Community worries about future of Digby Neck school after teaching cuts

·4 min read
Digby Neck Consolidated School will have one full-time teacher and one principal when students return in September, which accounts for about half of the teaching staff the school had last year. (Julia Woodman/Facebook - image credit)
Digby Neck Consolidated School will have one full-time teacher and one principal when students return in September, which accounts for about half of the teaching staff the school had last year. (Julia Woodman/Facebook - image credit)

This fall, there will be one teacher and one principal working at Digby Neck Consolidated School in southwest Nova Scotia, and parents worry the recent staff cuts are a sign the small rural school could soon close altogether.

The Tri-Country Regional Centre for Education has assigned two staff to take care of running the P-6 school and teaching the 10 or so students who are expected to attend in September.

But only one of the staff members is a full-time teacher, which means teaching resources have effectively been cut in half, according to Kelly Tidd, whose son is going into Grade 6.

This fall, there will be a teaching staff of 1.5. Last year it was 2.9, with two full-time teachers, another that worked part-time at the school and a principal who also had some teaching duties. Enrolment was about a dozen students, and prior years have seen between 15 and 16 attend.

Tidd said enrolment numbers can change quickly if families move to the area or students from the larger school in the town of Digby decide they want the small school experience.

"I do understand them wanting to cut back but also the fear is that the cutbacks are sort of walking us off the plank, so to speak, and they'll try to close us again in the coming year," Tidd told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Tuesday.

In 2016, Digby Neck Consolidated School was narrowly saved from closing by the former school board. The reason, said Tidd, is that students would have ended up spending an hour or more on the bus so they could attend schools in Digby or East Ferry.

"The issue that kept our school open last time is still valid," Tidd said. "We have not changed location geographically, and it's a shame. I think parents are feeling like we want the school to be open but at the same time, we don't want to see our children get a diminished education because of where we've chosen to live."

The school's new principal is moving to the area from the Yukon and will be in charge of teaching Primary to Grade 3, as well as doing administrative work, said Tidd. The regional centre for education said a part-time administrative assistant will still be available to help.

Could impact community space

While school staff are used to doing double duty — the previous principal taught music and was also the resource teacher — Tidd said the recent cuts could mean fewer subjects and supports for kids.

"We have, up until now, had music and art and gym and it has felt like it was still a very well-rounded education experience for them there," she said.

Gwen Quigley Wilson, chair of the school advisory council, said the fears are shared by many rural schools who never know if they'll be forced to close. She runs a community café out of the Digby Neck school and is concerned area residents will lose one of the few gathering spaces.

"When you take these schools out of smaller communities, it makes it even harder for young couples who would like to remain in the community that they've grown up in to do so because, you know, they may not want to put their kids on the bus for an hour and a half, twice a day to access the school further away," she said.

Tidd hopes the Tri-County Centre for Education reconsiders and allows even a part-time teaching position to "ease the pressure on the two that will be left there."

No plans to close school

The centre for education said in an email to Information Morning that there are currently no plans to close Digby Neck Consolidated School.

"We are confident the two teachers for the projected nine students will allow for the successful delivery of our NS Public School Program and this staffing allotment is consistent with other schools in the province of similar enrollment," wrote Ashley Gallant, co-ordinator of communications.

She said resources, such as teaching assistants, will also be made available for students who need it.

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