TRURO: A passionate plea on the impact closing Shubenacadie District Elementary School would have not only on students from the community but also Sipekne’katik First Nation seemed to be all that was needed.
At a Special Board meeting of the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board (CCRSB) on April 26 in Truro, Andrea Paul made a plea to her fellow board members to not change what’s not broke.
Paul, the Chief of Pictou Landing First Nation, spoke about her meeting at Shubenacadie District Elementary School with Sally Gehue and other First Nation parents. Since Gehue could not speak on this night, Paul did her best to convince them closing Shubie was not “in the best interest of the students.”
“It was one of those meetings where you wish all the board members could have been there to hear the conversation because I think the words expressed there were so important to hear,” explained Paul. “One of the Elders spoke, and she spoke about the decades it took to get where Shubenacadie District school is today. It’s not a year transition program. It’s not where we bring in a transition team in from Sipekne’katik to solve all of this at Maple Ridge.”
Had board members decided to close Shubenacadie school—as CCRSB staff recommended in a technical report at a previous meeting—that would have seen students from that school split between Maple Ridge Elementary in Lantz—the other school under review—and Winding River Consolidated in Stewiacke. Students from Sipekne’katik would have attended Maple Ridge.
Paul spoke about the horrific legacy of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential school, so the students are coming from a history of that to being assimilated, to claw their way out and to work with the community of Shubenacadie so their children can go to school outside of their community.
“When Sally spoke, it really was an eye opener,” she said. “The way she spoke about Shubenacadie Elementary school was absolutely powerful.
“She took something that was so negative in a lot of our history to something that is powerful and to be extremely proud of by this board because the relationship that has come from that she couldn’t have said it any better.”
Paul said the parents had a lot of what ifs as concerns about the school closure and their child having to become integrated in Maple Ridge.
“Why would we destroy something that’s already been accomplished?” she asked. “Shubenacadie had a residential school. It has grown from that.”
She called the CCRSB’s plan “grandiose” and didn’t think it would be one that could be achieved within a year. The board has talked about achievement gaps.
“These are children in a small school working to close those gaps,” she said. “If we move these students to a brand new environment, they have to adjust. They have to make themselves fit. They have to do that again.
“I don’t think its fair to do that to the students, whether they’re aboriginal or non-aboriginal.”
Paul said with all that considered, she was not supporting the recommendation for the school closure.
“I cannot support the transition of these students from Shubenacadie to Maple Ridge or to Winding River,” said Paul. “One thing I got from reading all the letters is trust. If that trust is broken, and things aren’t followed through, the ones that will hurt are the people at Sipekne’katik and the other students.”
Reg Pauley said parents trust the teachers at Shubenacadie.
“I wonder if we close that school if we have the child’s best interest at heart?” he questioned.
After further discussion, a motion was put on the floor by Ron Marks, seconded by Matheson-Withrow, to “move that the governing board recommend to DEECD (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development) the purchase of Maple Ridge Elementary, and that Shubenacadie Elementary remain open.”
Gehue said she wanted to scream and jump up and down when the vote was to keep Shubie open. She said her message at the meeting with Paul was for the board not to take things back in time.
“I told them not to take 30 years of progress and throw it away,” she said after the meeting. “We need to focus on the future of all students. Education should be for the children regardless of who they are or where they come from.”
Hants East Liberal MLA Margaret Miller, a Shubenacadie native, was also pleased with the result. She said Paul is a great chief and her speech proves why. She expects the province will purchase Maple Ridge. The purchase price for Maple Ridge outright at lease end is $4.55 million.
“This is great news,” she said. “It (the decision) recognizes the great job Shubenacadie does working with Sipekne’katik providing that proper atmosphere for all students,” said Miller.