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‘Make honourable decision to save West End Primary'

West End Primary School (File photograph)

Dear Sir,

Imagine you and your 12-year-old classmates are trudging up a (low-grade) hill with heavy wooden desks (and a few old books and maps tossed in) to your school. On the one hand you are excited to be retrieving these desks because the current ones at school are falling apart.

On the other hand you later learn that the actual new desks that were ordered to replace your old ones at West End School were diverted to Sandys Grammar School (now Somerset Primary) and you were struggling with their castoffs.

You were told in no uncertain terms how little you matter and how undeserving. Seventy years later your great grandchildren are receiving the same message. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Due to a Pati request, the West End Warriors have now learnt a little more about the decision-making that has never before been disclosed transparently on the Ministry of Education’s website or provided in the 2½ years of questions asked by WEW and many others in the Sandys community.

The Government boasted that its decision was evidence-based and is “best for children”. So WEW asked and asked and asked for calculations, meeting minutes, reports, maps, etc — any evidence that would fairly put Somerset Primary ahead of West End by a mere five points out of 100.

The letter and two documents produced after the two-year-long Pati process indicated that:

• “No records were found” related to transport, community, sustainability or any meetings beyond November 17, 2020.

• Documents that the ministry relied on relating to acreage were shared by the Ministry of Public Works but the Ministry of Education “did not actually retain copies” that could have evidenced the total acreage differences relied on in the 2020 proposal;

• One document was found that is exempt from disclosure because it would “undermine the deliberative process of a public authority, including frank provision of advice”.

• Three excerpts of documents were disclosed but “no fuller version was found”.

• A June 10 2021 e-mail sent by the Commissioner of Education to the permanent secretary comparing the two schools as well as a grid doing the same (author unknown) were disclosed.

WEW are left to conclude that the Ministry of Education either keeps sloppy records or is deliberately not transparent or concocted the decision that gave the total of just five points extra to SP out of thin air.

The couple of documents revealed are nevertheless mind-boggling. No actual evidence (maps, calculations, reports) were attached to support the bald conclusions that uplifted SP at the expense of erasing 155 years of WE being the community hub school of the parish.

There were: wishful thinking; irrelevancies; flawed conclusions; obvious bias; and most egregious: the clear ignoring of factors favourable to WE to the point that the ministry’s entire process (such as it was or can be discerned) can easily be accused of being discriminatory.

The legacy and global importance of WE as one of less than a handful of schools in the English-speaking Western Hemisphere — in continuous service since 1869 — cannot be discarded like dirty socks.

But even if we put that legacy issue to one side (which we decidedly must not) this current struggle is not solely about disrespect of our foreparents, but also about basic truth and fairness. The original scoring of 19 physical factors — where the differential between the two schools totals a mere 5 out of 100 points — is simply not at all credible.

For example:

• Counter-factual: the original unpublished grid (revealed to WEW through a Pati complaint) asserts that SP is along a bus route but WE is near a bus route. Further the ministry states that SP is on a main bus route, WE is not (well, thank goodness!) Any parent who has seen bus access for both schools would appreciate that the bus stop at WE is directly and safely next to its gate. On the other hand, SP students must walk along the perimeter of its property a full block on to a very busy main street which they must cross if travelling east.

• Bias: failure to include the critical fact that the Government’s own 2008 report on the Impact of Climate Change places SP squarely in the middle of a flood zone whilst WE is on an elevated plain and not at all at such risk. So how on earth were the schools scored practically the same for flood risk? (Out of a total good score of 3.75: WE 3.50; SP 3.25.)

• Mistake of law: the ministry’s apparent pipe-dream that the “Warren Simmons field nearby is a potential for school expansion” and even useable during construction of a new SP. In fact, it appears that no research was done to uncover that this field is legally committed for years and cannot be encroached upon.

• Bias: population catchment is not mentioned in the few documents released to WE. There are 39 homes within the catchment area (300 foot radius) of SP and 92 homes within the catchment area of WE. Without a proper survey (which should have been done before decision was made) we can surmise that more students live in safe walking distance of WE than SP. Therefore that larger number of children who live closer to WE will be forced to walk farther and across a busy, almost scary main street to access SP.

• Unfair: failure to list proximity to older siblings at the middle school for safer walking home together.

• Mistake of fact: the Government touts “multiple entrances/exits” for SP yet doesn’t tell the whole truth — those entrances are via narrow lanes that simply cannot accommodate two way traffic and the area is clearly quite congested as any neighbour can testify. Moreover, the Government asserts that WE is at risk of traffic congestion and is actually already dangerous (without any evidence of accident reports). The truth is that WE’s main entrances are with clear sight lines, straighter roads and all comfortably two way traffic.

• Misleading: repetition that SP is “an acre-and-a-half” bigger does not make this assertion true. Including the preschool, SP is less than one acre larger. Is larger necessarily “best for children” in this age of architectural wizardry? Clearly even the ministry itself doesn’t think that size is determinative — as two of the other schools being saved are actually smaller than WE. Is the Government of the view that those schools in other parishes will be less capable of providing a “21st Century education” solely because they are smaller in size?

• The ministry lists “community Partners that will play a pivotal role in student learning experiences”. At first glance SP seems to have impressive advantages — 15 community services listed versus a paltry seven for WE.

On closer, more thoughtful analysis the repeated biases, lack of evidence and shading of the relevance of the lists shine through: Bascome Farm is certainly an important service and, in itself a legacy, for the parish. But its stench frequently reaches SP, not WE.

Irrelevant factors include: the cycle shop, several restaurants, gas stations, hardware store, laundromat, hair and nail salon, dry cleaner and hotel — are not child-centred services. Indeed, elementary age students should not be frequenting these businesses on their own. Most parents who may need to access them will likely be driving. WE is only an additional 30-second drive from most.

In truth five of the seven community services listed for WE (including barber shop for after school cuts) are currently trusted by parents for their children to safely walk to and use.

Accordingly the so-called SP ‘proximity to community services advantage’ is practically negligible (two for SP versus five for WE). If the errors in the original scores were corrected, WE would undoubtedly achieve the higher score even without adding the inevitably superior History and Legacy scores for WE.

There are too many more examples privileging SP that cannot survive scrutiny.

Facts matter! Truth matters! Fairness matters! Our children matter!

Please consider all. Saving WE will model to our children how to respect the initiative and resilience of those on whose shoulders we stand.

Our opinions should be informed, not based solely on feelings and vague notions that the past should stay in the past. Our decisions — especially those that will impact the community and generations to come — must be informed by the facts and real evidence.

This note is already too long to expound on the Pedagogy of Place (students who feel respected that they belong to a rich and proud legacy centred on their own families actually are more confident and learn best). The History and Legacy committee should include this in its deliberations.

No cogent argument has been presented to justify rewarding SP for its history of racism and punishing WE for its struggles to equitably provide education to children of all races.

The Government’s insistence on erasing WE is a mystery given that there is zero compelling rationale or imperative for choosing the SP site. There is absolutely nothing about size, location, existing facilities that good architects and engineers cannot conquer. Dismissing the true community hub school cannot be undone after it is erased.

To heap insult upon injury, some have suggested that renaming the SP site WE will magically make it so. Really?

Indeed it would be a form of reparations — to repair the damage of the messages to Black children 70 years ago and to their great grandchildren today — to make the honourable decision to save the West End Primary School.


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Published March 30, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated March 29, 2024 at 4:10 pm)

‘Make honourable decision to save West End Primary'

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