By Richard Bell
[Update: This article below, "What's Best for Our Students," went to the printers on October 28.On Monday, October 29, the Cooperator did a Facebook live broadcast of a meeting called by the Community Campus Vision Association (CCVA) to present CCVA's latest thinking about the new high school for the Eastern Shore. The meeting was held at the Porters Lake Community Centre, chaired by Jean McKenna. The meeting came after the release earlier in the day of a new report from the Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Chamber of Commerce & Area Association presenting a case for siting the new high school somewhere in the core of Musquodoboit Harbour. (see below for the full October 29 analysis of the Chamber report.]
A little history: Jean McKenna was MLA Kevin Murphy's official agent for his first campaign. After the election, Murphy then surprised the Musquodoboit Harbour community by announcing a plan to move the high school, the rink, and the Birches nursing home to what he called a "campus" in the Eastern Shore Industrial Park in East Chezzetcook. Murphy set up a committee to support his "campus" proposal, which then morphed into the Community Campus Vision Association (CCVA) , headed by Jean McKenna. CCVA supported Murphy's "campus" concept for several years, but finally changed its position to focus on getting a new high school, acknowledging that pushing for all three was damaging the chances of getting the high school. McKenna led a vigorous lobbying operation for a new school; Education Minister Churchill praised McKenna's efforts at a meeting in East Chezzetcook shortly after he announced that there would be a new Eastern Shore high school.
At the October 30 meeting, McKenna stated that the province had decided that the new site would be at least 80-100 acres. She said the large area was needed to provide room for additional facilities in the future. Such a tract would be on the same scale as Murphy's 2014 "campus" proposal.
Questioned about the source of this 80-100 acre number, McKenna insisted it had come up in conversations she had had with the Minister, and with MLA Kevin Murphy, and that Murphy could back her up.
Murphy said that the idea of needing 100 acres came out of his 2014 "campus" proposal for East Chezzetcook, and that the number had been kicked around in conversations ever since.
But Murphy finally said that in fact the province has not made any public pronouncement about what area the new site selection process will require.
McKenna showed a number of slides of several other new high schools around the province, making a special point of various "green" design elements. She got collective support from everyone in the room when she moved away from the site selection process to the design of the new school. She said having a green school was her number one wish, ideally greener than any of the schools in the slide show.
"What's Best for Our Students?"
By Richard Bell
Eastern Shore Cooperator, November, 2018
The process of deciding where to site a new high school to replace Eastern Shore District High took a solid step forward at the end of October with the release of a report using common sense siting criteria to make a strong case for locating the new school in Musquodoboit Harbour, either on the existing site, or at some other site near the village core.
The 21-page report was produced through a collaborative process, led by the Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Chamber of Commerce & Civic Affairs, with the Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Community Association, The Old School Community Gathering Place, The Musquodoboit Trailway Association, and many community members. Also included with the report were over 100 letters of support addressed to Education Minister Zack Churchill from local businesses and residents.
“We are very happy with how people and organizations came together to produce a very compelling approach to site selection,” said Chamber President Kent Smith. “Based on our analysis, we believe that no site outside of Musquodoboit Harbour comes close to offering such a rich mix of benefits to students from all of the communities in the catchment basin.”
Education Minister Zack Churchill announced last spring, following the turfing on January 24, 2018 of all the province’s local school boards in favour of centralized provincial control, that his department would be developing a new site selection process based on “technical evaluations.”
Churchill emphasized that the primary goal of the new site selection process was to complete construction on the province’s timeline, and that public’s participation in the site selection process would be limited to prevent any delays. But more than 9 months later, the Education Department has yet to reveal a new site selection process.
In a cover letter to Minister Churchill, Chamber president Kent Smith explained that the fundamental question driving the preparation of this report was a simple 5-word question: “What’s best for our kids?”
This question takes the site selection process far beyond the limited horizon of “technical evaluation.” The fundamental argument in the report is that it would be a mistake to look at the site selection process as if “education” started and ended within the walls of the school itself.
The report argues for a far more inclusive understanding of what constitutes a good education, for an understanding that children’s learning takes place not only at the school itself, but also through children’s use of the resources that are available to them off the school grounds, in the community in which the school is embedded.
So the report reviews the extensive resources that are available to ESDH students right now. In Musquodoboit Harbour, these resources include the public library, the hospital, the RCMP office, the HRM Municipal Centre and Fitness Centre, the hockey rink and baseball fields, outdoor recreation (walking trails, rivers, and oceans), nonprofts offering youth programming, and businesses offering co-op opportunities.
The report reviews how all of these resources serve ESDH students, starting with the many programs that touch students’ lives at the Musquodoboit Harbour library. The conclusion of this analysis is simple: “Musquodoboit Harbour is the only community with all of these resources within walking distance of the current ESDH and other potential sites nearby for the new school.”
And as the report notes, it’s no accident that there’s such a rich cluster of resources available in Musquodoboit Harbour. For decades, the federal government, the provincial government, HRM, and community groups have invested millions of dollars to build all of this infrastructure.
And HRM has spent many years, and millions of dollars, developing the city’s long-range Regional Development plan to guide growth. Under the terms of this plan, there are only two designated Regional Growth Centres: Porters Lake and Musquodoboit Harbour. And Porters Lake has very few of the resources available in Musquodoboit Harbour.
The report argues that the province should respect this democratic planning process, which involved thousands and thousands of hours of community input and consultation: “Schools should be sited in accordance with the HRM Regional Plan for the catchment area in question.”
An Enrollment Surprise
The report also questions the conventional wisdom that the demand for schooling is growing fastest on the western side of the ESDH catchment basin, an argument for shifting the high school to the west.
However, the Halifax Regional Education Centre’s Long Range Outlook June 2018, the official projections for the next 10 years of enrollment at elementary feeder schools, tells a different story. Enrollment at both O’Connell Drive and Porters Lake Elementary are projected to go down over the next ten years. At the same time, enrollment at Oyster Pond Academy is projected to rise significantly.
[The Chamber's report is available on the Chamber website here.]