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School closures: the community has its say

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Cecille Snaith-Simmons (File photograph)
Ellen-Kate Horton (File photograph)
Juanae Crockwell (File photograph)
Shawnette Somner (File photograph)
DeShae Grant, left, with her husband William and son Tyson (File photograph)
Aaron Lugo (Photograph supplied)
Mary Lodge (File photograph)
Harry Matthie (File photograph)

A proposal to close nine primary schools has attracted a mixed reaction from members of the community.

Sarah Lagan spoke to Parent Teacher Association members, parents, teachers and former students about the closure of their schools. Here’s what they had to say.

Elliot, Devonshire:

DeShae Grant has a son in P1 at Elliot Primary School. She also attended the school, as did her husband. Under the proposals, Elliot would become an “alternative education” school.

She said: “I do agree that schools need to be improved and renovated and I believe that the plan is a good one because any improvement to our children’s education is always a good idea.

“I disagree with the idea of closing it to put another school there. I think it will be a huge loss. Elliot is the hub of all things Devonshire – it’s a place of pride.”

Ms Grant said she planned to make a submission to the consultation proposing that Elliot should be the parish school for Devonshire.

She added: “My son is five and he doesn’t want his school to close. He is concerned but he knows Mummy and Daddy are going to fight for him.”

Gilbert Institute, Paget:

Shawnette Somner, a former teacher at Gilbert Institute, said she was “heartbroken” at the prospect of the school closing.

She told The Royal Gazette: “Gilbert Institute means the world to me. It was the place where I crystallised my lifelong childhood dream of becoming a teacher.

“I always try to embrace change when I understand it. I fear that this closure may be part of yet another fast-thinking plan for a quick fix which could potentially become like everything else - an epic fail.”

Ms Somner, who taught at the school in the mid-1990s and went on to become principal at Port Royal Primary School, added: “The quality and standard of education at that time was just as high as when I was a student there.

“It was a school that nurtured students and encouraged them to reach their potential in the classroom, on the stage, in the garden and on the field.

“Closing Gilbert closes a significant part of history and files away memories of what could have remained and grown in a thriving school.”

Stephanie Henderson-Wernbo, PTA president at Gilbert Institute said the news of potential closure of the school was “very disappointing for the Gilbert community”.

“I agree with the premise that the public education system needs to be improved for all. However, the consultation document and current government proposals do not, in my personal view, address the lack of funding and resources provided to the public schools, low staff morale as a result of the lack of resources, and constant changes in grading and curriculum.

“In my view, the consultation does not set out a road map as to how any changes or closures will be effectively managed to reduce the social impact of these changes on students, staff and the community at large.”

Ms Henderson-Wernbo also forwarded a quote from a former Gilbert Institute parent and PTA member who said: “I think the alternative is to focus on making it a school that provides teachers with the support they need, from text books to financial to para-support, so that they can provide the best foundation possible for the students of Gilbert and prepare them for not only middle school, but for success in all they do.”

Northlands Primary, Pembroke:

Brandi Stone is the parent of four children who attend or attended Northlands Primary School. She said her eldest daughter “did a 360 turn around” when she was transferred there at P5 level.

Ms Stone said: “She was struggling at her previous school - she was going to The Reading Clinic and was labelled dyslexic. She felt lost in the school she was in as they were more focused on academics.

“I transferred her to Northlands, she got with a teacher and did a 360 turn around. They are close knit, nurturing and caring teachers and brought her out of the rut. She is now studying law at university.”

Ms Stone said her second eldest child also excelled at Northlands and was the winner of the Denton Hurdle Memorial Award 2020 for overall student achievement. Her two youngest children are still in attendance and she fears that the move will disrupt them.

She added: “I was quite devastated to hear it might close. I hope they can keep the faculty going because the teachers work together well as a team.”

Heron Bay, Southampton:

Christopher Mouchette is a former PTA president at Heron Bay Primary whose three children attended the school.

“It is a family-oriented school and is very close knit. It is one of the smallest schools of all of them but it means a lot to the community.

“I know the birthrate has been decreasing, I get the point, but it will be sad to see it close. The school has a lot of history. There are a lot of people going back to the 1960s and even 1950s who speak about how things were back then.”

