
SD72, for its part, says that it’s up to the Strathcona Regional District (SRD) Emergency Program to identify reception centres, and although there was never an official agreement in place that designated Discovery Passage School as that location, it will remain available for that purpose should the SRD require it – until such time that the board decides to sell or lease Discovery Passage, should they decide to do so at some point in the future.