LEADING TICKLES, NL – While final word on whether their school will stay open will come after Feb. 3, parents in Leading Tickles have made their case for its importance.
“There were things last night that the board of trustees didn’t know,” parent Nora Chippett said Jan. 11, the morning after a meeting with eight members of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) board of trustees, as well as four representatives for the district itself.
“I think their eyes came open, and I’m glad they did,” said Chippett. “I’m glad they came. If we didn’t make the presentations last night, they weren’t going to come…We were nervous, and we did it, and we’re proud that we did.”
Leading Tickles Primary – built in 2006 – is slated to close in June. After that, its nine students will be sent about 30 kilometres down the road to Point Leamington, a total travel time of about 55 minutes.
While Chippett understands high-school students leaving the community, she said the travel is too much, too soon for grades 4, 5 and 6, let alone kindergarteners and grades 1 and 2.
“It’s a long run for kindergarten to Grade 3 to travel up there. That’s long days,” she said. “I have a girl, she’s in Grade 5, and she leaves here at 10-to-eight in the morning she doesn’t return until 3:40, 3:45. So it is long days for smaller kids.”
The enrolment projections for Leading Tickles, according to the school district, are 10 in 2017, eight in 2018, four in 2019-2020, five in 2021, six in 2022, seven in 2023, and five from 2024-2026.
Point Leamington Academy is expected to see a steady decrease in students from 72 in 2017 to 50 in 2026. The addition of the students from Leading Tickles Primary would not affect the maximum room requirement at Point Leamington Academy, according to the district.
The Advertiser has also reported that closing the school would save $73,000 per year in operating costs, with $23,000 in support staff salaries and benefits, $17,400 in utilities, $900 in janitorial products, $28,500 in snow removal, $800 in municipal fees, and $2,400 in repairs and maintenance.
One of the larger expenses is running a bus in the community to take children to school and back every day, but Chippett said this is something parents are more than willing to take over if it will help save their school.
“There’s not a lot of young families here anymore, it’s mostly all seniors,” she said. “We got a couple of families that moved back, and they have younger children who aren’t in school yet. They moved back thinking their children would go to school here. Who’s going to move back if your child cannot go to school here?... I wouldn’t.”
Not only does Chippett want to see the school kept open, she hopes to see it expand to take back the six students, including her daughter, in grades 4, 5 and 6 who are currently travelling to Point Leamington.
Chippett was pleased with the turnout for the meeting, despite some confusion as to whether it was meant to be public. She said the trustees’ main concern seemed to be the quality of education the children are receiving at Leading Tickles Primary.
Arguments have been made that they do not have access to all the resources a bigger school may have, including after-school programming. However, not only are the parents of Leading Tickles satisfied, Chippett said the staff-to-student ratio at the local school is much lower than that of bigger schools in the area.
As for after-school opportunities, she said there is no late bus running between the two communities, putting the onus on families to find a way home for their participating children.
The school’s fate will be decided at a board meeting Feb. 3 when trustees vote on the issue. The period for the public to provide comment online closes Jan. 22. Chippett encouraged anyone who can make their voice heard to do so.
“That’s when we’ll know what happens,” she said. “If we’re still open, and hopefully we are.”
The Advertiser reached out to Thomas Kendell, the trustee responsible for Leading Tickles Primary, for comment. He directed queries to the school district.
When contacted, a spokesperson for the district referred to the section of its website dealing with the changes, which can be found at https://www.nlesd.ca/schools/schoolreview/index.jsp.