School board gets first look at expanded Bridgewater catchment area

by Michael Lee

  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>The South Shore Regional School Board has started to explore ways in which students could be eligible to attend schools in Bridgewater under a new catchment area and grade configuration.</p>
  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>Often referred to as the &#8220;lobster map,&#8221; the highlighted portions indicate which areas could have students move into Bridgewater.</p>

The South Shore Regional School Board is examining whether students will move to Bridgewater's elementary or high school from schools in outlying areas.

Staff presented possible catchment changes to board members at a committee of the whole meeting on January 18, although Superintendent Scott Milner cautioned the data was preliminary and no decisions have been made.

While a number of possibilities exist for the board to consider, the ideal option appears to be a change in catchment, or the areas in which a particular school serves, to allow dozens of students directly outside of the town limits to attend Bridgewater Elementary School (BES).

This would include children who would normally go to Bayview Community School, Bluenose Academy, Pentz Elementary, Hebbville Academy and Newcombville Elementary. Meanwhile, Petite Riviere Elementary students would likely attend Hebbville due to the shorter travel time.

Given the upcoming closures of Pentz and Petite Riviere schools in 2018 and the scheduled move of Grade 10-12 students from Bridgewater Junior/Senior High School (BHS) to Park View Education Centre by September, the impending "domino effect," as Milner called it, has put pressure on the board to act quickly.

The proposed changes were discussed previously during the Bridgewater-Park View school review, in an illustration since referred to as the "lobster map," with the highlighted areas representing those students who could potentially move.

In order to accomplish this, BES would likely change from a P-6 school to a P-4 school, while BHS would become a 5-9 school.

This would be the "stronger design," Milner said, particularly in terms of building utilization. "The data shows that would provide the board with the best options moving forward."

Based on data as recent as September 2016, the alternative is that BES will become overpopulated if nothing is done.

School board policy states that two public meetings are needed by March 31, and parents would have to be informed of the changes by June 1, said Milner.

Board members were given a substantial amount of information, and African Nova Scotian representative Vernon Simms said if the work becomes too much to handle, they can push it back.

"We ultimately make the decisions," he said, adding they have to do what is best for students.

Nothing will be decided without consulting school advisory councils and the public, but choices made early could affect how the process moves forward.

If the grades at both Bridgewater schools are to change, start and stop times will need to be the same so no new buses are added to the system. School would then start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m.

The whole plan, if carried out, could potentially last until the 2019-20 school year.

And with a review of the New Germany family of schools scheduled for this year as well, it is possible for students in the Pine Grove and Cookville areas to also move to Bridgewater, rather than travel up north to West Northfield or New Germany.

Board member Elizabeth Crossland suggested the New Germany review be pushed until later.

"The timeliness of this presentation is not maybe where I want to be," she said.

Board vice-chair Theresa Griffin stressed the need to discuss the matter openly, saying it is necessary given the time constraint but also for the opportunity it brings to students.

What could affect the process, however, are the fates of Pentz and Petite and an attempt by the Town of Bridgewater to stop the transfer of students to Park View through a judicial review, which is set to be heard in March.

The board applied for a new school to replace Pentz and Petite last February but has yet to hear back from the department.

Milner said they will operate under the information they have now but reiterated that the decision to close the schools cannot be changed except by the provincial legislature.

The board will meet again on January 25 where members are expected to discuss the financial and educational aspects of the plan.

The review of catchment areas and grade configurations is the result of two motions made at the conclusion of the Bridgewater and Park View school review last September.

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