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Disappointment and relief as school closures are announced

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Disappointed: Port Royal Primary parent Juanae Crockwell
Relief: Elliot parent DeShae Grant, right, with her husband William and their son Tyson.

Parents need more information quickly from government so they can make informed and timely decisions following the formal announcement that eight primary schools will be closed, a Parent Teacher Association president said yesterday.

Juanae Crockwell, who has three children at Port Royal Primary School, one of eight primary schools to be closed, said that while schools are not expected to close until between 2023 and 2027, she needs to make decisions about her children’s education now.

Ms Crockwell, who empahsised she was was speaking on her own behalf and not for the PTA, told The Royal Gazette: “I don’t like it when there are announcements without the plan – I have to plan our lives. I don’t want to wait and see what happens and then scramble around. Choosing what school you are going to send your child requires a lot of thought and consideration.

“There are Dalton E Tucker and Purvis primary schools but I don’t know if these will be my only options or whether can I say, I like the programme at Paget Primary.

“We need to know about zoning and these types of things. If it is going to be closed in three years, do I move them now before P4 – going from P3 to P4 is a big jump academically – I want them to be settled in a space. I don’t want them to move in a transitional year.”

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education announced the closures on Thursday evening. Other schools to be closed are: St George’s Preparatory School; St David’s Primary; Northlands Primary; Gilbert Institute; Heron Bay Primary; Prospect Primary and West End Primary.

DeShae Grant, the mother of a child at Elliot Primary School which will remain open after being recommended for closure, said she was “relieved, excited and happy” to hear the news but added: “My heart still breaks for West End and other schools that are closing.”

Ms Grant made a submission to government that Elliot be the Devonshire parish primary school. She said: “The reasons included the importance of the school to the surrounding community and families in the neighbourhood. It has a green space – in a densely populated area you do need a space where children can play and people can build community.”

However, Ms Grant said the school was in need of renovation and said she hoped to hear more on any such plans for the school. She said much of the upkeep at Elliot had historically been done by the PTA.

Historical Legacy Committee formed

A Historical Legacy Committee is to be formed to share the history of schools that provided Black children with educational opportunities during racial segregation.

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, made the announcement in the House of Assembly yesterday morning having announced on Thursday that eight primary schools will be closed including West End Primary School, one of the first schools in Bermuda to teach Black students.

“The idea of this committee is to determine the best way to document, record and share this rich history, not only to preserve it for future generations but to help communities understand and cope with the intergenerational trauma and pain that still exists today within our community as a result.

“Work towards the Historical Legacy Committee has already begun and further updates will be provided in due course.“

Harry Matthie, the previous PTA president at St George’s Preparatory School and a parent of a child attending the school, questioned the consultation process carried out by the government saying the proposals are almost the same as the original plan that was set out in December of last year.

“It is inconceivable that with the level of consultation they have done there were no significant changes to the original plan,” he said.

“We have an opportunity for significant change in our education system and their plan, even though it may sound nice to the uninitiated, is not where it should be. I am severely disappointed and I considerate it to be intellectual laziness to be closing our schools.”

Mr Matthie said he disagreed with the decision to close St George’s Prep, because it is a high performing school academically.

He added: “The high performing schools should stay open and we should model them to other schools. They are not even trying to do that, if they did they would realise they need small schools. My daughter had to go to reading recovery in P2. I did not think that she needed it but due to the small size of St George’s Prep they identified her deficiency and got her help – she soon started reading above grade.”

Mr Matthie said the PTA is due to meet with the board of trustees at the school, adding: “I hope that government sees the error of its ways.”

A community town hall meeting has been called to try to find ways to save West End Primary School from closure.

A spokeswoman for a committee launched to save the school said: “It appears that they (Government) will be moving forward with their plan to erase the history and legacy of a school that has contributed to the educational excellence of our community." A petition has been launched opposing the closure.

Ms Crockwell, along with her PTA team, submitted a proposal to the government in April asking it to reconsider the closure of Port Royal.

She added: “We are disappointed but I wouldn’t say shocked. Personally, I think school consolidation is necessary, we can benefit from fewer schools but Southampton is a large parish in volume and distance. I don’t know if one school will be enough. I am moving into a place of accepting the decision but want to know more about how the transition will happen.”

Susan Jackson, Opposition MP, asked Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, in the House of Assembly yesterday how he would respond to the students, parents and educators at high-performing schools that face closure.

Mr Rabain said: “High performing schools are not an indication of whether the site is suitable for redevelopment”, adding that it was intended that all schools will have the tools to be high-performing under the new plan.

The Opposition also asked what would be done with the buildings of the schools that are to be discontinued. The minister said the plan for buildings is in the “formative” stages and said the public would be engaged.

He said a multitude of ideas were put forth during the consultation process including the creation of daycare centres, government offices and a museum.

Ben Smith, shadow education minister, said last night: "While the OBA fully recognises that changes to the Bermuda Public School System have to be made, it’s prudent for the Government to understand that this is not a palatable exercise for many.

“Bermuda’s scholastic heritage has always been steeped in school pride so the thought of losing a part of their history is very difficult for residents across the island to consider. This major overhaul is not simply about making the education system streamlined but it’s creating the end of educational legacy for many families.”

He added: "The community attachment that the Government wants to build with the proposed parish schools already existed in the schools that are being closed; if not so many residents would not be so upset.

"Thursday’s social media ‘live’ with the Education Minister added insult to injury as there were questions that residents expected answers to and all they received was a pe-recorded announcement."

Port Royal Primary School (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published July 24, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated July 24, 2021 at 8:00 am)

Disappointment and relief as school closures are announced

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