Close St. Mary’s and St. Casimir’s: ARC selects ‘preferred option’

KILLALOE – The accommodation review committee (ARC) has narrowed-in on a recommendation that, if chosen, would involve the closure of two local Catholic elementary schools.
On December 18, dozens of people gathered at St. Andrews Catholic School for one of the last public consultations before a finalized report is submitted to the board of trustees.
The ARC consists of 12 members and is an advisory body mandated by the Ministry of Education. It gathers community input and eventually forms a recommendation to the board of trustees, which makes the final decision.
Peter Adam is the superintendent of education at the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board and once again led the public information session in Killaloe.
“It’s important to note that this body is advisory,” Adam said. “It doesn’t make the decision. It just gives advice to what the reflections of the community would like to see as a decision.”
Since September, the ARC has been gathering community input and at the recent meeting, the committee unveiled its preferred option of closing St. Mary’s Catholic School in Wilno and St. Casimir’s Catholic School in Round Lake Centre. Students from both schools would be transferred to St. Andrews Catholic School in Killaloe. 
“Declining school enrolment is the biggest determining factor,” Adam explained.  “This [recommendation] is one that will form the basis of the ARC report that will be presented to the director of education in February and essentially to the trustees for their decision making.”
The committee is recommending that the Round Lake Centre school close effective September 2014. Members of ARC left the closure date of St. Mary’s open. 
“They couldn’t come up with a date or a consensus on a date,” Adam said. “It’s a decision that the board of trustees can make.”
He clarified that affected parents will have the option to request out of zone schools instead. So, for example, St. Mary’s students could have the option of attending St. John Bosco Catholic School instead of St. Andrews. 
Travel times for the affected students will increase, Adam explained. On average, St. Mary’s students will have an increased bus time of 11.4 minutes per day while St. Casmir’s will see 4.5 extra minutes in travel time tacked on to their usual routes.
When it came time for questions and answers, local resident David Tesluk asked if the board of trustees can choose an alternative option. 
“The board of trustees has the legal power to make decisions,” Adam explained. “To choose whatever they want out of the blue is probably an option that they still have.”
Elaine Schweig, a retired schoolteacher, read a letter that she will be forwarding to the premier and Ministry of Education. 
She said Madawaska Valley District High School, which accepts students from 11 feeder schools in the area including the two being considered by ARC, has a 94.38 per cent graduation rate.
Schweig suggested the ministry set up a success review committee.
 “Maybe the ministry should be here tonight to determine why our schools are so successful,” Schweig explained.
She added the ministry needs to shift to a modern approach, which reflects the business model of the early 21st century. 
“They follow the U.S. education model which the U.S. discovered didn’t work. They’ve discovered economies of scale didn’t bring expected savings and in fact diminished student success,” Schweig said. “Ministry officials need to react to a changing global model which will require updating and education on their part. We need to put the onus at the ministry level to make our system be responsive to the needs and lack of understanding of small communities.”
Read more in the December 31, 2013 issue of The Valley Gazette.