Armstrong parent urges trustees to not just heed ‘squeaky wheel’
By Richard Leitner, News Staff
True to form, Queensdale school dominated a special delegation night on proposals to close up to three of eight public elementary schools on the central Mountain.
Red-shirted supporters flooded the east side of city hall’s public gallery for the three-and-a-half-hour session, sporting buttons, waving flags and drinking from water bottles bearing the school’s name enveloped by a big red heart.
Fifteen of the 25 formal delegations to trustees were from Queensdale, with parents, former students, teachers, neighbours, volunteers and two pastors praising the school, one calling it “a slice of Heaven.”
A handful made their point by video, sometimes with humour – one featuring snapshots of a parent using the Wentworth Street stairs during two pregnancies to emphasize how close the school is to hospitals, including St. Joe’s.
All backed a staff recommendation to keep their school open and shutter Eastmount Park, Linden Park and Cardinal Heights in June 2015.
Parent Stefanie Shiels said the staff option – revised from an initial one that recommended closing Queensdale – offers a balanced approach that meets the central Mountain’s and school board’s needs.
It will fill 92 per cent of the seats at the surviving schools, save nearly $13 million in repair costs and won’t require new schools, she said, while allowing as many kids as possible to walk to school and avoid multiple school changes.
“I wish we could keep all eight of our walkable community schools. I particularly regret the recommended closure o f Linden Park and the loss of a second school for that community,” Shiels said, referring to the pending closure of Hill Park Secondary School.
“I am realistic enough to realize, however, that we cannot fill and maintain all of our schools.”
But George Baier, one of six Linden Park delegations, said his area’s school is “at the epicenter from which all other schools radiate,” imploring trustees to go with the first of two options offered by a volunteer accommodation review committee.
It would close George L. Armstrong and Ridgemount, and build a new school to replace Cardinal Heights and Pauline Johnson at their existing location if provincial funding is available.
Baier said the option will fill 97 per cent of Linden Park’s classroom seats, keep its daycare and pre-school programs, allow most students to walk and maintain access to adjoining sports fields.
The parent said the community is already feeling despair over Hill Park’s closure and shuttering Linden Park will “completely decimate that block.”
“If you close that, everything else goes with it,” Baier said, choking back his emotion. “We literally, literally will have nothing left.”
Kimberly Clark, the sole Armstrong presenter, urged trustees to not just listen “to the squeaky wheel” and consider all of the options and their supporting information.
She objected to “the multiple criticisms and negative comments” about Armstrong, ones she said can be addressed through reasonable upgrades to the Concession Street school.
“I attended most of the public meetings and I am concerned and disgusted by how a fellow school in the ARC has treated other schools, parents and concerned citizens by bullying, taking over meetings and comments made in print and social media,” Clark said.
“I thought the number one reason that we are so passionate about this process and our schools was for our children and their respective futures. In the end, it won’t really matter what school our children attend if they get a quality education and are in a caring, nurturing environment and are able to flourish.”
Parent Carrie Ashworth, the lone Eastmount Park speaker, said she accepts that her school will close but favours shifting students to Franklin Road and closing Armstrong.
“Franklin Road has more green space, which leaves more room for the children at recess and after school, higher levels of activity and more room for outdoor sports,” she said. “Franklin Road also isn’t located on a high-traffic street.”
Trustees voted to receive the presentations, including ones by Mountain MPP Monique Taylor and Ward 1 councillor and mayoral candidate Brian McHattie, and 16 written submissions.
They are scheduled to debate the final three of 35 options at their June 9 standing committee meeting and ratify any decision at the June 16 board meeting.