Barton parents and students stand up for school

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier jriley@digbycourier.ca
Published on March 8, 2012
Ms. Daniels serves Thanksgiving dinner to Jordan Sullivan at Barton School on Friday, Oct. 7. Jonathan Riley photo

Parents, students and community residents have made their final emotional appeals to the school board to keep Barton Consolidated open.

The Tri-County Regional School Board and 90 Barton supporters squeezed into Barton's open room in the basement on Monday, March 5 for the last public meeting to discuss the school closure review.

[Related: One parent's presentation (Harold Alexander) ]

[Related: Barton committee's response ]

Presenters however were surprised to learn the board members didn't actually come to discuss; they only came to listen. The board members made no statements and gave no answers or responses to questions.

"This format is a little confusing and it makes us feel helpless," said Chuck Daniels, parent of former students and Barton resident. "We don't have any idea what you're thinking, we don't know what we should say, how much emotion we should use, how much reason.

"We love our school, our staff, everything about our community; to lose it would be devastating to our whole village."

He then challenged the board members:

"Whatever it takes to keep this school open, we are willing to do it."

The board heard from about 20 speakers, most of them spoke off the cuff. And most of them about the lack of bullies and a fear of going to bigger schools.

Half of the presenters were students like eight-year-old Eva Foote.

"You should feel safe in a school and I feel safe in this one."

Or ten-year-old Jordan Amero.

"This is more than just a plain ol' school; it's a family."

And ten-year-old Kayla Foote.

"We have no bullies here. We are a family. It's like we came from one house to this bigger house. Like the sign says behind you: ‘A little school goes a long way.' And it does."

Several of the presenters mentioned they had or were going to make formal presentations to the board at its regular meetings in Yarmouth.

Harold Alexander was one of the few to discuss dollars and cents and other concrete issues raised in the board's impact assessment report.

He said the size, location and age of the school does not compromise the education of the children in anyway.

He suggested that the board was throwing away $278,000 in small school funding in order to save only $37,000.

Those numbers may have changed somewhat as the government has recently and quietly changed the funding formula. The formula now gives smaller amounts to a greater number of schools.

Alexander referred to a TCRSB survey of parents about funding cuts released last month. He reminded the board of three popular recommendations: eliminating French-immersion, cutting board staff, and putting all grade levels on one bus.

"I'm sure some my friends won't be impressed with me, but is it fair to rip the heart out of our community while continuing to find a frill subject like French-immersion?"

Barton principal Gaylene Sabine said she had no idea how effective the presentations were on the board's decision.

"People spoke from the heart," she said afterwards. "Whether that will make a difference, I don't know. I understand the board has to be fiscally responsible and weigh the dollars and cents as well."

Board member Faye Haley said the board heard the emotional appeals loud and clear.

"It's important and you can't ignore it," she said after the meeting. "But every school feels that way so you have to look at the other factors too."

The board will vote on the fate of Barton school and the two other schools under review (Weymouth and Westport) at a special meeting on Tuesday, March 27 in Yarmouth.

Haley says the board members may give the reasoning behind their votes at that time. She says last year when they reviewed the Cape Sable Island schools, "everybody gave a little speech why they were voting the way they are. Maybe not every board member on every school but I expect most will."

Rick Foote, whose kids went to Barton, says the decision should be straightforward.

"The only way they could close this school is if they ignore everything they are supposed to be looking at. The building is in good shape, the students get a great education, the smaller school provides a safer environment, the students here have fewer problems compared to the larger schools.

"The school board should be looking to have more schools like this rather than the warehouse model used in other places. "

jriley@digbycourier.ca

[Related: One parent's presentation (Harold Alexander) ]

[Related: Barton committee's response ]