Primary school fights to stay open

  • Under threat: Alexis Moore, 10; Shartati Smith, 8; and Umai Santucci, 10, play in the background as Coraleta Dill, principal of Gilbert Institute, looks on (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Staff and PTA executives at Gilbert Institute are holding an emergency meeting to come up with an action plan they hope will save the school from closure.

The Paget school is the island’s only one that provides services for the deaf and hard-of-hearing at primary level and faces being merged with Prospect Primary School, which is based in Devonshire.

Gilbert Institute was one of four schools earmarked by the Bermuda Government for potential closure as part of its school organisation (Score) plan.

The other schools are St David’s Primary School, Heron Bay Primary School and Prospect Primary School. Parents of the 130 students attending Gilbert Institute have been invited to attend a separate meeting this week to help find solutions. Principal of six years, Coraleta Dill, told The Royal Gazette : “There are children who thrive in small settings and Gilbert is one of those settings. There is always room for the small school and in this type of setting we can network more easily to meet the needs of the children.

“When I look at education period, I always say, data has a face. These children are individuals so how is it going to impact them?

“The students are already saying to me, ‘Mrs Dill, I heard Gilbert is closing but you are not going to let it close are you?’ I don’t know how to respond to them because I recognise the decision is not in any educators’ hands.

“I have encouraged parents to read the documents — there is a lot of anxiety about whether to register or not.

“We always get our numbers, we always have our maximum intake.

“We had an open house and many parents have chosen to register even in spite of this news. I would say that parents need to let their voices be heard. I would also encourage parents of all the schools to read the Score document and participate in the public town hall meetings.”

Gilbert Institute was singled out in the report as “a school with a notable need for resources”.

The Score Report said: “Most funding to ensure the success of the deaf and hard-of-hearing programme is provided by the school and its staff members. This includes funding for professional development from personal finances and fundraising proceeds. The qualitative data suggests that this has been the case for the last 27 years.”

Gilbert Institute Parent Teacher Association executive Suzanne DeCouto has a son with a hearing impairment attending the school and another son with a hearing impairment who graduated from there.

Ms DeCouto told The Royal Gazette : “The hearing-impaired teacher has been paying for items. We as a PTA try to raise as much money as we can but some of the things we just can’t pay for like the playground — our playground is dying.

“When we try to go to companies to see if they will sponsor us they don’t get back to us because of these rumours of closure. If it were to close, it would be a big loss not just to the school itself but to the whole community.

“Gilbert is the only primary school that is fitted for hearing-impaired children and all our teachers have been specially trained. We have got some really good ideas to save the school.

“When we were going to close down a few years ago Grant Gibbons [former Shadow Minister for Education] was very good in coming to the school and talking with the parents.”

Dr Gibbons, now Minister for Economic Development, spoke up in support of Gilbert Institute back in 2010 when it faced closure under the former Progressive Labour Party. “There’s a really good community of support here,” he said at the time. Dr Gibbons did not respond by press time to our queries over the school facing closure under his own government.