More than 200 attend meeting on Arborfield School’s future

More than 200 attended a public meeting to discuss the fate of Arborfield School, which is undergoing a school viability review.

“The meeting went really well, as good as you could possibly have it,” said Chet Edwards, the mayor of Arborfield, about the Feb. 15 meeting hosted at the Arborfield Community Hall.

Edwards, who is opposed to the closure of the school, said that Kevin Graham, Chair of the North East School Division, was well received in the community.

“He is looking out for the better interest of the kids, he is personable and he is taking everything into account, he is taking notes,” Edwards said, adding that if the chair heard something that is viable and meaningful, he took it into consideration.

Stacy Lair, Director of Education, and Wanda McLeod, Superintendent of Business Administration, were in attendance on behalf of NESD. Lair said legislatively, the board has a duty to share the motion that was made at the Jan. 27 NESD board of education meeting, that was the intent of the meeting and expand the intent, to include, the sharing of information the school review committee provided, and hear back dialogue from the community members. The motion was to consider the continuation or to carry forward the review. This meeting was not for a decision, rather to review all the data from the NESD and the Arborfield school review committee.

The NESD board was able to listen to the thoughts of many community members. Lair said the intention of the board was for the community of Arborfield to be heard.

Edwards commended all the people who spoke up and said their concerns.

Three students in particular spoke very highly of their overall experience of going to school in Arborfield. They spoke very eloquently and did a great job of speaking for themselves, even in a room of 200 people and the NESD Board of Education. Edwards and Lair both commended them for their words.

Edwards said many resident of nearby Zenon Park attended the meeting. Zenon Park, which does have a French language only school, would be in the catchment area that would be heading to the new Carrot River school. Zenon Park to Carrot River is approximately 35 kilometres away if you drove straight to there on the highway. Many brought up concerns of long bus routes, especially with the younger kids and with the good potential of upwards of 50-60 kids Edwards mentioned. Long bus routes were a big concern from the entire contingent of those that gathered there.

Future NESD board meetings are scheduled for Feb. 28 and March 21. Lair said a decision would likely come sooner than later in order to not drag out the process. The board will need time to hear the information brought up at this meeting and talk things through. Edwards said he would like to see the review end as soon as possible.

Edwards said the attitude of the public is that there are so many young kids in the community and they wish the review would end. The after effects of a school review in a many communities can be negative as it makes decisions for potential new residents thinking about moving to the area, second-guess their decision because they are unsure if a school will remain in the community, Edwards said. It can have a real impact moving forward.

Edwards said that they felt the community was unaware that Arborfield students were being counted into the Carrot River school. Edwards said there were conversations about the lack of funding the school has received in recent years and that no capital funding has been allocated to Arborfield except for painting walls. Edwards said they had requested a meeting with the Minister of Education, Dustin Duncan. At the time of this article, he had responded but was not able to meet until after April 3.

MLA Fred Bradshaw was in attendance. The entire board for the NESD was in attendance except for Tyson Waldner and Ted Kwiatkowski.

“The community is not done working,” Edwards said. “We are still working to the right goal. No stone will go unturned.”

Nicole Goldsworthy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Humboldt Journal