Friday, June 15, 2007

Something worth fighting for

Two weeks ago I didn't know their names. Now we're joined by a crisis, a passion and 1076 doorbells.

When the division threatened to close our children's school, we are the parents who choose to fight.

On May 29, the superintendent announced his recommendation to put our school up for review for possible closure in 2009. After that board meeting 40 parents rallied in the lobby. One week later 78 parents and community members met in the school library to divide into interest groups and plan our speeches for the next school board meeting.

The superintendent tied our fate to software predicting declining enrollment. So we decided to knock on doors and get the real numbers. With surveys and petitions in hand, for 2 nights 30 parents knocked on all 1076 doors in the catchment, asking how many children lived there and how important the school was to their family. 348 doors opened.

900 people signed the petition.

When we heard other parents on the playground said, "My child will be finished here by 2009, so it's not my problem" or "It's a done deal. They're going to close it anyway. It's not worth fighting" we pressed on.

A handful of keeners gathered around the school picnic table Saturday morning to pick up flyers for all 1076 boxes, inviting the neighbourhood to show their support by attending the Monday night board meeting. Saturday evening we stayed at Smitty's till 1/2 an hour after closing, to practice our speeches and pat each other on the back.

Monday: showtime! Fourteen speeches - more numbers: Our school is $35,000 cheaper per year to heat than the same sized school across the street. Our school has more parent initiated transfers than the other schools in our area. Many of the families who have moved in to the area since 2004 have children under 5. I was the first behind the mic, putting my personal story out there, to try and persuade the trustees small schools prevent children with special needs from falling through the cracks.

As we stood in the parking lot after the board meeting we basked in the joy of knowing we'd done the best we could for our kids. Even if they close the school we can be proud of our efforts: the professionalism of our research, our perseverance and our unity. In striving to save our school community, we actually strengthened it.

In one of many group email conversations the next day, one parent wrote: "I can't stop thinking about the amazing leadership and teamwork and how it all came together...I don't think I've ever experienced this at this level before!"

It just goes to prove there's strength in numbers.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

S.O.S (Save our school)

The life of a tremendous support in my life - one my family connects with every day - is threatened.

It's our neighbourhood school. The superintendent is recommending it for review for possible closure in spring 09. Before the trustees vote on the review on June 19, the parents get their say (June 11).

I've actually walked away from some writing assignments to devote myself to saving the school, by writing persuasive speeches, letters to the editor, etc. But the words don't come. Just the tears.

I don't want to give up. Those who have been through a review say schools that don't fight get closed everytime. It's just hard to think when it's so close to home. (Just down the block, actually).

And when we have so few answers. Like, why our school? Yes, it's small, but so are many other schools, and ours is the newest and cheapest facility to maintain. And registrations are way up for next year - the highest Kindergarten enrollment we've had in years. And what would happen to our children if they close Dr. Penner? We'd probably have to walk them twice as far, across a busy street, to a bigger school where no one knows their name.

You don't euthanize a healthy horse. You'd think the same would apply to a school.

If you pray, pray for our school. Something so full of life should not be condemned to die.