Monday, March 2, 2015

#stoptheswap Open Letter Opposing Earl Grey/LaVerendrye School Swap

Dear Trustees, Winnipeg School Division administration and other interested parties,

It is my understanding that because of overcrowding issues at Laverendrye school (Lav), one solution that has been put forth is a “school swap”, where Earl Grey School would swap places with Lav. Based on media reports and social media interactions, it seems that some of the Lav parents are quite serious about this idea, and appear to be pushing Trustees and the Winnipeg School Division in this direction.  As a parent of two children at Earl Grey School, I am deeply concerned by this proposal and frustrated that it is even being considered.

On the surface, this sounds simple. A school swap implies just that. It implies that two schools would just swap spaces and everyone would go along as if nothing happened. But what is being proposed is NOT a school swap. This is taking one group that has a space issue (LaVerendrye) and completely displacing and dismantling a tight knit community (Earl Grey) to solve their problem. It is taking a group that has no problem, is having success and building a top notch school and making them suffer to accommodate the needs of LaVerendrye.  In fact, it baffles me that Earl Grey even ended up in the equation as a way to solve LaVerendrye’s issues.

The students of LaVerendrye have everything to gain from this proposal which is why it is attractive to that group. However, the students of Earl Grey basically lose everything. How is this advantageous to anyone? The Earl Grey school community will lose its connection to the Earl Grey Community Centre. It will lose its connection with Dante Day Care, and it may lose its in-school Early Childhood Education programs and Montessori school. These are valuable programs that, if Earl Grey moves, will create a wealth of problems and pain to students and their families. Again, LaVerendrye will gain these, and we will lose them. How is this fair? Once again, this is not a swap. This is one group pushing another group out and gaining everything the other group will lose.

Furthermore, the proposal for a school swap involves taking away grade 7 and 8 programs from Earl Grey. Essentially, the system we have in place will be decapitated. In a school designed to have children from all grades work together, learn from each other, guide each other and participate in activities together, two of the senior grades will be taken away. This destroys so much of what has been worked for at Earl Grey. Where will these kids go? Dispersed to other schools where they will be just a number?

To outsiders, on paper, a “school swap” may look like a simple, easy solution to alleviate a problem. It is not. It will come with severe consequences for all of the families and students of Earl Grey School. This is NOT merely a school swap. This is tearing apart a school community, ripping all the pieces that make it a successful, productive and satisfying whole to shreds in order to solve a problem that another school is facing.

What I ask is that this option be dropped from the table, for the sake of the Earl Grey Community. There are other options that will help LaVerendrye while not dismantling Earl Grey. These are what should be pursued for the sake of all.  Earl Grey, with its small class sizes and tight knit community that works together with the community center, early childhood education and Montessori programs, is a system that should be emulated, not destroyed.

The option that, from my perspective, makes better sense is developing another French milieu school elsewhere, possibly at the William Osler site. If the demand for these types of schools is so high, it really won’t be long until the Earl Grey site will no longer meet the needs of LaVerendrye either, which means it won’t be that long before the school is facing the same issues all over again. There are numbers floating out there suggesting Earl Grey can hold 600 students, and this appears to have supporters of the swap feeling that Earl Grey is a half empty, dying school. Well, there is actually only 1 empty classroom. All others are being utilized. And, from my understanding, the 600 number comes from outdated estimates before class sizes were capped, before dedicated classes for computer labs and a library were needed. The idea that 600 students can fit into the current Earl Grey site is just not accurate.

If the School Board and Trustees believe we have too much space in the Earl Grey School, I think you would be hard pressed to find a parent that wouldn’t support the opening of the space to new programs or new students and welcome proposals to share the school with others. But, I don’t think you will find a single parent in the school comfortable with the idea of having Earl Grey as we know it completely dismantled.

I live across from Earl Grey School and am watching as our neighbourhood is drawing younger people who are buying up relatively affordable housing and renovating. It seems to me that it won’t be too long before the demand for a school like Earl Grey increases.  Earl Grey, if stuck in the LaVerendrye School site, will be looking at space issues before long, as will Lav in the Earl Grey location. All that will have been achieved is some shuffling around and destroying of the Earl Grey School community that is showing success, where students are happy, where we have no issues. Temporary gain for Lav, but long term pain for all involved is not a solution. That is what a school swap delivers.

Earl Grey families and students face many losses if this proposed school swap goes through. Why do this to the Earl Grey kids? Why do it to the families of Earl Grey students? A better solution must exist. Many others have been put forth worth considering. For the sake of the Earl Grey community, please drop the school swap idea. Let Earl Grey continue with its successful formula. Allow Earl Grey families to continue to enjoy the programs they rely so much on that we will lose in the event of a swap. Let Earl Grey survive.  Stop the swap.

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