Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board

Parents fight to save Kingston school

By 
  • February 29, 2012

After educating Catholic youth for 60 years in the Strathcona Park community in Kingston, Ont., the doors to St. Paul Catholic Elementary School, among others, may permanently close following the local school board’s accommodation review process.

But there is a voice to St. Paul which is not letting the school be put to rest quietly. Shortly after word filtered out in 2011 that St. Paul could be among the schools targetted for closure by the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board, Sarah Mignault and several other concerned community members began the Save St. Paul Action Committee.

“We love this school and certainly think it is worth fighting for,” said Mignault, the committee chair. The “we” she is referring to includes the 1,466 people who signed a petition to save their local Catholic school.

In addition to the petition, committee members have written to board representatives, spoken directly to local Members of Parliament and made their collective presence felt at a board meeting in Napanee. The committee has also encouraged the board to consider fundraising approaches and cost-cutting operation alternatives. 

“St. Paul is a pillar in this community,” said Mignault. “It’s a hub of activity in this community and it would certainly be a terrible loss if we were to lose this school.”

“Schools (targetted for closure) within this specific review area have not yet been named,” said Jody DiRocco, the Algonquin and Lakeshore board’s director of education, although he did acknowledge that St. Paul would be one of those under review. “No decisions regarding school consolidations or closures have been made by the board.”

Although DiRocco remained tight lipped about which other schools may soon face a forced retirement, a 2011 memorandum from his predecessor, Michael Schmitt, to the local trustees recommended Holy Family, St. Patrick and St. Joseph/St. Mary Elementary Schools also be closed in 2012-13. Students from St. Paul and St. Joseph/St. Mary would be redirected to St. Thomas More, according to the document which summarized key points from the board’s Long-Term Capital Plan 2010.

While various factors contributed to the selection of these specific schools, an anticipated decline in enrolment remains a dominant component as the board aims for a minimum 300 students per school — about double St. Paul’s current occupancy. As noted in the board’s plan prepared by Watson & Associates Economists Ltd., enrolment from 2001 to 2009 reduced by about 1,285 students across the board, and a further 1,736 fewer students are expected in Algonquin and Lakeshore schools by 2024.

It’s a phenomenon witnessed by school boards — Catholic and public — across the province, save for schools in the suburbs surrounding Toronto, the so-called “905” region.

All the noise produced by the committee does not fall on deaf ears, said DiRocco, who’s been the popular recipient of concerned e-mails since elected.

“We recognize and appreciate the support and passion of engaged and active parent communities in all our Catholic schools. At the heart of this consolation process is public input.”

The board anticipates a decision by the end of March to initiate the review process which is estimated to last 12 to 14 months.

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