West End, Sandys:

Cecille Snaith-Simmons, the mother of MP Jamahl Simmons and a former student of West End Primary School, said the school’s legacy was too important for it to close.

She wrote a submission for the consultation that was also published in The Royal Gazette on January 8.

“I am disappointed that the Ministry of Education believes it can provide the best of education for our children without truly understanding the feelings created by our segregated past,” she said.

“Without this understanding, we cannot simply close schools and expect to move forward in harmony.”

Ms Snaith-Simmons’ father Charles C Snaith was principal at West End for 33 years and documented its struggles. Ms Snaith-Simmons wrote a detailed history of West End, one of two government schools available during segregation for children of colour, as part of her submission which she sent directly to David Burt, the Premier, and Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education

The earliest recorded history of West End Primary School dates back to 1869. Ms Snaith added: “It has survived because the people of Somerset have always known that education is important to the successful future of the Black child.”

Ellen-Kate Horton, an educator, former Ministry of Education permanent secretary and former West End student, said the closure of West End would “throw away its legacy”.

“It is difficult, especially in light of the fact we were not allowed to go anywhere else – we had no choices,” she said.

Ms Horton said that West End could overall better serve pupils than Somerset Primary School – which has not been earmarked for closure.

Port Royal, Southampton:

Juanae Crockwell, PTA president at Port Royal, said the group was “disappointed, saddened and shocked” to hear of its potential closure.

“As far as alternative solutions are concerned, we do believe there are other options, there are always options.”

Ms Crockwell pointed out that Port Royal was not included in any of the government’s 2016 Score report closure scenarios.

She said the consultation document left many questions unanswered, making it difficult to make an informed decision on whether it was the right move.

“The actual execution of the proposal is vague. A timeline is still unclear. How this will be financed is still unclear.

“We appreciate that the ministry is accepting feedback. However, without more detailed information, it is hard to decide if this is best for our students.”

St David’s:

Aaron Lugo, is a teacher at Victor Scott Primary School. He attended St David’s Primary and coaches St David’s Football Club, which trains on the school field.

He said: “I am for Bermuda and I want it to be in the best interest of Bermuda. I was born and bred in St David’s and I’m very much involved in community.

“We fought to keep the name of the school, they wanted to change it and now they want to close it. It doesn’t sit right for me. It’s a pillar of the community. I think it can do more in terms of hosting events and we have the field.

“The school, it is not friendly to the handicapped – it’s not accessible so I do understand the reasons, but if you get rid of it altogether it’s detrimental. It should be utilised for something to the benefit to the community.

“It’s a piece of St David’s. We always get the short end of the stick. People will always stand up for their schools.”

St George’s Prep:

Mary Lodge, former principal of St George’s Preparatory School, said that if there had to be one school in St George’s, East End Primary School would be best placed due to its accessibility.

She said: “East End is the only one that is accessible and has a separate preschool – you can’t argue with the architecture.”

Ms Lodge said academic performance should not be a factor in choosing which schools to close. Ms Lodge said: “I believe that all schools have the potential to perform at the levels performed by students at St George’s Prep.”

Harry Matthie, head of the PTA at St George’s, which is the best-performing school based on year 6 results for the past decade, said the PTA executive was “totally aghast” at the proposal to close the school.

He said members discussed alternatives and wanted to get input from parents and teachers.

“The sentiment is that we come up with an alternative and approach the Government with it.”

Prospect Primary School:

Malisa Swan, a parent of three Prospect Primary children and herself a former student of the school, said: “It is a difficult decision that has to be made - government has to do what they have to do.

“They want to have one school per parish and I think it is only right if we are saving money for the economy.

“Prospect is an awesome school - the teachers are very friendly and are like family. It’s a good school for the neighbourhood and it’s in a really good location, it’s nice for the people of Pembroke.

“I also went Prospect and my sister and brother went there, and all three of my children - my daughter and son are still there. It’s less than a minute’s drive from my house but the government has to do it to save money.”

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Published March 10, 2021 at 9:51 am (Updated March 10, 2021 at 2:30 pm)

School closures: the community has its say

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