March 2013: Eastern Shore school closure decision comments

The following comments were delivered ahead of the vote that resulted in the decision to close Lakefront, Sheet Harbour, and Eastern consolidated elementary schools in the Duncan MacMillan family of schools on the Eastern Shore.
This is actually my least favourite decision of the night. That should tell you a lot. None of tonight’s decisions are easy but this is the one that fills me with the greatest sadness because of the air of inevitability that surrounds it and makes it feel like a fait accompli. A done deal.

This is a family of schools that has now been through the review process. It is coming out the far end. It has responded to the impact assessment report and it has said yes, we want a new school. And we want to remain open until that new school is built. I respect their work and their wishes. I will be voting with and for the community on this. And I will do so wishing it could be otherwise.

Many factors and public bodies have been responsible for contributing to the declining population of rural Nova Scotia. It’s not one player but many. The roots of what I expect will be tonight’s decision predate this board and the last and even the one that last decided to review one of these schools back in 2006. They predate the first rounds of consolidations back in the 1950’s. They predate even the efforts of our first Minister of Education back in 1949 and reach all the way back to education’s very beginnings in the mid-19th century when the template was set for what the education of rural children would look like. A contributor to Sheet Harbour’s response to the impact assessment report said it best: “People will leave if there is no incentive to stay. Our children want to be able to attain an education that will allow them to enter the workforce in their own neighbourhoods. We believe having a school designed to provide programming to support their goals is essential.” It would have taken a visionary, a collection of visionaries, spread out over the last 100 years and in positions of power and influence to prevent this moment from coming and make the result different from what it very likely will be tonight. But we haven’t had visionaries. What we do have, at this point, is collapsing infrastructure.

The Duncan MacMillan family now has an enrollment of 160+ elementary school students – 32 at Lakefront, 120+ at Sheet Harbour, and 9 at Eastern Consolidated. The family stretches the length of Highway 7 for 84 kilometers, from Tangier to Moser River, through some of the most ruggedly beautiful terrain in Nova Scotia. I’m a city dweller and a come-from-away but for as long as I’ve lived in Nova Scotia I’ve thought of the south shore as my destination for swimming and the eastern shore as the place I’d go to live if ever I left the city. The big school in this family of elementaries, Sheet Harbour, the school with 120+ students that appears to have all the physical and geographic marks of a viable school, is saddled with a water supply issue that makes it impossible to satisfy daily needs. Water. Pretty fundamental. It has to be shipped in.

It is difficult to shake the feeling of resignation that accompanies this decision but the communities see promise in consolidating the schools in this family under one roof. In the words of the Lakefront community they feel that even with consolidation their school will remain local and their class sizes small – reasons enough for “setting down roots and raising families.”

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